Friday, November 4, 2016
Christmas, Frontier Style?
As Marissa and I have shared, Christmas in the early part of the nineteenth century in England wasn’t nearly as elaborate as it became later. But by 1866, when my story, A Convenient Christmas Wedding, takes place, both England and America were fond of celebrating. As you can imagine the grand Christmas tree that might grace an English country home didn’t exactly fit in a frontier cabin. And not everyone who celebrated Christmas came from the English/Scotch/Irish traditions that included plum pudding.
My Wallin family originated in Sweden, though Mrs. Wallin, the matriarch, has some English blood. So it seemed logical to me that their family celebration would be an amalgam of the traditions, with a few American favorites thrown in. So, they bring in the Yule log, as some of my English characters did, but they also hang stockings by the fire on Christmas Eve for Father Christmas (not Santa Clause) as was becoming popular in America. Here’s the scene where Nora, my heroine, first becomes aware of the custom.
“We were just waiting for you and Simon,” Mrs. Wallin said, coming to take Nora’s cloak. “But I think I see something in your stocking.”
She couldn’t help the tingle of anticipation as she looked to the hearth. Sure enough, her stocking bulged. She glanced at Mrs. Wallin, who nodded toward the fire. “Go ahead, dear. See what Father Christmas left for you.”
Nora ventured to the hearth, even as Levi and Beth pounced on their stockings, and the others moved closer to inspect theirs as well. Nora pulled the stocking from the nail and reached inside to find a tangerine, a handkerchief embroidered with her initial, a knit scarf of a familiar-looking purple heather yarn and a book of poetry.
Simon’s stocking, hanging next to hers, looked significantly less thick.
Glancing around to make sure no one was looking, she slipped her hand in his stocking. Her fingers met the rough edge of a rock.
Oh, no. She would not stand for Simon getting coal. She pulled out the rock and tucked it in her pocket. Then she put in her tangerine. She couldn’t very well give him the handkerchief or the scarf, but after a moment’s thought, she slipped in the poetry book as well.
The door opened just then for Simon, a bucket of milk in hand, and Nora scampered back from the hearth. Fleet bounded in on his heels, going from person to person and saying hello. The others were examining their gifts and exclaiming over the thoughtfulness. Mrs. Wallin had a new comb for her hair, edged with pearl beads that looked suspiciously like the ones Beth had purchased. Beth had received the latest issue of Godey’s and was already curled up in her mother’s rocker scanning the pages of the famous ladies’ magazine. John was fingering a fishing lure. A loud metallic hum proved that Levi had found a harmonica in his stocking and was trying it out.
Nora could hardly wait for Simon to peer into his stocking. But he didn’t go near the hearth even after he left the milk in the kitchen. Instead, he came up to her with a smile.
“And did Father Christmas reward you for your kindness?”
“Yes,” she said, holding up her handkerchief and scarf. “Aren’t they lovely?”
“Not as lovely as you,” he murmured.
Nora caught her breath.
“Go on, Simon,” James called. “You haven’t looked in your stocking yet.”
Simon turned and looked to the stocking. Then he frowned and wandered closer.
Nora let out her breath. He was only being kind. She knew she wasn’t lovely. But the words had sounded so sweet.
His mother looked over as Simon scrutinized the book of poetry. “It seems Father Christmas was a bit mixed up this year,” she said with a look to James.
“I’ll say,” James agreed, tossing his tangerine in the air and catching it. “First time in years Simon hasn’t gotten coal. But I’m not sure love poems are any more use to him.”
Love poems? She should have paid more attention to the title!
Simon pocketed the book. “I can assure you, James, that I’ll find a use for them.” He looked to Nora.
Now, that sounds like a Christmas worth celebrating, in any time period. For your convenience, here are the buy links one more time:
Barnes and Noble
A bookstore near you
The Book Depository, free shipping worldwide