When we think of old time Christmases, most of us reflect on memories of our own childhoods. Perhaps we played in the snow on sleds, skates or skis given by Santa Claus, or enjoyed toys we had dreamed of owning all year long.

When we think of old time Christmases, most of us reflect on memories of our own childhoods. Perhaps we played in the snow on sleds, skates or skis given by Santa Claus, or enjoyed toys we had dreamed of owning all year long.

It was with such memories that I perused photo albums from my family’s past Christmases, and which made me wonder about how the day might have been spent a hundred or more years ago. As Palmyra Town Historian I have received journals and diaries written during the mid to late 1800’s and thought some of their holiday entries would be interesting to share. Some are journals of town residents, some were written by area residents, but all are indicative of the life and writing style of those days passed.

In a series of tiny diaries dated 1879 - 1896, a Town of Arcadia resident who lived north of Newark described her holidays very briefly as follows:

“Wed. Dec. 24, 1879. Will went to Lyons with mint oil. We went to Newark to get Christmas presents.”

“Wed. Dec. 24, 1884. Snow all day. Ela & Alice went to North Ville got Christmas presents.”  [It is assumed North Ville refers to Fairville.]

“Thurs. Dec. 25, 1884. Pleasant very cold. I got sick headache.”

“Sat. Dec. 24, 1893. Showering warm. We picked turkey.”

“Sun. Dec. 25, 1893. Warm first sunshine then rain. Had turkey for dinner.”

“Thurs. Dec. 24, 1896. Alice, Harriet, Lena & Tim went to Christmas carrols. Alice was gone to midnight. …”

“Fri. Dec. 25, 1896. Gus didn’t have to work. We all had Christmas pressence.” (sp?)

Another journal of an Orleans County farmer from 1885 and 1886 describes their celebrations.

“Dec. 25, ’85. Uncle Loomis & Aunt Ann, Clara Littlefield & Aunt Vina’s folks with Aunt Lucy joined us in our Christmas tree….”

“Fri. Dec. 24, 1886. I helped to arrange Xmas tree & killed a turkey…”

“Sat. Dec. 25, ’86. “Merry Christmas.” Had a fine tree at our house. The following named persons were present, every one of whom were profusely remembered from the tree.” [13 relatives named]

Entries from the 1925 – 1928 diaries of Palmyra resident Olive Woodworth described her holidays.

“Dec. 24, ’25. Churned & baked. In afternoon C & children went to town. McClain’s called in the evening. C & children went to the tree at the church, came home with a good bunch of presents.” [They attended the East Palmyra Methodist Church]

“Christmas Day. Hattie, Arthur, George & Bessie came to dinner had a fine time and lots of presents.”

“Christmas Day. 1926. Arthur, Hattie, Bessie & George took dinner with us. Had a fine time & lots of presents. In the evening went to the Dutch Church. The exercises were good.” [reference is to East Palmyra Christian Reformed Church]

“1927, Dec. 24. 20 degrees at 6 a m. Toward night Mrs. Mc, Richard & Karl came. They brought 2# Fanny Farmer Candy and got a tree.”

“Christmas Day. Hattie & Arthur came to dinner. Not a bad day. Pieters & wife here in the evening.”

“1928 – Christmas Day. Weather seemed more like Thanksgiving. Arthur, Hattie, Wade, Prudie, Eva, Dale & Elizabeth here to dinner. C, B & E went to the Dutch Church in the evening.” [C refers to writer’s husband, Charles; B their daughter, Berle; E their son, Ellison]

Although these entries are simple and brief, they indicate the simplicity with which area people, mostly farmers in those days, celebrated the Christmas holiday before automobiles and electricity were common. They also relate the ‘personalness’ with which people interacted – often visiting neighbors and nearby relatives or attending social activities at their chosen churches. Thorough reading of these journals also revealed the importance of personal visits to nearby neighbors and friends during everyday life – before the Internet and cell phones rendered such interactions nearly obsolete.