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Shopping for Christmas Spirit

December 2, 2014
By Heidi Maness Hartwiger - Natural Parent, Natural Child , OVParent

What activates the Christmas spirit within us? Is it the last bite of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie or hearing the first Christmas song slipped in the regular radio programming? At the grocery store, do you notice bags of cranberries and walnuts in the shell? Inhale heavenly pine scent wafting from piles of wreaths waiting for decoration?

Commercialism wiggles in with catalogues and enticing advertising. It was not always so. When America was a toddler, fresh from breaking away from Mother England, our government, according to "The Encyclopedia of Christmas" (Tanya Gulevich, Visable Ink Press, 1998) banned all national holidays and festivals. Individual states commemorated quietly. Early Virginia traditions included giving Christmas gifts to the poor and to the servants. On New Year's Day, there was a modest family exchange. Gifts may have included food and homemade clothing.

In Williamsburg, Va., families did not have decorated Christmas trees until 1845. As the story goes, a family hosted a gentleman from Germany who was teaching German at the College of William and Mary. Not seeing preparations for a tree, he inquired and then shared his Christmas tree tradition: how to cut and then decorate the tree. The entire town came to the Christmas party. As the story goes, the next year every home in town displayed a tree adorned with little gifts and treats. Wouldn't it have been fun to be the Christmas mouse in a home when the folks discovered that hand-crafted ornaments could be saved, carefully packed away and used year after year!

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"The Encyclopedia of Christmas" tells us that in 1851 somewhere up in the Catskill Mountains, Mark Carr, an enterprising logger, filled a wagon with cut fir trees and set off for New York City. He rented a spot on the sidewalk for $1. Word spread quickly, and the city folks purchased his entire inventory. It seems the next year when Mr. Carr arrived with his wagon load of fir trees, he discovered the space rental fee had jumped to $100.

In 1856, Franklin Pierce brought the first Christmas tree into the White House.

The momentum was building. American ministers composed Christmas carols such as "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "We Three Kings" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" which are now traditional. "The Encyclopedia of Christmas" reports that on June 26, 1870 Congress declared Christmas a national holiday. Perhaps this was the key that unlocked the door to commercialism. Businesses began to advertise. Their drum beat was to purchase manufactured goods. Handkerchiefs, socks and umbrellas were "thoughtful gifts."

"The Everything Christmas Book" (Bob Adams Inc., 1994) offers fascinating facts including lists and prices of popular gifts decade by decade. Here is a brief sampling of what was hot. In 1900, you would pay 50 cents for china candlesticks and $2 for boys' wool socks. The popular folding umbrella was $4 in 1910. In 1920, your wish list might include a silk umbrella. The cost: $10. An elegant doll house was $5 in 1930. Moving on to 1940, the much sought-after electric iron was $2.49. A high end zippered nylon ladies robe was $6.98. Just a decade later, $8.89 would buy a quilted rayon and taffeta robe. Here comes the 1960s: A picture with Santa cost 49 cents. Life gets interesting with the electric can opener for $7.77 and ladies stretch slacks for $3.97.

The Thanksgiving Day parade was the brainchild of large department stores as a marketing tool to kick off a festive shopping season. Gimbels' Parade in Philadelphia and Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade are now part of our culture. President Franklin D. Roosevelt yielded to big business and set the permanent Thanksgiving Day date for Nov. 23 so there would be many shopping days before Christmas. By 1941, Congress made it official. Thanksgiving Day, regardless of the date, would be the fourth Thursday in November. This guaranteed four weeks for the shoppers to shop!

Along with the extended shopping season came extended store hours and the animated window display. I remember seeing a spectacular three-window animated display at Lazarus Department Store in Columbus, Ohio. In Wheeling, L.S. Good's Department Store had a small but just as charming display with an electric train zooming through cotton snow. In a display near the door was a live talking Christmas Tree. What a great Christmas part-time job!

There are ways, however, to neutralize materialism, get the kids involved and ease your family toward exchanges of love and good will that overflow into your neighborhood. Create decorations for a small tabletop tree or to share. All you need for simple ornaments are Christmas cookie cutters, colored construction paper or old Christmas cards, crayons, stickers, glitter-glue and yarn. Although they might need help in cutting, preschoolers can trace around Christmas cookie cutters and using crayons and stickers they can decorate both sides of the ornaments. Punch a hole in the top for a loop of yarn to hang.

Do a little culinary research. Make a Christmas goodie that is an oldtime recipe but new to your family. I'm not sure when frozen orange juice concentrate appeared. It was fun, as my grandmother called it, "to reconstitute." I measured and poured juice cans of water into the pitcher and stirred the orange blob into juice. We made and shared these no-bake Christmas Nuggets cookies made from frozen orange juice.

Christmas Nuggets

1 12-ounce box of vanilla wafers (crushed)

1/2 cup melted butter

1 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

1 6-ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed and undiluted

Extra confectioners sugar for rolling

Combine crushed wafers, melted butter, nuts and confectioners sugar. Add thawed orange juice and mix well. Chill 1 hour. Form into small balls. Roll in confectioners sugar. Refrigerate 24 hours before serving. This makes about 3 dozen, depending on nugget size. Freeze or store in air tight container. Although it contains nuts, this kid-friendly recipe is chocolate- and egg-free.

- Heidi Maness Hartwiger, a Wheeling native, is a writer, teacher and storyteller. She is the author of six books, including her most recent, a novel titled "Fire in Progress." She is a mother of four and a grandmother of five.



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