A Homestead Christmas

In Christmastime in Montana, David Walter has compiled hundreds of stories and descriptions of Christmas celebrations from the archives of Montana history, and I was perusing it earlier this week. Wait, peruse means to “examine carefully and at length?” Never mind, I wasn’t perusing anything.

I speed-skimmed Christmastime in Montana, on the search for blog-postable inspiration. Normally, I am drawn to the descriptions of lavish and, frankly, absurd feasts sometimes used to celebrate the holidays. Christmastime in Montana offers plenty of those. In 1902, someone called Mrs. Ford recommended a ten course meal involving “Chicken consommé, with whipped cream, having red sugar sprinkled on top,” “salad, served in a large scooped beet, with mayonnaise,” and “Ice cream, served in the form and color of an American Beauty Rose.”

Yes, feel free to make your ice cream look like this. From rose-gardening-made-easy.com
Yes, feel free to make your ice cream look like this. From rose-gardening-made-easy.com

In 1893, the Hotel Helena served, among other things, clams, sea turtle soup, shad, capon with salt pork, frog saddles, prime rib, suckling pig, young turkey, roast partridge, currant jelly chicken, and mayonnaise boned turkey.

The Hotel Helena, circa 1892. From helenahistory.org
The Hotel Helena, circa 1892. From helenahistory.org

But this week I was less interested by the over-the-top feasts, and more drawn to this description of a 1910 Christmas by Edna Patterson, who, with her parents, had moved into a homestead cabin north of Glendive on December 23rd:

“…we were going to get a cedar tree for Christmas. We went up about half a mile or more from the house, and we found two little cedar trees in the coulee. That’s all we found. They were too precious to cut for our Christmas tree so we cut down a bullberry bush, and we took it home.

Mother had a couple of newspapers…she let us cut them into little strips, and she made us some flour past. We made those strips all into chains, paper chains. Then we decorated the bullberry bush with the chains. It was a sight to behold, I tell you….we had some crayons that we had brought from Iowa with us—some color crayons—so we colored some of those pieces of paper…

For Christmas dinner, Mother had put this big prairie chicken pie in the oven to bake. And she had baked cookies the day before, so there were lots of cookies”

~Edna Patterson, quoted in Christmastime in Montana, by David Walter (Montana Historical Society Press: 2003).



Leave a Comment