This issue of School for Housewives was published in the San Francisco Call on Dec. 24, 1905. In the section entitled Christmas Chat, Marion remarks that a cross Christmas shopper is hard to come by where if we compare to today’s standards where many holiday shoppers are mowing down others for expensive gifts.
One aspect that puzzles me on the traditional Christmas tree is how ancestors prevented the tree from catching fire. You would think that the many candles would make it easy for a tree to catch fire if the flame was too close or too strong.
This year my Christmas funds are rather low I am inclined to make all of my gifts this year through art and sweets. While my skills are not as strong as the young woman mentioned in the section on Christmas candy I do look forward to make some delicious brownies, cookies, and other yummy goodies. A series of hand painted Christmas cards will help round out the gifts.
CHRISTMAS is the Children’s Day. I said that in my Thanksgiving Talk, but the thought is one that it is well to impress upon our minds as the holy season draws near. For, to enjoy this day of days in the true Christmas spirit, we must all be as little children. Just for a little while let us lay aside the thought of the toil and the stress, the getting and losing, the petty vexations and the still more petty jealousies of daily life. On this day we are all children together, thrilling with the joy of doing something to make others happy, with the delight of giving and with the eagerness to see all the good things that have come to every one else.
There is much talk – some of it decidedly wise, some of it heartlessly foolish – of the evil of gift-making. Without stopping here to go into the ethics of the matter, it may be well to call attention to the fact that at no other season is there so much good natured and unselfish jollity as during the holidays. Note the crowds coming home on street and railroad cars late in the evening, laden down with parcels of all sizes and description, footsore and weary, perhaps but merry and laughing. A cross Christmas shopper is an anomaly. For one such there are thousands of the happy kind. If one doubts the worth of this season, and is cynically tempted to ask. “What’s the use?” with regard to all the fuss and preparation let him simply read the papers and he will be answered. Is it nothing that in hospitals all over the country scores of children’s wards are graced by Christmas trees; that in countless institutions for the poor, the sick, the homeless, there are food and to spare, and gifts and joyous words; that there is one day in the year, when, to use worldly jargon, it is “fashionable” to be good to everybody? Let the sad faces brightened, the lonely made glad, the homeless that ???, answer the question. Is it nothing that on one day in the three hundred and sixty-five all Christendom follows the Golden Rule?
WHEN GIVING IS A TAX
But evil creeps in when the giving because a tax and ceases to be a pleasure. And it is the place of the housemother to see that this is not the case in her nest. The giving must not be dome “grudging nor of necessity,” if it would be gracious.
In one family there was in Lang Syne, a method of making presents which divided the burden (if it can be so called) equally among the members of the household. Several months beforehand a Christmas box or fund was started. Into this locked box were dropped, by each member of the family, such coins as he could spare. They accumulated gradually until a fortnight before Christmas, when there was held what was called “a family council.” All – the father and mother and the children – met to apportion to each person his or her gift. First, the father was told to go out of the room, and a vote was taken as to what should be given to him and the money for that was taken from the box. Next, the mother was banished and the father recalled, and her gift was chosen. Afterward, one child at a time left the room, and the others decided on what he or she should have. Of course, the parents’ gifts took more money than did those of the little children, for toys did not cost much, and in the arrangement the children concurred joyfully. Surely such a method was an illustration of the principle – “In honour preferring one another.”
In another home, where many friendless students – boys and girls far from home – spend Christmas, there is a tree, and on this is a gift for each person, and every one of the number who receives gives something to every other person.
GIFTS AT 25 CENTS APIECE
But there is one law that must not be disobeyed; no gift shall cost more than 25 cents. To depart from this would be considered unkind and unfair. One may pay as little as he wishes for a gift, but one cannot go beyond the sum named. The arrangement gives rise to much merriment. One girl whose hair was always falling down, as it was so heavy that it defied the stoutest pins, received a paper of hairpins elaborately tied with violet ribbon; another, who complained of cold hands and feet, received a tiny doll’s hot water bag and muff; the old-maid aunt, who had tea in her room every day, had a cheap, but pretty, Japanese teapot; to the youth whose dandelion-down moustache was struggling to face the world, was given a gorgeous shaving mug. It may all seem silly to the cool-headed and practical observer – silly and childish. But who would be practical, and who would not be a child at Christmas time?
One woman this year has (so far as her own practice is concerned) reversed the usual custom of giving to those who expect her to do so, or to when she has been in the habit of making gifts. She is now preparing gifts for those from whom she expect nothing, and who cannot send her anything. One great comfort in remembering the poor is the fact that one may not be accursed of giving in the hope of a return in kind.
As this is the home fest, let greens and other decorations be such as can be arranged by the members of the family. To many of us the odour of evergreen brings back a rush of memories of bygone Christmases, of happy faces, of cheering greeting. Let us not deny our children such memories for their future days. Have the prevailing colour green and red, the former much in evidence, the latter added to give a touch of brightness here and there; an exclamation point, as it were, to the general scheme. Get great boughs of cedar and of pine. Suppose each bough does drop its needles all over the floor – just now we will not pause to consider that. Over the mantelpiece bank the boughs, and fasten one across the top of each window.
PRETTY WINDOW DECORATIONS
A pretty idea is to frame each window in green. For this purpose use the ground pine or running cedar, tacking it with tiny brads to the window casing so that one looks out upon white world through a green frame. If one is whore holly and mistletoe grow, use both in abundance. But, if they must be bought at fancy prices, use them sparingly. Instead of the red of the holly, have wreaths and festoons tied with bows of bright scarlet baby ribbon. Of cotton-back ribbon, suitable for this purpose, one may buy a roll of ten yards for 12 cents. If holly is very expensive, be satisfied with having a sprig of it at each cover at the table, to be used at a boutonniere by each diner. Even if one can only have a small piece of mistletoe, hang this, in time honoured fashion, in the middle of the drawing room, and let each member of the family caught beneath it pay the penalty. The grandfather and grandmother will be younger for the merry joke, and the little folk always experience a thrill of excitement when thus aught and kisses. Anything that promotes mirth, or that produces a laugh, is to be advocated.
The questions of the Christmas tree is perennial. In many families the grown people still cling to the dear old emblem. Even when Santa Claus has grown to mean only the Spirit of Christmas, and the dressing of the tree is no longer a mysterious rite performed after each of the younger members of the household is in bed, “while visions of sugar plums dance in his head” – still we hate to part with the tree. Of course, a great deal of work, and a great deal of disorder later. If there are children in the family, put aside these considerations, and trim the tree, large or small. It means more to the little ones than we can imagine, unless we have very distinct recollections of our own youth.
A TINY TREE ON A TABLE
A pretty expedient, when a large tree is out of the question, is a tiny one o stand in the centre of the dining table. Have this fastened firmly in a wooden stand, and wind over the stand strands of running cedar. Then trim the tree. It must be made a veritable fairylike structure. At any toy shop one may buy tiny candles an inch or two long, with holders. Fasten these all over the tree. A pretty notion is to hang on this bush of evergreen a tiny scarlet box of bonbons for each person at the table. At the end of the meal, these are taken off and the contents eaten with, or after, the coffee. Tiny coloured beads, and strands of tinsel hang from the miniature branches. From the chandelier over the little tree suspend a red tissue paper Christmas bell, such as one sees for sae at thousands of shops at this season, and from the edges of this bell fasten yards of green smilax or other vine to meet the top of the tree. Streamers of ground pine wound with narrow scarlet ribbon can run to the four corners of the table. Sprigs of cedar dropped here and there upon the cloth add to the “Christmassy” effect.
All these things should be but the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual joy – a brightness that must make the whole year more glad because of the Gift of Gifts that came to the world on the first Christmas Day.
A GIRL, who was famous among friends and family for her skill in candy making, found herself facing the problem one Christmas of an almost empty purse and a long Christmas list.
There was only one thing for it – either to give some of her candy, or to abandon the idea of Christmas presents at all. Somehow, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without giving, so the candy won the day.
Fortunately, she knew plenty of kinds to make. For days before Christmas she was busy getting the numerous things ready. Nuts had to be shelled and blanched; harmless colouring matter secured, and the prettiest little boxes and baskets made of crinkled tissue paper and pasteboard, or of heavy watercolour paper, decorated prettily with watercolour paints.
The day before Christmas she shut herself up in the kitchen, with pans and kettles and plates – anything and everything ready “to her hand” for the work.
Her fudges were many and varied. Some made exactly like chocolate fudge (with the chocolate left out), were a delicious invention of her own, the result of an experiment one day when she wanted to make candy and found she had no chocolate. Two cups of sugar, one of milk, and a good tablespoonful of butter were put in a double boiler and allowed to boil for five minutes then taken off the fire and beaten until the top began to glaze ever so slightly. Into the mixture was poured a cupful of finely chopped nuts and half a teaspoonful of vanilla; it was stirred again quickly and turned out to cool.
A TASTY CHOCOLATE FUDGE
Leaving out the nuts and adding half a cake of bitter chocolate made the most delicious chocolate fudge. When some of her chocolate fudge turned out an apparent failure, she dumped into it a cup of molasses, put it all on to a boil up for five minutes, and turned out a batch of caramels.
Maple sugar fudge she made by boiling two cups of crushed maple sugar with one of cream. But it was a wonder o get just right, and unlike the chocolate fudge, stayed a failure when it turned out that way.
Chocolate fudge poured over a thick layer of chopped marshmallows made a fudge variation that was immensely popular, partly because the marshmallows offset the cloving sweetness of the fudge.
But the newest form of fudge was made with honey and cream, using equal proportions and beating “extra hard.”
Fudge biscuit she made for the girls who were at boarding schools, and who couldn’t get home for the holidays. She packed them in small cracker tins. They were simply small crackers, spread thickly with fudge, with another cracker laid on top.
With fondant as a foundation, all sorts of interesting cream candies and bonbons were made. To make this fondant, she put two cups of granulated sugar, half a cup of water and a pinch of cream of tartar into a double boiler, letting it boil until a little dropped in cold water formed into a soft ball between her fingers. This was hard to do, for the moment when it is just cooked enough to form, instead of separating, is the moment when it must come off, or be too stiff. She let it cook, and then stirred it until it grew creamy, then turned it out and worked it, like a batch of bread, until every lump was out of it and it was a smooth lot of cream.
EVOLUTION OF A CONFECTION
Some of it she flavoured with vanilla and rolled into little balls (some with a nut in the centre) and dipped into chocolate, using a long wire with a loop on the end for dipping. The chocolate was the ready sweetened kind, melted and kept soft by being stood in hot water.
These were the beginnings. From them sprang all sorts of pink and violet-tinted bonbons, dipping balls of the cream in the tinted cream. Peppermint cream and chocolate covered peppermints were made by adding a few drops of oil of peppermint to the fondant, and wintergreen drops by the addition of essence of wintergreen.
Everton taffy came out crisp and delicious. Half a pound each of butter and granulated sugar were boiled for fifteen minutes, and poured out in buttered tins.
Her fondant ran short before she came to the dish of English walnuts, which had been carefully shelled to keep the halves unbroken. So she stirred confectioner’s sugar and cream together until it was of the consistency of the fondant, flavoured it with vanilla and put half an English walnut on each side.
It was a long, hard day’s work, with results in the shape of burns and blisters, a face very much flushed, and aching muscles; but when the various kinds were sorted, and packed in their pretty receptacles, her gifts “loomed up well, after all,” as her small sister (and general helper) observed.
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