How We Keep Christmas: A Veteran’s Family’s Burned Out Christmas 1922

Hello Friends!

The final story in my How We Keep Christmas series has given me much food for thought. The challenges faced by this young family in 1922 have made my heart ache yet filled my heart with an extra measure of gratitude for the blessings my family and I enjoy. While pondering I have wished for the “Paul Harvey’s Rest of the Story” version (for those of you old enough to remember his weekday radio broadcasts) telling us that this family lived happily ever after. Sadly that version doesn’t exist except perhaps with their descendants.

Wishing everyone a blessed and healthful Merry Christmas.

A Veteran’s Family’s Burned Out Christmas 1922

WE HAD been burned out about a year before last Christmas, losing our home and also nearly everything that we possessed. So that winter found us living in a miserable little un-plastered homestead shack, twelve by fourteen feet in size, on land adjoining our own, all we could rent until we could get on our feet again. There were four of us to occupy this gloomy, cold, little shanty, Daddy, the two boys, and myself. We had no visible means of support except to chop and haul wood. Prospects for “a happy Yuletide” were not a bit cheerful. Yet we determined to keep Christmas.

Daddy’s health was quite poor and we did not know but that he might have to go to the National Soldier’s Sanitarium and leave us on our own resources. Then a few days before Christmas, he sprained his ankle. He had a few unfilled orders for Christmas trees which had to be delivered in town seven miles away. It was miserable cold with considerable snow on the ground. Our older boy, William, aged ten, helped me to hitch the team to an old stone boat and we two hauled those Christmas trees to town. We got back long after dark, a hard cold trip down close to the snow.

While we were gone, Daddy and the younger boy, Donald aged five, had crawled out in the woods at home and cut a pine tree for our Christmas. He dragged this to the house and had it there when I arrived.

It was a question where to set up a tree in a twelve-by-fourteen house which already held two beds, a table, cupboards, a cooking stove, and a trunk. On the trunk at the foot of our bed was the only place we could set it unless we put it on one of the beds!

When both boys had drifted off to sleep,” the job of setting up and trimming the tree began.

We crowded the limby-pine through the door and succeeded in making it stand nicely on the trunk. Distant relatives in other states had mailed us small Christmas packages. These were opened and their contents hung on the tree. A friendly merchant and his wife, in town, had given me a box saying it was the “the boys.” This box proved to contain a lot of nice toys. When it and the other packages were opened and all the things they held were placed upon the tree, it made quite a display.

We squeezed out enough money from the sale of wood and Christmas trees to buy a few presents, a little candy and nuts, and some Christmas candles. It was late in the night and we were considerably tired by the time the tree was all trimmed. But we went to bed with a satisfied feeling of having done something for our boys.

Early next morning, Dad built a fire, pulled down the shades, and lighted the candles. Then he came back to bed and called to the boys. They awoke with a start and the first thing they saw was the great bright tree in all its splendor. I am sure no greater light of happiness could come into the eyes of the richest or wealthiest children on earth than that which shown in our two boys’ eyes.

For a moment, they stared in delighted, happy wonder; then there was a mad scramble for the tree. Santa Claus had been here indeed!

Our younger boy, Donald, likes engines and Santa had brought him a pretty nice big one the year before. But it had grown rusty and old-looking. So, I painted it green (a job for which Santa was given the credit) and gilt the wheels and it looked quite nice backed up under the foot of the big tree. Of course, he made for that first. William found gifts which were for him and soon each lad had an armload and were both trying to look at everything at one and the same time.

How much better Daddy and I felt than if we had followed our earliest impulse and let Christmas go by without celebrating.

We shall never let the Christmas spirit die in our home no matter how poor or hard-up we are. To be without Christmas would be like being without a home! —Mrs. Freda Klock, South Dakota

Old-Time Fruit Cake 1960s

Hello Friends!

In the 1920s, women’s organizations provided the opportunity for rural farm women to participate in local political, educational, civic, and social events. One such group from Etowah County, Alabama got together to make Christmas fruitcakes. Their idea was so popular that twelve other clubs followed suit.

At their October meeting last year (1925), the members of the Glancoe Home Demonstration Club decided to make a real festivity of their Christmas fruit cakes. These were made at their November meeting. The women planned in advance and each brought the ingredients assigned her. In all ten cakes were made and all had a right good time making them. Twelve other clubs in the County followed this same plan, and Etowah County had a real Fruit Cake Christmas.

The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women

In the spirit of Christmas, I held my own Home Demonstration Club meeting and made fruitcakes for the very first time. The recipe I chose to use was one that my mother always used. She received the recipe from a neighbor in the early 1960s. With a little research, I learned that Old-Time Fruit Cake was a Betty Crocker recipe published sometime between 1955 and 1965. Below is a magazine insert in which the recipe was intended to be cut out and added to a homemaker’s recipe binder:

Betty Crockers Old-Time Fruit Cake 1960s

Further research showed that over the years Old-Time Fruit Cake morphed into Old-Fashioned Fruitcake by the 1980s. The difference is that the newer version suggests baking the fruitcakes 3 or 4 weeks in advance and soaking them in wine or brandy and aging them in the refrigerator. I chose to soak mine in orange juice and age for one week. The fruitcakes turned out moist and delicious!  (Recipe below.)

Out of curiosity, I researched some old newspapers to see what the prices might have been for the ingredients needed for Christmas baking and candy making. Here is what I found:

Lone Star Grocery, Cannon Falls, Minnesota 1925

Happy Christmas Baking!

Old-Fashioned Fruitcake

  • Servings: 2 loaves
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1-1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ cup molasses or dark corn syrup
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 15 oz golden raisins (about 3 cups)
  • 8 oz pitted dates, cut into halves (1-1/2 cups)
  • 5 oz whole red or green candied cherries (3/4 cup)
  • 5 oz candied pineapple, cut up (about 1 cup)
  • 8 oz whole Brazil nuts or pecan halves (1-2/3 cup)


  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line two loaf pans with parchment and grease well; set aside.
  2. Prepare fruits and nuts and dust the date and raisins with a tablespoon of flour (helps to keep them from sinking to the bottom while baking); set aside
  3. Combine flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl; set aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, blend together sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, and molasses or corn syrup with an electric mixer until well combined.
  5. Mix in dry ingredients alternately with orange juice, beginning and ending with flour.
  6. Fold in prepared fruits and nuts. Spread into loaf pans.
  7. Bake at 275 degrees for 2-1/2 to 3 hours or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  8. Cool fruitcakes in pans for 10 minutes then turn out onto cooling racks; cool completely.
  9. Soak cheesecloths with wine or brandy, wrap around fruitcakes, then wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 weeks. Cheesecloths may be resoaked from time to time if desired.

*Alternately cheesecloths may be soaked in orange juice then wrapped around fruitcakes and refrigerated.

Recipe Compliments of Betty Crocker and

How We Keep Christmas: Neighbors Are Family 1922

Hello Friends!

The third story in The Farmer’s Wife series How We Keep Christmas demonstrates how much friends and neighbors meant to rural folks. Mrs. Melby of North Dakota shares how three families gathered together each year on Christmas Eve to celebrate the holiday. The festivities included a program put on by the children, a humble gift exchange, bags of candy, nuts, and apples, and a jingling sleigh ride home.


When the longed-for Christmas Eve comes, we have supper early and dress in our very best "brand new dress for Christmas". We are bundled off into the sleigh. The sleigh bells are not forgotten,

Neighbors Are Family

WE ARE Three neighbors, the Wall family (a large family of grown-up sons and daughters and younger children) the Elvrum family, and the Albertson family (whose children are all younger than eighteen). Our farm homes are about a quarter of a mile apart. We celebrate Christmas together by turns. One year we are all invited to the Elvrum’s, next year to Wall’s, then to Albertsons’.

Every year we have a program which is the children’s delight. For weeks before we have been learning to recite the “piece” that mother found for us. For several Sunday afternoons, we met to practice singing our songs. We know the good old Yule-time songs word for word. Every little tot has her song or verse to say and it is the proudest time of her young life to say it well.

When the longed-for Christmas Eve comes, we have supper early and dress in our very best “brand new dress for Christmas.” We are bundled off into the sleigh. The sleigh bells are not forgotten, we must have their music as we glide over the new-fallen snow, the bells keeping time with our happy hearts.

Arrived at our friends, in happy confusion we lay off our wraps and rush to the Christmas tree! More beautiful than ever! More wonderful each year!

Then we have our program, the little folks a bit more nervous than they had expected to be and glad when it’s over. In our programs, we always have more about the Babe in the Manger and less about Santa and the reindeer.

Then come the toys, the dolls and the presents, a new hair ribbon, a pretty apron and many things we’ve longed for. It all seems so good. Then we get our bags of candy and nuts and all the apples we can eat and some to take home. The fathers and mothers too get gifts of value, presents unlooked for and, happy in the generosity of each other, we go home in the evening having a kindlier, neighborly feeling for all fellowmen. –Mrs. Bertha Melby, North Dakota

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, December 1922, Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

How We Keep Christmas: For Dear Old Ladies 1922

Hello Friends!

The second installment of the “How We Keep Christmas” series is a story that was shared by Mrs. Mary Buttner of Ohio. In 1922 she and her family wanted to do something to make Christmas special for “someone who truly hungered for a little Christmas spirit.” After running an ad in a local city’s newspaper “for a homeless old lady to spend Christmas” with them, the Buttner’s invited five of the loneliest ladies who applied. She reported that it “was the happiest and most wonderful Christmas” her family had ever had. Their guests were equally joyful.

Wishing you and yours a Christmas season filled with joy!


CHRISTMAS is always to us the most beautiful time of the year, the one time when we strive to make peace and contentment abide within our four walls. It has always seemed so much a children’s day and we always make the little one’s hearts happy and we as a family are happy. Last year, I wished particularly to make someone who truly hungered for a little Christmas spirit, happy too. So, I advertised in the daily paper of a nearby city, for a homeless old lady to spend Christmas with us. We were simply deluged with answers. How many unhappy lonely old souls there are in a city hungering for a little affection and love! Instead of just one, I took five of the loneliest, homeless old ladies, I ever met. Two of them lived in rented rooms in town and three were inmates of an aged women’s home.

Women’s Winter Gloves 1927

I had the house decorated with loads of evergreen, gay bright tissue, and a wonderful Christmas tree, and instead of spending my Christmas money on my friends and relatives, who did not need it, I spent it on lovely needle cases, nice gloves, and pretty stationery for my adopted Grannies, and hung each present on the tree in the prettiest Christmas package I could contrive.

Swift Premium Ham Ad 1920s

We had a real “farm” Christmas dinner and what a wonderful time our guests had helping get it ready!

Truly it was the happiest and most wonderful Christmas we ever spent. Those old ladies were as enthusiastic over and truly delighted with their gifts as any child. Their thanks were not the conventional expression of grateful friends but was the true spontaneous expression of happy hearts.

To prove to you what a success it was, we are planning the same kind of a Christmas this year, only we are going to add a few Grandpapas to the list if we can find them. –Mary E. Buttner, Ohio

The article above was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, December 1922; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.