Historically Speaking: Homemade Christmas giving
Secrets are in the air!
Christmas always provided a time of mystery, as family members kept busy with gifts for each other. Mother had her special time, at night after we were in bed; or, once in awhile when her housework and outside work allowed her, she would sew at her old reliable treadle sewing machine (often some clothes for me or my dolls). During the day when we were home, these “secret projects” were safely hidden.
Our father had the secrecy part a little bit easier, as many of his gifts for us and our mother were created in his workshop. He was an excellent woodworker, and made many life-like carvings as gifts. Perhaps he would be working on new stilts for us, or small bookcases for my brother and myself.
I collected books whenever I was able, and my brother also had a big collection of the then-poplar “Big Little Books”. When I was quite little, my father made a cradle for my dolls, a jointed Jumping Jack, and a cute wooden “duck” pull toy and for my brother and me. He also made a wooden clown with a big open mouth into which we tossed small balls (they were caught in a red pocket-like attachment in the back of his open mouth). We spent many happy hours trying to out-do each other with our accuracy, or lack of it! Special for my brother, our father carved a jointed wooden bear; this was given to him before I was born.
My mother made new complete wardrobes for my two dolls each Christmas, including little coats, hats and mittens, and bought shoes for each. One special Christmas, she surprised me with a different kind of gift for “Pink Bonnet,” my dark-haired doll. My mother had long hair, and for years she wore it in braids and then in coiled braids around her head. Then the time had come when she wanted a more fashionable hairstyle. When she got it cut, she made a wig for my doll out of her own hair. She sewed or glued until she had a beautiful head of hair for the doll. That was very special.
How I treasured my two dolls and their new attire! I remember how my mother set them on the couch and covered them completely with a blanket and admonished everyone that they would not be seen until Christmas. How hard it was to wait!
Our father made for our mother small furniture items, picture frames for her favorite photographs, and plenty of needed shelves in the kitchen area, and perhaps some special surprises just for her. Our mother would knit woolen socks, mittens and scarves and caps for our father because he worked outside in the cold weather. Wool was used a lot back then. We did not have the light fabrics that would keep a person as warm as wool clothing, without the bulk of wool.
Besides the homemade gifts, we kids were allowed to pick out one book and one other gift from the mail order catalog-either from Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward. I usually chose another book from the Nancy Drew mysteries, and my brother chose another Tom Swift book.
One year for my special gift I chose a ukulele. I actually learned to follow the directions and could play several tunes. I still have that ukulele, and my children, grandchildren and now my great-grandson spend time plunking on the “uke.”
Gifts were opened on Christmas Eve at our home, and Christmas Day was spent quietly enjoying our new presents and reading again the story of Christ’s birth. We would select a tree from our acreage and decorate it with just a few dainty ornaments, plus many homemade ones. We had real wax candles set in little metal holders at the tips of the branches, and these were actually lit for a few minutes while we all “oohed and aahed” at the beauty of our Christmas tree. I wonder now how we even “dared” to light these candles each Christmas and risk a house fire!
Homemade gifts would not be complete without my mother’s Christmas cake, which she made every holiday season. I have continued the tradition, and make cakes for my own family, and also sent one to my brother when he was alive. Here is the simple recipe, and there is no way this cake can be a failure!
Yum Yum Cake
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 lb. raisins
1 pkg. dried mixed fruit (optional)
2 Tbs. shortening
1 Tbs. cinnamon
1/2 Tbs. cloves
3 cups flour
1/2 Tbs. salt
1 Tbs. baking soda
1 Tbs. baking powder
Put sugar, water, raisins, dried fruit, shortening, cinnamon and cloves in a saucepan; boil 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Sift flour, soda, salt and baking powder together and add to first mixture. Pour into a greased angelfood cake pan. Bake in a slow oven (300 degrees) for 11/2 hours. This cake will keep well in the refrigerator or freezer. Slice thin and enjoy!
There are many magic moments at Christmas, but the greatest is being together as a family, realizing the real meaning of Christmas and enjoying the gifts and love for each other. Enjoy the magic moments!