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.

The Farm Radio 1926

“What the self-starter did for the automobile, Atwater Kent One Dial operation is doing for Radio.” Christmas Ad 1926

Hello Friends!

Just like today, technology was at the top of everyone’s holiday wish list in 1926. Every family–farm families included–hoped that Santa would deliver a radio set to their home. By then radios were wireless allowing everyone in the room to hear the featured program through the horn-shaped speaker. Tuning into the radio station had become simpler with fewer dials to adjust. And the sets were sleeker-looking with tubes and batteries built inside the radio box. Ultra-modern (and very expensive) radios ran on electricity, a luxury that was still ten years away for very rural homes.

The article below illustrates just how meaningful radio programming was a century ago. It also discusses the challenges of operating the new technology and the need for government regulation over radio stations. By the mid-1920s radio was fast becoming a key component in the Ideal Farm Home. Happy Reading!


Family Listening to the Radio Mid 1920s

The Wonder of Radio

HAVING had a radio in our farm home since radio infancy and also having had many different types, I can say something about the radio and what it means to the farm family. And what I will say today is much different from what I might have said in those first days, as much difference as between radios then and now. Then we thought it amazing to hear the tap, tap of the time signals from Arlington, and when we heard a faint suggestion of music—only a suggestion and that so faint that we had to give our imagination broad play, we could hardly conceive the wonder. Many a night, in those early days, I was routed out of my warm bed by the excited calls of my young son to come quick—he thought he heard music!

Our son worked diligently on the farm every summer and when fall came, we tried to buy for him the thing he most wanted. From the time he first knew about radios, he desired one. We watched him through one summer trying to “codger” something together that could be called a radio and reading everything he could get hold of on the subject. By fall, we decided the fever was not going to wear off, so we let him send for one. They had to be “sent for” in those days. It came at the time of our town fair. Do you imagine he went to the fair—something he never before missed? He could not be coaxed to go but spent the time installing his radio. For a long time, his new toy did not mean much to his father and mother—only a trial to get him to bed. But it meant bliss to him! One day, imagine my consternation when I found the radio in pieces spread over his bed—the radio that we had strained our pocketbook to the limit to buy! I do not know exactly what I said but whatever it was I now am ashamed of it. Son is a man now and his business is radio which explains, of course, that unconquerable temptation to pull to pieces the first one he knew; also, it explains our having had so many different sets in our farm home.

The Radio Concert 1923

Arts and Education Through Radio

SO RADIO has meant a life work for our boy and pleasure and education for his parents. With me, the pleasure and education have been so closely combined as to be difficult to separate. There is pleasure in the music. I like it all. I like some jazzy stuff; I like the beautiful old songs; I like the classics. There is education, also. I never before had a chance to know how lovely, how pretty and even “catchy” some classical music is. People who do not know, think that high-class music is humdrum—it is far from that. One can hear all kinds of life in classical music—that is what it speaks to me—life! Without effort, I have become familiar with composers. That never would have happened in my busy farm life had it not been for the radio. The announcers give sketches of the lives of the composers and the performers; and these sketches, given when we are listening to their music sink into our memories.

And to think that I, a farm woman, with neither time nor money for city concerts, have heard the great artist of the day—even Marion Talley (a nineteen-year-old opera singer with the Metropolitan Opera 1926—1929) who has stirred up so much excitement.

President Calvin Coolidge standing next to a car equipped with radio 1924

Politicians and Radio

I am interested in politics and surely the radio has brought me a lot of information. Reading speeches and debates does not carry conviction as does hearing them in the politician’s own voice. How we can judge a voice with its inflections of the seriousness of laughter, of sarcasm, of wheedling. A certain sort of politician can’t easily fool me now. And how fine it is to be familiar with the voices a well as the looks of the big people we admire. How thrilling it is to be familiar with the voice of our President (Calvin Coolidge)! How acquainted with him we feel!

Listening to the Radio Mid-1920s

Radio in Moderation

There are such a variety of things the radio brings to us: college lectures, talks of books, agricultural information, weather and market reports, church services for those who cannot attend—or that is the way it should be, for no radio service, no matter how good, can take the place of actual church attendance.

Radio listening may be overdone. With children, a firm hand is needed so that it does not usurp regular habits and work. It is not good when we let it rob us of needed sleep. It becomes a narrowing rather than a broadening factor when we will listen to only one line that is given over it. I know one woman who will listen only to jazzy tunes. Radio listening need not take a woman’s time from her work. While listening, my hands are usually busy, unless I am resting or am listening to something upon which I wish to closely concentrate. A loudspeaker, of course, is absolutely necessary. Ours can be heard plainly in my kitchen.

It is to be hoped most sincerely that broadcasting stations will keep to a high standard of programs. We had rather have fewer and shorter programs than necessitate the serving of trash.

Cat Looking into Radio Speaker 1926

Understanding New Technology

OUT of my experience with radio receiving sets, I know that they have to bear more blame and cursing than they deserve. There are many good kinds upon the market; there are poor ones. There are many factors that enter into poor reception besides the receiving set itself. It is all a marvel. Most often poor reception may be located in atmospheric conditions, poor batteries, poor tubes, or the aerial. The past winter has been the poorest for reception of any time during the many years of our experience. It has been puzzling, to say the least. Stations that used to come in clear and loud, we were not able to get at all. Occasionally there is trouble at the transmitting station. During the last Lenten season, we were listening to a noon service, when abruptly it stopped. We knew the trouble was not in our set, so we left it turned on and tuned in. In about twenty minutes the sermon continued. I know that day several people phoned for a “trouble” man to come, as their radios did not work—and it was not the radios at all! They never thought to try later but must instantly blame their machines. Too, it happens often that everything will seem all wrong one night and the next night, or sooner, the reception will be perfect. Some people have more aptitude than others in turning a set.

We have used four, five, and six-tube sets and single control with good results. For a long time, we used a four-tube and thought none could equal it; now we have a six-tube and like it. It gives great volume and, also, has a pleasing tone. The tone and selectivity, that is the ability to separate stations, are to be sought in selecting a set. I believe there would be more real pleasure in radio if there were not so many stations on the air, for many sent at once on practically the same wavelength.

Money spent on a radio will give more value to a farm family than anything else that can be bought for an equal amount. –Elizabeth M. Hoag 1926

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, November 1926; Webb Publishing Company. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

How We Keep Christmas: Grandmother’s House 1922

Hello Friends!

Today begins a new series–How We Keep Christmas. Each Sunday between now and Christmas, I will post a story submitted to The Farmer’s Wife by farm women from the 1920s telling how they and their family “kept” Christmas. Some stories are nostalgic, some are filled with the spirit of giving and others tell of humble, even destitute times, but all are heartwarming and brimming with the true meaning of Christmas.

Today’s story tells of a four-generation celebration at Grandmother’s house where not only family members receive a gift, but the young adults of the family get to take the car to distribute gifts to some of the less fortunate. I’m sure fun was had by all. Happy Reading!


CHRISTMAS! Ever since I was a tiny girl with dreams of a full stocking showing a doll’s head at the top, that word has meant to me the happiest time of all the year. And now with my own little girl just old enough to begin to learn the Christmas story, it is going to mean more and more to me.

I had the good fortune to marry a member of a large family. Each Christmas we all arrange to be together and what better place could there be than at Grandmother’s house? On Christmas eve, each married son and daughter bring in their family. The younger boys and girls are home from college. The twins—the youngest daughters—have a Christmas tree all ready to receive the gifts though no one is allowed even a peep until “Santa Claus comes.” Then we are invited into the parlor and what “Oh’s!” and “Ah’s!” of delight burst from the seven little granddaughters. Everyone gets something from the tree, from Bobby, the youngest baby, to her great-grandparents

As we are all farm people and some live several miles away, no one goes home that night. The next morning before breakfast the entire family gathers about the piano and through such songs as Holy Night and Hark, The Herald Angels Sing, we call to mind again the Christ Child who came to bring peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Then grandfather, still vigorous and young at heart though eighty-two years old reads us the Christmas story. As we kneel and hear him pray, we realize what a wonderful Christmas gift we all received so many centuries ago.

After breakfast, the younger sons and daughters take the car and distribute gifts which Mother has thoughtfully prepared for those less fortunate than ourselves: baskets filled with dressed chickens, canned and fresh fruits with here and there a personal gift.

Then comes the big dinner. Usually, another family or two of relatives are invited in for there’s turkey and cranberry sauce for all.

All too early evening comes, each little tot is bundled up and we are off to our own homes, each one of us feeling very much like one of the little girls did last Christmas when she said, “Mother, isn’t Christmas just a beautiful time?” –Mrs. Joe Shirky, Missouri

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

Chocolate Cream Cheese Truffles

Even before Pinterest, my mother was masterful at creating engaging, budget-friendly activities for me and my siblings throughout the Christmas season. Baking cookies and simple candy making were some of our favorite activities. Each child would participate at their level — the older children would do the measuring and mixing, while the younger ones might only add sprinkles or do the taste-testing. It was always a team effort. And, of course, the end results were very tasty.

Following suit, one of the simplest and most engaging kitchen activities that my children and I have enjoyed is making Chocolate Cream Cheese Truffles. The inspiration comes from a recipe in a Philadelphia Cream Cheese holiday cook booklet from the 1970s. Calling for a few simple ingredients — cream cheese, powdered sugar and melted chocolate chips — the candy is easy to prepare (adult supervision is essential when melting the chocolate). Once the chocolate is incorporated into the other ingredients and chilled, rolling little balls of chocolate in a variety of colorful holiday sprinkles creates a gift-worthy confection. Whether staying indoors due to the weather or because of Covid, this activity is sure to keep little (and not so little) hands busy. Enjoy!

Chocolate Cream Cheese Truffles

  • Servings: 3 - 4 dozen
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 (12 oz) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted OR half semi-sweet and half milk chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract*
  • Assorted sprinkles



  1. In a large bowl using an electric mixer,  cream powdered sugar and cream cheese until smooth.
  2. Melt chocolate chips in a glass bowl in the microwave, stirring every 45 – 60 seconds, until smooth and glossy.
  3. Blend melted chocolate into cream cheese and powdered sugar mixture a little at a time.
  4. Cover and refrigerate candy until firm enough to hold its shape, about one hour.
  5. Shape into one inch balls and roll in sprinkles.

*Note: Alternate extracts and flavorings such as almond, peppermint or cake batter flavoring can be substituted for the vanilla. 

Recipe Compliments of