Memories of Christmases past

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Once upon a time, back in the day, when things were a little slower and life a bit simpler, the Christmas holiday season had a lot more community meaning to folks living in towns and villages throughout rural Michigan.

The holiday was a lot more ‘public’ and less a private, family celebration.

There were reasons for this more community-orientated focus on the holiday. Economics dictated. The joined resources of the community made for a better celebration than the often scant resources of individual families.

One hundred years ago, few family homes had a Christmas tree on display.

That isn’t to say no home had a Christmas tree. Families “up on the hill” economically set up Christmas trees and invited neigbors to celebrate a “festive board” at the holiday season.

Most homes, however, had much more limited decoration and gifts were simpler. There was no Elmo to tickle.

In 1906, Christmas was all about church and community.

In weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday, local newspapers kept readers informed of seasonal festivities. Often school teachers led the way.

The Evart Review of Dec. 14, 1906, tells the community:

“Miss Hannah McKinstry, teacher in the Trimmner district school, will give a Christmas program at her school house Friday evening, Dec. 21. A Christmas tree and real live Santa Claus will be the features of the evening.”

Features indeed.

Churches, schools and civic groups declared they would “ ...hold a Christmas tree evening ...” and attracted dozens and dozens of visitors.

For many families, visiting a “Christmas tree evening” was in lieu of having such a decoration in the home. Home decoration generally consisted of evergreen boughs, decorative swags, and stringed popcorn and dried fruit.

It took time to prepare a Christmas tree event.

The Reed City Weekly Clarion of Dec. 12, 1906 reports:

“A box social was held at the residence of Sol High in Pinora Township, Lake County, on Friday night, for the benefit of the Christmas tree at the school house. Receipts were $5.74.”

With planning under way, folks could start getting ready for the holiday season.

Notices began filling the pages of local newspapers.

“There will be a Christmas tree entertainment given in the Bethel Evangelical church, near M. Gingrich’s reisdence, on Christmas eve, the 24th. All are cordially invited,” declared the Clarion.

In Hersey, folks looked forward to a fine entertainment advertised in the Evart paper.

“You can’t afford to miss hearing the special Christmas singing at the Congregational church Christmas eve. Miss Beardsley has charge of it and is drilling the voices for the occasion. It’s free and all are welcome.”

Over in the Reed City area plenty of parties were planned.

“The Holdenville school will have a Christmas tree Friday night of this week,” the Clarion of Dec. 19 informed its readers. “Ralph Wells is the teacher.”

The Clarion also announced:

“The M.E. church Sunday school will have a Christmas tree in the church parlor Christmas eve.”

There seems to have been quite a competition for celebrants or, more likely, folks just made the rounds visiting from “tree party” to “Christmas tree celebration.”

Over in the Evart area, things were just as busy as one the west side of the county.

The Review lets folks in Sears know:

“The new Grange hall at Sears has so far progressed toward completion that the authorities have determined to dedicate it on Christmas eve, Dec. 24, with a dance, to which all are invited. The hall is large and commodious and good music is promised, thus insuring a good time.”

In town, There were some great parties planned for the season.

“There will be a grand Christmas masquerade dance at Beeman’s Opera House in Evart on Christmas night, Dec. 25. Music by Groves’ orchestra and a good time guaranteed. Oyster and turkey supper served. Masks at Bath’s store. All are invited to attend the ball.”

Santa was no stranger to the Evart community in 1906.

“Santa Claus caused much excitement and merriment on Saturday last,” the Review reported. “He met by appointment a large number of children on the opera house corner and gave them all a sleigh ride around the town and later gave away a large number of toys at his headquarters at the Economy Store.”

Churches seem to have been a lot less worried about the “Santa-fication” of the Christmas holiday.

In Reed City it was announced, “There will be an Xmas sermon and music at the Congregational church next Sunday morning. In the evening There will be only a 15 minute sermon on account of the extra music by the choir. The Congregation Church Sunday School will give the Christmas Cantata, “Santa Claus and his Fairies” at the church.”

In 1906, as seriously opposed to today, the use of “Xmas” was very widespread and people never thought of it as being demeaning to Christmas. Xmas held much of its original meaning rather than being an expressive word ruined by Christmas ‘extremists.’

Xmas has been used for hundreds of years in religious writing, where the” X” represents a Greek “chi” — the first letter of “Kristos” or “Christ.” The “X” was also used in such words as “ Xtian” or “Christian.”

But people unaware of the Greek origin of this “X” and those looking for some conspiracy often mistakenly interpret Xmas as somebody’s way of crossing out the “Christ” in “Christmas.”

In 1906, Xmas was widely used in both church notices and newspaper advertising.

In Hersey the use was actually mixed and it was noted:

“There will be an open Christmas tree at the Congregational church Christmas eve. Everyone is invited to be present and bring their presents. There will be very elaborate Xmas exercises.”

In reaching out to the community the Hersey church group add:

“Remember, this is not a church tree, but a tree for everyone, as has been the usual custom of the church during the past years.”

Out of town, it seems the Christmas festivities centered in school houses - they being a central location for rural community activities.

“A Christmas tree entertainment will be given in the Peter’s District school on Friday evening Dec. 21,” announced the Review. “A fine program is being prepared by the school and cordial invitation is extended to all.”

In Reed City the Clarion informed all that school teacher “Ray I. Wise spent last Saturday at home and the stores buying different things to trim the school Christmas tree, candy, nuts, etc. to please the school children. They have a good program planned and expect to have a grand time for all.”

The tradition of Christmas being more communally celebrated than privately is also express in this notice from the Clarion.

“On Christmas eve two trees, beautifully decorated, will beautify the altar at the Evangelical Lutheran Trinity Church. Prof. Wm. Kath, teacher of the parochial school, will conduct an appropriate exercise with his children which will consist of a catechism on the occasion, singing and speaking, after which books, sacks filled with good things, and their gifts will be handed to them.”

The Baptists weren’t being left behind either.

“On Dec. 24th (Christmas eve) the Christmas cantata entitled “Christmas at Grandpa’s” will be presented at the Baptist church by nearly the entire school. This will be an interesting entertainment and will merit a crowded house. The church will be finely decorated ...’

Over in Evart the Baptists were also busy.

“There will be a Christmas tree at the Baptist church Monday evening,” the Review reported. “A short program will be given after which the presents will be distributed. Let all wishing to put presents on the tree bring them at an early hour Monday afternoon. A committee will be there to receive them.”

And let’s not forget the Presbyterians.

“There will be a Christmas tree at the Presbyterian church Monday evening. Presents for the children should be sent to the church Monday afternoon.”

Is the commercial aspect of the Christmas holiday is limited to “modern times”?


The Review reports, “Our merchants are enjoying a fair holiday trade. The business began early therefore there has been no rush.”

And in Reed City readers were informed: “Santa Claus has his headquarters at Riggs’ Racket store.”

If you weren’t in the mood for more ‘spiritual’ entertainment, there were other things to do on Christmas Eve.

In Reed City “ ...the Mystic Workers will give a stereopticon entertainment at the Woodman Hall Christmas eve. Admission 10 cents.”

The editor of the Review was a bit concerned by the results of an increase in holiday preparations.

“Our correspondents are evidently busy doing Christmas shopping,” he complained. “They are too busy to write this week. Well, they have done well during the past year and we expect they will do so after the holiday season.”:

The post office made sure people knew the service would be closed for part of the day ...only part.

“ ...the post office will be closed after the morning mails have been distributed until six o’clock at night, when it will open for the purpose of receiving mail for the evening trains.”

Not all was fun and fellowship for the folks of Osceola County at Christmastime in 1906.

William Marin probably had a less than happy holiday considering the Clarion reports he “ laid up with a carbuncle on his back.” Ouch!!!

And Charles Adams, of Hersey, while skating on the Hersey pond, “ ...met with a painful accident. In skating backwards he caught his skate and fell so hard on the back of his head as to daze him.”

Unfortunately for Chuck that wasn’t enough.

“Immediately following was Avery Thomas who did not see Adams on the ice until he struck him in the head with one of his skates cutting a large gash near the ear. Dr. Vail was called and took several stitches in the wound.”

In the same paper it is reported, “Money is being solicited among our citizens for the purpose of putting into condition a skating pond near the public square which will be a source of great entertainment.”

Not to Charles Adams! As the Christmas holiday season ended in 1906, folks could reflect on a fine time of community fellowship. But the day after Christmas, things got dicey.

A train pulling a string of cars, one of which contained a load of wood alcohol, crashed at the Reed City railroad bridge and the whole mess ignited.

There was a huge fire and townsfolk turned out to fight the blaze, but the train was too far away from any fire hydrant to be dealt with effectively.

Still, a gathering of citizens released some of the cars and actually pushed the caboose and 10 loaded cars out of danger.

One of those leading the effort to save as much as possible in the fire and helping push the cars and caboose to safety was newspaper editor “Ren” Barker who “ ...earned much praise for his effort.”

Ahhhhhhhh ... those newspaper editors. What a heroic crew they are.