Decorating for Christmas in 1869

Excerpts from “Christmas Decorations of the Home” from Cassell’s Household Guide: Being a Complete Encyclopedia of Domestic and Social Economy Volume II, 1869 (published in London and New York.)

“The materials to be used include all kinds of evergreens, everlasting flowers, and coloured and gilt papers. It is a strange thing that, though mistletoe is used in the decoration of house, not a sprig of it is put into a church. But in house decoration no Christmas would be thought complete if there did not hang in hall or dining-room a bunch of its curiously-forked branches, with their terminal pairs of nerveless pale-green leaves, and white crystalline berries.

Holly is of course the special tree of the season. Its leaves bent into various curves, its thorny points, and its bunches of coral-red berries, make it the prince of evergreens. Let it be conspicuous throughout the decorations. It is a good plan to strip off the berries, and use them strung in bunches, as the berries get hidden when the sprigs are worked into wreathes and devices, and the berries, bent into little bunches, dotted about the festoons here and there, look very effective.

Ivy must be introduced with care. Small single leaves come in with good effect in small devices, or to relieve a background of somber yew or arbor vitae. The young shoots of the common ivy are best, or of the kind which grows up trees and old walls, which are very dark and glossy, with a network of light-coloured veins.

Laurel is a very useful green in sprays, and the single leaves may be applied with excellent effect in wreathes, or overlapping one another in borders. The variegated ancuba makes a pleasing variety in the colour.

Yews and arbor vitae are useful, especially the small sprays of them, for covering the framework of devices.

Myrtly and box also are pretty in narrow borderings, into which coloured everlasting flowers may be introduced. The black bunches of ivy berries may sometimes be used with advantage, to give points of contrast in decorations. Of course if chrysanthemums, Christmas roses, primulas, and camellias can be obtained, the general effect is heightened and the decoration becomes more elaborate and more elegant.

[directions for making wreaths]

If holly berries are scarce, a good substitute may be found in rose hips, which may have a small piece of wire passed through them as a stalk, and several twisted together. The fallen holly berries, strung on wire, made into rights, and slipped over the leaves, are very effective, also split peas, glue on here and there in the shape of small rosettes, look like golden flowers, and they may be made to resemble holly berries by pouring over them red sealing-wax melted in spirits of wine.

… Holly strung has a very good effect. It is very quickly done, and looks like a rich cord when finished, and all the banisters in a house may be draped in holly. It is made by threading a packing-needle with the required length of twine, and stringing upon it the largest and most curly looking holly leaves, taking care to pass the needle through the exact centre of each leaf.”

Published in: on December 2, 2012 at 9:09 am  Comments (2)  

Lighting a Christmas Tree

I found this little snip-it rather intriguing and a bit horrifying. I just had to share. It comes from the December 1867 edition of the American Agriculturalist. We housekeepers know that this is really the busiest season of the year, but the work is so agreeable and is interspersed with so much that is delightfully mysterious, we never think of it being work at all, and only regret we have not each two pairs of  hands, that we might accomplish more. Christmas is so near, and then – well – Charlie is coming home from Chicago, and Willie from New York. They will come so late, we must have a tree all trimmed, the presents hung, and the candles ready to be lighted before they arrive. What a pity we cannot have gas out here in the country, and so have a Christmas tree drop-light, like the one cousin Tom has in Liverpool! The most vivid imagination could scarcely convert our little candles and lamps (I beg their pardon for mentioning it. May their shadows never be less, ) into the fifty bright jets which illuminated their tree; or transform Jennie’s doll, which will hover with out-stretched arms over our tree, suspended from the ceiling by a string around her waist – a contrivance of Ralph’s – into the silver Christ-child nestling in the upper branches, “all radiant with light as with a flood of glory,” as Tom described it in his letter to Ralph. Father says if the Petroleum Oil Gas Co. gets to work, and does as well as he thinks it will, we shall have our house lighted with gas before another Christmas. I don’t suppose father would get us a drop with fifty lights, but one with six or eight, as in figures 1 and 2, would be very nice among our candles and lamps. Yes, eight, opened to the best advantage, as shown in figure 1, would quite set off a tree.”

Published in: on December 1, 2012 at 9:08 am  Leave a Comment  

Some 19th Century Reading for the Season

Here is a mid-nineteenth century book that takes a look at Christmas, New Years and Twelfth Night. The Book of Christmas: Descriptive of the Customs, Ceremonies, Traditions, Superstitions, Fun, Feeling, and Festivities of the Christmas Season, by Thomas Kibble Hervey (1845)

This short book is filled with history and traditions from the 19th century perspective. The Christmas book: Christmas in the olden time, its customs and their origin : the holly and ivy, sports of the eve, Yule log, boar’s head, the dinner, mummers, Lord of Misrule, Saturnalia, carols, mysteries and plays, boxes, &c. &c, by Pattie & Glaiser (London,1859)  

Another – Christmas in the Olden Time, or The Wassail Bowl,  by John Mills (1846)

Looking for some poetic phrasing for the character growing up in the 1830s? Christmas, a Poem,  by Edward Moxon.

A short to moderate pieces of fiction – Christmas at Under-Tor: An American Christmas Story,  by Clarence Gordon;   Christmas Hours, by Ticknor & Fields (1858)

Published in: on November 28, 2012 at 9:11 am  Comments (2)  

Homemade Christmas Ornaments from 1881

From Cassell’s Household Guide: Being a Complete Encyclopedia of Domestic and Social Economy Volume III, 1881 (published in London and New York.)

The Christmas-Tree may be made at home for a very trifling cost. Long as they have been in fashion in England for juvenile parties, of for Christmas-eve, these trees seem to be still in favour almost as much as ever. Christmas-trees may be covered with paltry trifles, or made the medium of dispensing suitable gifts amongst the members of a household. When the latter plan is to be adopted, each article is to be marked with the names of the intended recipient. It is also very well to add a few boxes of sugar-plums and valueless trifles, which can afterwards be raffled for. The ordinary Christmas-tree is covered with miscellaneous articles, some of more value than others, which are either distributed at hazard by the lady deputed to cut them down, or lots are drawn out of a bag of numbers corresponding to those fixed on the little presents themselves. A good-sized fir-tree, of regular shape, and with nice wide-spreading arms, is wanted. Cover this at regular intervals with gelatin lights, which are better and safer than wax tapers. These lights are like ordinary night-lights, each on contained in a little cup of gay-coloured gelatin, resembling the glass lamps used at illuminations when gas is not employed. Take care to place these lights so that not one of them is put under a bough, which may set alight. Suspend them by fine wire, not cotton or string, which will take fire. A little beyond every light arrange a bright tin reflector, star, or silvered glass ball. A number of flags are requisite to add to the gaiety of the tree, which a few bows of coloured ribbon will also emhance.

A good many small ornamental paper boxes and cases holding sugar-plums will add well to the decorations of the tree. To make paper cones, cut squares of white or coloured paper. Fold the square in half, like fig 2, and cut off the piece at the top, making the two sides equal. When opened, it will resemble fig 3. Gum it as far as the dotted line, and join it. Be sure to join it so that there is not a hole at the point. If it is made of white paper, cut some strips of red, of green, and of gold paper. Edge it with gold, and paste stripes of red, green and gold around it spirally at intervals. If the cone is made of coloured paper, use gold, white, and some favourably contrasting hue. Fig 4 illustrates it. Another pretty way to make a rather superior ornament is to cut a cone of bright green satin-paper, and join it. Cut a tassel, and fasten it at the point. To the top gum a piece of scarlet sarcenet, with a mouth like a bag, and over the join run some blond lace; turn a row each way, and gum a strip of gold paper between (see fig 5). Fig 6 is another kind of sugar-plum case. Cut a straight piece of card, and sew it together  to make a round like a drum. Cut a circular piece to fit one end. Cover the sides round with paper, notch the edges, and turn them down at one end over the piece fitted in, and, if well gummed, they will keep it in place. The other end may be sewed in. Cut a round piece of coloured paper, and gum on lastly at the end. Have a bag-top of some pretty piece of passemeterie or gilt paper over the join. If the box is covered with straw-colour, and the bag is of blue satin, it will look pretty. Odds and ends of ribbon may be used in making up these little boxed. A more valuable case may be made by first constructing a box of a strip card, goring it with a strip of paper each side instead of by sewing. Cover this with white paper. When quite dry, bind both edges with blue satin ribbon. Then draw, in water-colours, a garland of flowers round barrel. Very neatly sew a blue satin bag at each end. Put a little powdered scent in, enough wadding to fill the bags, and place it on the tree. It may be suspended by its own strings of blue ribbon. A pedestal is a good design for a fancy case. A design for one is given in fig 8. To construct it, take a piece of card large enough to allow its four sides. Cut this like fig 1, allowing four equal sides and a bit over; half-cut through the dotted lines on the right side. Join it round with the small piece inside, and fix it with strong gum. Cut a square larger then the pedestal, for the base in fig 10, below the dotted line, gum them, and fix on the base. For the lid, cut a piece like the base, and a second piece like Fig 10. Half-cut through the dotted lines. Join the piece as the pedestal was joined, and fix the top to this piece in a similar way to that used in joining the base. But Fig 9 must be a little narrower each side than Fig 1, so that the smaller piece, fig 9, may neatly fit just inside the larger, fig 1. Another way to make this is to cut two pieces like fig 1, one just small enough to fit inside the other, and fix square ends of equal size to each. To close the box, put one inside another. Ornament the outer one with coloured paper, and bind the edges with gold, or merely bind the edges and draw a group of flowers on each side in water-colours, and also on the lid.

Fig 12, a Drum, can be made of paper, and ornamented with strips of red and of gold paper, and have a few sugar-plums inside. To make it , join a piece of paper as for fig 6. Draw, with a bow-pencil, a round as large as the top, and a second round a little larger. Cut out the larger round, and notch the edges up (fig 13). When you have done this, turn down the edges, gum them, and fit them into the drum. For the outer end cut a similar piece, put a loop of thread or ribbon in the centre, and put it in without gumming it. Made in card, ornamented, filled with sweetmeats, and a piece of net gummed at the top, with a band of gold paper over the join, it is very pretty.

Fig 14 is a Muff. – Make this of a bit of plush that look like fur. Put a shallow, red silk bag-mouth at each end, to look like the lining. Draw up one end and sew it. Cut a piece of paper the size of the muff, roll it round, and slip it inside to keep the muff out stiff. Cardboard can be used in stead of paper. Put in the sugar-plums, and draw up the mouth.

The Lucky Shoe (fig 15) – Cut a shoe by fig 16, of any pretty material; join in and bind it neatly. Cut a sole by fig 17. Before joining the upper part, see that it fits the sole well. Cut the sole of card, and tack the material over it. Sew the shoe to the sole all round outside. Cut a sole of white paper a little smaller than the first; gum it, and fix it inside. Make a back, and sew it neatly to the shoe. Fill with scented wadding, sweetmeats, &c. according to fancy. If the articles on the tree are raffled for, and the tree is intended for grown-up girls, as sometimes happens at a Christmas party, it causes much mirth to secrete a mock wedding-ring in one of the shoes, underneath the sugar-plums or wadding. Then make known to the company that there is a ring to be found, and predict that the finder will be the first married. The lucky shoe is a very good place for it, ad shoes have, in superstitious times, always been associated with supposed charms – the horse-shoe to keep away evil spirits, the old shoe for luck to be thrown after the bride, the shoes crossed at the bedside to make the owner dream of her sweetheart, &c.

The Hour-Glass (fig 18) – This may be made in two ways. First cut four pieces like fig 19, cutting off the dotted piece at the side (not at the top). Cover each piece with white satin; sew them together. Cut two rounds, much larger, of card; cover each with brown satin. Sew on by the pieces marked A and B, fig 19, which are to be turned down. They should have been half-cut through before sewing. Take two pieces of wire, bind coloured ribbon round them, and sew them to the hour-glass. Cut a piece of card like fig 11; half-cut through the dotted line; stitch it to the top; cover the top with satin. This completes the whole of it. The second and simpler way is to cut the hour-glass like fig 19, half-cutting through the dotted lines, and by the side pieces; gum them neatly together. On the sides draw flowers in water-colours, or paste on spangles.

Published in: on November 21, 2012 at 8:41 am  Comments (2)  

Brrrrr…. Its Getting Cold Out There

I think by now we are all feeling the chill of the changed season. Sadly, some of us are dealing with a shockingly bad version of this seasonal transition.

This is a link heavy post, filled with seasonal favorites for you to puruse. You will find hints for keeping warm as well as contemporary readings for Christmas. You will also find a fun project.

Let’s start by keeping the body and home warm with “Keeping Warm this Winter” and last year’s “A Practical Look at Winter Clothing.” For an event prep list, check out “Are You Ready.”When thinking about winter clothing, you know I would love you all to make up my Quilted Hood Pattern. *wink* But, if you happen to be focusing on the 1840s, do give the pattern developed by Bevin Lynn for the Genesee Country Village a try.

Do you have gift making in mind? Last year, my series on the 12 Homemade Gifts seemed quite popular. (I’ll be sharing a couple passages from mid-century magazines and books for making more gifts and ornaments in the upcoming weeks.)

A few mid-nineteenth century readings…

The First Christmas Tree , an 1869 publication translated from the French –

The Christmas Tree: A Story for Young and Old, translated from the German in this 1866 version –

A Present from Germany: The Christmas Tree, 1840, by E. Perry.

The Christmas Tree and other stories, for the Young, by Mrs. Lovechild, 1863 –

I would be remiss if I did not include Charles Dickens’ Christmas Books with the well known “Christmas Carol” –

Household Words – Christmas Stories: 1851-1858  by Charles Dickens

 And to close, a way too fun project:  

Check this out – Christmas village!

Published in: on November 6, 2012 at 2:16 am  Leave a Comment  

Merry Christmas!!!

Published in: on December 24, 2011 at 9:37 am  Comments (1)  

Christmas Images

Peterson’s 1861

Carrying Home the Christmas Turkey

Published in: on December 22, 2011 at 1:11 am  Leave a Comment  

Christmas is Coming.

I stumbled across this book Jennie Juneiana: Talks on Women’s Topics by Jennie June (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1864) while looking up something else. I hope you enjoy a selection of transcriptions over the next few weeks….

Christmas is Coming.

“At Christmas play, and make good cheer,

For Christmas comes but once a year.”

Christmas is coming! Good news for the children, who know that with it comes the jolly, merry Santa Claus, his panniers piled high with toys and confectionery, skates and sleds; who topples down the chimney in such an extraordinary way, and mysteriously fills little socks and the larger stockings with just what the busy little owners most wished to see! Yes, Christmas is coming, that pleasant time when the good christkindlein plants lovely trees in the dwellings of his favorites, brilliantly illuminates them with myriads of lights, and then hangs from each branch and twig all that is prettiest and rarest for those who have pleased him, by showing kindness and love to each other during the year that is past. An emblem of the Providence which always rewards the good, and punishes the bad, it the beautiful Christmas tree, and an object of sacred mystery to the crowd of delighted little ones, who look, at first awe-struck at the shining wonder, which seems to have dropped right down from the stars.

Christmas is coming! not only in America, but all along the shores of Old and still “Merrie England.” At this moment thousands of mothers, and thousands of little ones, are anticipating with eagerness the approach of the grand national plum-pudding day; and even dignified fathers of families will not object to carry home, after nightfall, the boxes of raisins, and pounds of suet, which are necessary to the composition of the celebrated dish, for which even the most super-human mortals have a tender weakness.

            Christmas is coming! Pile up the wood, bring out your nuts, and cider, and apples, and prepare to enjoy the genial influences of the season; but do not forget the poor.  You will not miss a piece of beef, or pork, a pair of chickens, a basket of wood, a cabbage, and perhaps a little meal of flour. Tell your wife what you are doing before it is quite packed up; and trust a woman, but she will find “something good” – a pie, some cookies for the children, and perhaps a blanket of comforter to throw over all, and which she will tell you (bless her womanly heart!) that you “needn’t bring back.” Try it once, if you never did before, and you will experience a keener sense of enjoyment in your own comforts that a mean and selfish absorption could ever dream or think of. 

Thank the Lofd, reverently, that Christmas is coming, – the time when Christ was born, who brought peace on earth, and good will to men. Pray that he may be born again in every human heart, and that the old anthems may be again sung which echoed over the hills of Judea when the Saviour saw the light on the first Christmas morning in the manger at Bethleham.

Published in: on December 21, 2011 at 1:04 am  Leave a Comment  

The Season of Gifts

This passage by Jennie June in her Jennie Juneiana: Talks on Women’s Topics (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1864) touches on a topic that I struggle with. There are so many people I would love to give gifts to, whether handmade or store-bought. But, often it just isn’t possible to do so.

The Season of Gifts

“Who to give to?” is sometimes a puzzling question; for each one cannot give to all, or all who have claims upon them, and it is sometimes hard to decide between sisters, and aunts, and cousins, and still nearer and dearer relations. Some philanthropic people, who, however, rarely follow their own advice , advocate the ignoring of family ties altogether on these festal occasions, and urge the giving only to those who absolutely need something. But this is too hard and rigid a policy; it may be, and probably is the extreme of unselfishness, but we frankly own that it is beyond us. Give all that is possible to those whose friends are few and wants many, but yield something also to inclination and affection, and the kindly feelings which prompt and demand a fitting expression.

            But who to give to is not yet received a definite answer. First, as a loyal woman (we are talking to women), to those you love best; second, to those to whom perhaps you have done an injustice, if only in thought, and to whom you feel is due some slight reparation; and third, to those who need it. But it must be remembered that the sentiment of the gift is more than the gift itself. A very costly gift is sometimes not half so much valued as a flower, a book, or a kind word; but this is only true of very unsophisticated people. We have seen vulgar women, in garb of silk or satin, who would coarsely express undisguised contempt for a gift which did not come up to their ideas of cost. Such persons are incapable of appreciating a sentiment, and therefore give them nothing, or if that is impossible, let it be a check for so much money, which is the only point for which they care.

            What is proper to purchase for gifts, is a very embarrassing question to sensitive individuals, who desire to do the thing just right, and are afraid of making some mistake or committing some gauche-rie. Between husbands and wives, or in a family circle, such a difficulty can hardly exist, a wide range of the useful, as well as the sentimental and beautiful, being proper to choose from. For mere friends, however, the choice is sometimes very perplexing, notwithstanding that the variety of goods in every department is almost infinite, and books always exist as a dernier resort, although, in fact, they are the most suitable and valuable of gifts. To pretend to indicate those things which are most adapted as gifts to varied circumstances, would be to give a catalogue of every jewelry establishment, dry goods store, and fancy goods house, not to speak of toys, furs, groceries, bonnets, greenhouses, picture galleries, and furniture shops, all of which supply their quota to the generous influences of the season. A safe way is to ascertain a want or a taste on the part of the recipient, and then supply the one or gratify the other, according to means or convenience. Young ladies, or others who have time, and know how to execute the different kinds of fancy work, cannot pay a more delicate compliment to their friends than by presenting them with some pretty trifle of their own making.

Published in: on December 18, 2011 at 1:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Christmas Images

Godey’s 1863


Published in: on December 16, 2011 at 1:11 am  Leave a Comment