It is impossible to qualify Christmas. The holiday evokes too many complex emotions, and contains a myriad of traditions. If asked, “What was your best Christmas?” what would you reply? Would your response be upbeat or maudlin, gift-oriented or family reminiscent? I’ve performed a bit of time travel, via old newspapers to see how people in New Hampshire (and New England) answered this question. Perhaps the replies will provide you with idea on how to celebrate this year. Some of the ‘best Christmases’ may surprise you.
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Godey’s magazine published by Sarah Josepha Buell in 1837 provided a number of wonderful recipes to make a best Christmas dinner, including the following one.
A Good Christmas Pudding.–One pound of flour, two pounds of suet, one pound of currants, one pound of plums, eight eggs, two ounces of candied peel, almonds and mixed spices according to taste. Boil gently for seven hours.
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An Amherst NH newspaper published a story called “A Christmas Memory,” written by a woman (as the story begins ‘when I was a little girl’ with the surname Thaw). She tells a story of walking two miles in cold and snow to deliver baskets of food to two elderly women and how the second one offered her a blessing, that she might “grow up to be like your dear mother!” The author “remember(s) that day, when I first tried to make a Christmas for others, as one of the best Christmas days of my childhood, for ‘it is more blessed to give then to receive.” –The Farmer’s Cabinet, 23 Dec 1874, Vol 73–
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The best Christmas present for old or young is a picture, At the prices Moore sells them everybody can have one. A picture on the wall is a daily reminder of the giver. Moore, Telegraph block has the largest stock and best prices. –Advertisement, Nashua Telegraph Dec 21, 1892–
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Books were a traditional Christmas gift of the past. In 1893 the G & C. Merriam Co. had published Webster’s International Dictionary (of the English Language). Reportedly the dictionary was ten years in the planning. What would you think if you received this gift in your Christmas stocking?
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The local Nashua NH newspaper announced entertainments for holidays: “Today is the
last day to see the wonderful picture entitled “When Uncle Sam Was Young,” which has certainly been a great drawing card this week at the Franklin Opera House. The picture sows a series of sensational Revolutionary War scenes, also the memorable events so dear to us all, “The Boston Tea Party” “The Battle of Bunker Hill” and the “Declaration of Independence.” All these scenes are reproduced nearly as they actually were. Hundreds of Indians and soldiers staged with dramatically sensational military realism makes the ’76’ spirit ooze out of every foot of this wonderful two-reel picture. The patronage was very large yesterday and we sincerely hope they will continue today. We are also showing “The Animated Weekly,” which is very interesting.” [Editor’s Note: Although there was a Franklin Opera House in Franklin NH, this particular place mentioned in the article was Nashua NH’s Franklin Opera House Theatre located upstairs in the Railroad Station building in current day Railroad Square; see photo.]
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‘The Very Best Christmas Gift‘ in bold letters heads an advertisement by Jordan Bonin Furniture Co. They urge their patrons to “BUY ONLY WHAT YOU NEED” (from them of course) but otherwise “If you are buying something, anything, just because you have money to spend, thats not patriotic; don’t do it, buy war bonds instead….Lets do without it on the home front. Let’s give it to our lads on the fighting front.” –The Portsmouth Herald December 15, 1943–
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Local newspapers published “Many new England families today enjoyed what some terms “the best Christmas gift” they could have received with the announcement the name of their kin on the list of prisoners released by the Communists.” The story was referring to a list of military prisoners being released by the Korean government of those who formerly were missing in action. On the list from New Hampshire were:1st Lt. Joseph E. Breton, 30 Washington St. Rochester; PFC Richard F. Douglas 19 Sarget St. Hanover; PFC John A. Gilbert Rte 3 Littleton; CPL Joseph A. Fontaine, Railroad Ave, Gonic; PFC Ivan Q. Eaton, Collins St. Seabrook NH.
Others mentioned in this story were:
-Lt. Paul H. Jordon WW2 vet who was attached to the US Eighth Cavalry regiment, MIA 2 Nov 1950. Married to the former Marjorie Mercer, and father of a child he has not seen.
– Sgt Myron G. Dirk, WW2 Vet, serving with Second Infantry division. Reported MIA since 30 Nov 1950. Married to the former Ethel Parotte of Adelaide St. Hudson and father of a girl.
– Corp. Philip W. Ackley, WW2 vet with the Eighth Cavalry regiment, MIA since 2 Nov 1950. He is married to the former Alice Converse of Amherst.
– Nicholas Theodore, WW2 vet serving with the US Air Force Reported missing in action in May of 1951. He lived in Nashua until his family moved to NYC about 3 years ago. His father, the late Louis Theodore operated a butcher shop on West Pearl St. for a number of years.
[Editor’s Note: According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, since the Korean War ended New Hampshire accounted for 3 men who disappeared in 1950 and 1951 through the identification of their remains between 1994-2016. There are 41 men still missing and unaccounted for today. SEE “4 Things TO Know About POW/MIA Recognition Day” (held in September).
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As President Dwight D. Eisenhower lit the national community Peace Christmas tree, he asked Americans for sweat and toil, courage, patience and self-sacrifice to promote peace and good will among nations, adding that peace would be “the best Christmas present the world could receive.” The Soviet Union was the greatest threat to the United States that year. The holidays season found “undeclared wars going on sporadically in Algeria and Ifni [a Spanish province on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco], in North Africa, and civil unrest in Cuba and Cyprus. Many people awaited Christmas in bleak refugee camps: Hungarians in Austria, East Germans in West Berlin, Palestine Arabs in Gaza, Chinese in Hong Kong, Dutch from Indonesia in Singapore. [Editor’s note: it was my family’s tradition to include a Christmas prayer for peace during holiday religious attendance. I almost rarely hear about these prayers being offered today even though the number of armed conflicts in our world remain high.]
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Christmas Pageants used to be the highlight of every Christmas. In some places they still are. Last year the United Church of Christ in Keene NH put on “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the Musical.” [Editor’s note: The first professional production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever was given by the Seattle Children’s Theatre on November 26, 1982.]
If my readers know of a best Christmas, either personal, or from news of the past, I welcome your comments!