We are in the throes of the holiday season. Family traveling, food preparing, present wrapping, booze imbibing. I’m rather fond of the last one, but then again I deal with the public for a living.
I began to think about how much simpler it may have been in the Old West. Gifts back then might have been a new shirt, socks, or even a ribbon to tie up long hair. Nothing as opulent as a tablet computer or a wide-screen tv. What we know is that folks did decorate their homes and did celebrate with religious ceremony followed by food. Sounds familiar.
The traditions of the melting pot pioneers were varied. You had so many cultures celebrating their version of Christmas. They were also limited to decorating with what they had. You couldn’t ride your wagon down to Target and pick of a few hundred feet of lights and an animated snowman. German immigrants were fond of decorating a tree with candles and making Advent calendars. Mexican families were partial to their traditional poinsettias. Irish folks put candles in their windows (to light the way for Joseph and Mary). Religious ceremony was first and foremost, followed by family togetherness. Oh, and food. Lots of food.
If you lived near a booming town with a good restaurant, you may end up there feasting on extravagant food. One Christmas menu that survived since 1886 lists lavish entrees including Spring Lamb with Dripp Sauce, Oyster Pie, and Sugar-Cured Ham. On the same menu can be found every manner of cake and pie so your dessert needs are sated.
Every year, historic Fort Verde is decorated with garlands, wreaths, and Christmas trees the way it was done in the 1880’s. The trees cut and placed in houses are reminiscent of the military pecking order. For instance, the Commanding Officer got the tall 10’ tree, while the enlisted men would get a tabletop-sized tree. All were decorated with handmade ornaments. Flagstaff’s Riordan Mansion follows suit, but they add family events steeped in history in hopes that future generations will appreciate Christmas through the ages.
This year think back to a less complicated era, where people weren’t standing in line on Thanksgiving Day to fight hordes of other shoppers in order to get the best deals (if they were, six-guns would be involved…and it would be really bad). When decorating with simple items was the norm, and gift-giving was low on the totem pole. You like that? I figured out a way to integrate “totem pole” in my Old West blog. How glorious.