In an attempt to shield my daughter from some of the current commercialism of the Christmas holiday, her bedtime stories for the month of December this year came out of “The Children’s Book of Christmas Stories,” published in 1922. Our copy originally belonged to my grandmother, and it is a compilation of stories from many different authors/sources bound into a single book. It is quite refreshing to read stories that don’t center around a television character or Santa & his massive sack of toys! One of the most interesting parts of these stories for me is getting a glimpse into how young children were treated in generations past. Two specific examples stand out in my mind from this book:
- The Christmas Masquerade by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, first published in 1892. This is a mighty strange story where the mayor hosts a Christmas Eve masquerade ball for all of the town’s children, personally sponsoring the children that cannot pay for costumes. At this ball, none of the children are accompanied by their parents, dinner is not served until midnight, wine is served with dinner, and the only food that is served (from what we are told) is bonbons! The band stops playing at 3am, and the children are sent home in their carriages. I realize that his is a fictional story (all of the costumes are under the spell of a magician!), but the author had to retain some level of reality in order to make her fiction believable, right? Children up until 3am, unattended, drinking wine & eating candy? I’m glad I wasn’t at that party.
- Master Sandy’s Snapdragon by Elbridge S. Brooks, first published about 1889. This story is a glimpse into the 1611 Christmas of the English royal family. The author calls King James (of King James’ Bible fame) “cranky” and “crusty!” In this story, the royal children (ages 8 & up) play a Christmas Eve game called Snapdragon, which apparently is still played today in some families. To play, a shallow bowl is placed in the center & a small handful of raisins are placed in…one of them is the lucky raisin “pierced with a golden button.” If you choose the lucky raisin out of the bowl, you win. Easy, right? Wait, first you have to fill the bowl with brandy, light it on fire, and extinguish the burning raisin by eating it! I Googled it and it looks like this was a real thing back in the day. Can you imagine?!
It was quite refreshing in our age over what some may consider to be over-protection of children, to read these stories about how the children of yesteryear were viewed. What a stark contrast!