19th Century Reality

“O my people, listen to my teaching. Open your ears to what I am saying. For I will show you lessons from our history, stories handed down to us from former generations.” (Psalms 78:1-4)

I tend to over-romanticize earlier times in history. Sure, there’s a lot to be said for a quiet, peaceful walk where no motorcars pollute the air, assault our ears with their constant rumble, and the threat of being struck down by one is non-existent. There’s something to be said for growing your own food, knowing where it came from, knowing what’s in it, and knowing how to preserve it for the winter months when nothing grows. There’s an art to cooking. Sadly, many in our society no longer take the time to learn that art. They’re too busy to slow cook anything; nuke for 3 minutes instead…and watch most, if not all, of the nutrition evaporate. And, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, the craftsmanship that went into everything! Today’s styles, whether we’re talking clothing, or furnishings, or even architecture, are–in my not-so-humble opinion–bland. There’s no attempt at individuality. Everything is churned out in a factory so that every house, every sofa, every pair of jeans is often identical to the next. The only difference may be that this house is blue and its neighbor is yellow. So, I lament the loss of such craftsmanship.

However, yesterday afternoon, I spent some time reading some of the literature in the herb garden “office”. “Office” because it’s really the basement to another exhibit in the Village but it has been converted into a part-garden shed, part-gardening library and, yes, part-office. Some of what I read, I already knew but it was kind of sobering all the same:

Every family could expect to lose at least one child in infancy…mostly due to bacterial infections and viruses, of which infants have not developed immunity against and, of course, there’s no real hospital with today’s pre- and post-natal care.

Every family could also expect to lose at least one child before the age of 21 because one out of every five children never got the chance to grow up due to childhood diseases. I often criticize certain vaccinations–usually the flu vaccine, and I will continue to do so as Johns Hopkins Hospital just released a new study in regard (more about that at a later time)–but, while some of the ones we received as children may cause some unpleasant conditions and/or side effects, they also save lives. I, for one, would not want to contract tuberculosis–what was called “consumption” in the 1800’s. Consumption was one of the biggest killers in the 19th century.

Diseases like malaria and cholera took the lives of hundreds of people each summer. When was the last time we heard of anyone contracting cholera? There’s something to be said for public sanitation, too.

Women between 20 and 45, their childbearing years, were always at risk of losing their lives in the birthing process.

Menstrual pain, PMS and menopause were treated with patent medicines. These were primarily alcohol-based “remedies” prescribed by doctors to suppress certain symptoms. And, as anyone knows who has had alcoholism in their family, sometimes the effect is not calming but the basis for more irrational behavior.

One could practice medicine without a license, without even a formal education. The herbalist in me says this one isn’t so bad. No, I don’t want a surgeon cutting me open without ever having received formal training to do so but I don’t mind being able to tincture a few herbs together and being allowed to call it “medicine” instead of “remedy” or “supplement”. However, doctors of the 19th century were of two extremes. Some were merely learned herbalists who, rather than just the more benign plants like chamomile, mint and fennel that nearly everyone knew and trusted, employed harsher herbs. One such fellow, Samuel Thomson, believed the body must first be purged of all ill humors and then heated up because he believed that cold was the enemy. So he prescribed, almost exclusively, first, Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata) to induce violent and copious vomiting and diarrhea (Lobelia inflata has since been proven to be quite toxic) and then followed it up with a heavy dose of Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum annuum). He was incarcerated for murder when one of his patients died but then acquitted when nobody on the jury panel could readily identify Indian tobacco. The other side of medicine in the 1800’s used mineral-based remedies like calomel (Mercurous chloride), which had pretty much the same effect on the patient as Lobelia inflata. Bloodletting, purging and blistering were other orthodox methods of “healing”, methods that often sped a patient on their way by further weakening the victim. Lastly, though surgeons were often quite skillful, even in the 1800’s, the risk of infection was great and I, for one, would not like to endure such surgeries without the use of anesthetics.

Lastly, as a woman, the 1830’s hold less appeal, not enough to taint my joy in learning the skills and donning the beautiful outfits of the time, but because I’m simply far too independent to leave myself at the mercy–or lack thereof–of my closest male relative for my care. There were strict boundaries between women’s work and men’s. There was little to no industry for women at all (though the rapidly-growing textile industry was changing this). A widow living alone, even if she could figure out how to manage a plow on her own, hired out for the job instead; that just wasn’t woman’s work and one might appear “unseemly”. I face some of this same discrimination today as there are certain “stations” within the Village that women are strictly prohibited from learning: tinsmithing, pottery, coopering and blacksmithing are a few of them. These were men’s tasks and so, in an effort to stay true to the time period, modern women are pretty much denied these skills. (Funny how we bend that period correct rule in the Knight store where women “clerk” and for our Christmas by Candlelight program…but that’s another post for another day…) What’s that old expression? “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

May God bless you & keep you!

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Higher Education

“I, Wisdom/Sophia, give good advice and common sense. Because of my strength kings reign in power, I show the judges who is right and who is wrong. Rulers rule well with my help. I love all who love me. Those who search for me shall surely find me. Unending riches, honor, justice and righteousness are mine to distribute. My gifts are better than the purest gold or sterling silver! My paths are those of justice and right. Those who love and follow me are indeed wealthy. I fill their treasuries. The Lord formed me in the beginning, before He formed anything else. From ages past, I am. I existed before the earth began. I lived before the oceans were created, before the springs bubbled forth their waters onto the earth; before the mountains and the hills were made. yes, I was born before God made the earth and the fields, and high plateaus.” (Proverbs 8:14-26)

I love learning. Sometimes to a degree that I feel like I’ve become a Jill-of-all-trades, mistress of none. And yet, what I do isn’t usually shoddy. Again, I just love learning. And I don’t believe you can ever have too much of it.

Working at Old Sturbridge Village, I am finding another aspect of this new career that suits me even better than all the other facets of this position–I’m learning something new everyday. And it’s not just some odd trivia or fact. I’m learning skills that are almost completely lost from most of society and yet, less than 200 years’ ago were known by most, if not all. As industrialization and then, automation evolved, hand skills were lost. While I can appreciate the efficiency and economy of being able churn out X-number of wing nuts per hour, I have a much deeper respect and appreciation for the craftsmanship involved with doing everything–or almost everything–by hand. I say “almost” because by the village’s time period (1838-1840), textile mills were spread all over New England…and housewives started putting away their looms.

The enormous loom in the Fenno House, for me, is the ultimate goal. I’ve tried weaving before…brief introductions from friends and the occasional exhibitor at the local fair or craft show. It’s been enough to wet my appetite rather than the development of any skill. But that will come in time. In time, I hope to have my own loom so that I may practice at home. How cool to give someone a new shirt or skirt and know that, not only did I follow the pattern and stitch it together, but I hand-wove the fabric it was made from and set the dyes as well. Or perhaps I purchased a couple of antique chairs at an auction that needed new seats and was able to sand them, paint them and add new caned seats to them so they’re like new. Again, these are fast becoming lost arts. If I can learn some of them well enough, I can also offer workshops to teach others. And then maybe the arts won’t be lost…not entirely.

But I have to know kitchens in the 1830’s, to know how to tend the fire, to cook and to bake on a hearth before I can get installed in Fenno on a regular basis and learn spinning and weaving. And I’m all for it.

Last week, I spent Thursday learning Bixby House, Sunday learning cooking on a hearth and Monday Freeman Farm. Both Bixby and Freeman regularly have cooking demonstrations. I also milked Bonnie, one of the red Devon cows at the Freeman Farm, in the hopes of possibly becoming a milk maid at the Village. It will mean traveling in an hour earlier on the days that I’m scheduled to milk but I think I can handle it. There will be a slow training/introduction to it before they let me loose to be solely responsible for each of the cows. And, as we approach winter, they will be drying off the cows. Springtime they will calf and then the milking will begin anew. Though there isn’t a specific class or training for it, working at the Village, you learn the rhythm of life that comes from working the land, working in close harmony to nature. You learn which chores are appropriate to perform in which seasons, how to schedule your day via the weather. I.e. you don’t work the earth when it’s pouring outside lest you compact the soil. And candle dipping is done in cooler months or the tapers will never harden (or firm up) in the high humidity of summer.

Sunday’s cooking lesson had me grating cheese to make potted cheese (delicious!), and mixing the spices via a mortar and pestle; kneading bread dough; tending a roast (yeah, I know…the pescetarian; I hear it was good) over an open flame; making mulled cider using a red-hot poker to carmelize the cider and spices together; heating a beehive oven and learning to test it for readiness for baking by how long one can keep their arm in it before the heat gets overbearing (this is, of course, after the fire has gone out and the hot coals scooped out, the only heat being what’s given off by the bricks. I managed a full 11 seconds); fresh-squeezed lemonade and apple pie from scratch.

And, on Saturday, I sat with a group of artisans who set up an exhibit in the Bullard Tavern and tried my hand at lace making, and put a bug in another lead’s ear about learning how to do netting.

I’m thrilled.

And I’m itching to try my hand at everything at once. While I can appreciate my own enthusiasm, I also know I need to reign it in just a teensy bit. I don’t want to just try it. I want to achieve some proficiency at these skills so that, someday soon, I can apply them here at The Herbal Hare Homestead.

In short, along with the more “formal” education I am receiving through Southern New Hampshire University, as I earn my degree in Creative Writing with an emphasis on Fictional Writing and two minor concentrations in Environmental Science and Illustration, I am earning another sort of degree. A degree in life skills that can only serve me well for the rest of my days.

May God bless you & keep you!

Eat Your Heart Out, Dr. Quinn!

“Look at the lilies! They don’t toil and spin, and yet Solomon in all his glory was not robed as well as they are. And if God provides clothing for the flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, don’t you suppose that He will provide clothing for you, you doubters?” (Luke 12: 27-28)

I’m not wearing a corset.

And, no, this blog is not suddenly taking a turn into vulgarity or salaciousness. I mean, really, to even mention an undergarment in the 19th century–the idea!

But the corset is the one thing missing from my more formal outfits issued by Old Sturbridge Village, which, by the way, would have been Dr. Quinn’s mother’s–or even grandmother’s–day as OSV is interpreted as between 1838 and 1840; Dr. Quinn rolled into Colorado Springs in 1870, I believe. However, masochistic individual that I am, I am itching to have a corset made…or get really adventurous and find a pattern to make one for myself. Of course, hooks and stays are another terminology, one that doesn’t quite send most ladies screaming for the hills in an effort to escape this perceived torture. However, is it any worse than the tight-fitting jeans of today?

I’ll take the corset any day over the jeans…

Yup. You read that right. I hate today’s fashions. Whoever decided that to be treated as equals, women should also have to dress like men, in trousers, as they were called in the day, should’ve been shot.

Did I mention that I’m also a few fries short of a happy meal, too?

Of course, I’m likely not any man’s version of “sexy” in the image below but I feel sexy and attractive thus attired. Four to five days out of the week now I feel oh-so-feminine. Would that such attire not get me some odd looks if I wore it every day…even when I’m not on the job. (Albeit, I would dump the white, frilly bonnet, rebel that I am…) Although, I think the people at my local Walmart are getting used to me already. I must stop in there at least 3-4 times a week for greens, for cat food, for whatever I forgot to pick up the day before on the way home from “work”. One of my “mentors” is beloved illustrator and author, Tasha Tudor, who dressed 19th century for all of her days. And it was her fashion sense, as much as her talents as an artist and writer, that really drew me in.

Hmmm…could this be a sign?

Okay. Before the men in white coats come to pick me up, I will say one thing. Dressing 19th century is comfortable. The corset might change that, but when I don these clothes, I feel comfortable and free, like I’ve just crawled into my own skin for the first time in my life. Wearing full skirts, and petticoats, and shawls, etc., feels natural to me. Almost second nature. So, why not go with it?

Again, I’d probably dump the white bonnet and let my hair hang loose. But, otherwise, eat your heart out Dr. Quinn! You’re not the only one who can look awesome in full skirts.

May God bless you & keep you!

Leap of Faith…into a Bright, New Future

“These trouble and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won’t last very long. Yet this short time of distress will result in God’s richest blessing upon us forever and ever!…I was given a physical condition which has been a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to hurt and bother me, and prick my pride. Three different times I begged God to make me well again. Each time He said, ‘No. But I am with you; that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people.’ Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am; I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ’s power. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite happy about ‘the thorn,’ and about insults and hardships, persecutions and difficulties; for when I am weak, then I am strong–the less I have, the more I depend on Him.” (2 Corinthians 4:17; 12:7-10)

Letting go…that has always been my biggest problem when it comes to faith. I lack trust. Sure, I can–and have often–blamed many of my trust issues on my childhood. And I’m not belittling the effects of childhood trauma when I say this but, what am I doing with this lack of trust? Am I continuing to point that finger of blame at another person and thus staying mired in the pain…and in the past? Or am I turning it around at myself, asking what can I–or You–do with this pain for the highest good and taking responsibility for that lack of trust? Choosing the latter option really can be a leap of faith…

I took that leap of faith last week. And here I am in an entirely different world all of a sudden…a world of hope, of joy, of faith.

For many of you reading this blog, you may or may not know that I have been a volunteer at Old Sturbridge Village since 2012; two summers’ ago, I had to request that I be taken off of the schedule for awhile as a return to academia (as I work towards my degree in Creative Writing with an Emphasis in Fictional Writing, and a minor in Environmental Science), a massive landscaping project here on The Herbal Hare Homestead, work on two separate novels, and part-time work at a local car dealership to make ends meet, overwhelmed me time-wise. Something had to give. But I always planned to eventually return to the Village…Someday.

God had bigger plans.

Friday, out of the blue, I received an email from the Coordinator of Volunteers (and I sincerely hope that is the correct title of this wonderful lady…) telling me about a position that had opened up at the Village. This was not a volunteer position, but a paid one heading up their extensive Herb Garden.

I hesitated. Two years’ ago, when I had asked to be taken off their schedule for a time, their long-time Horticultural Lead had left, partly, because the pay scale was so low. As many of you know, though this is a homestead where I am attempting to grow most, if not all, of my fruits, vegetables and herbs, I am still in the early stages of development. It will be some time before this is producing enough to be even semi-self-sufficient. So salary isn’t something I can readily compromise on. There was also the matter of being transportationally-challenged. Mom’s vehicle is still “grounded” as we have yet to get it registered again (see past blog posts on the whole story) so how do I get there??? I’ve been walking nearly everywhere since mid-May.

I called the United Way. I called Unemployment. There is a ride-share program and a reimbursement program if one must take a cab, or some other temporary means, and I found I qualified for both but, they are extremely temporary–as in the “help” would only last a few days because of the distance. I didn’t want to apply, get it, and then have to quit again in three days’ time. Our transportation issues may not be resolved by then.

Or so I thought.

While I was hemming and hawing about all of this, about an hour after the first email, I got another email. The C of V touched base with the Agricultural Lead. I was told to get my resume in yesterday as they had extended the window for getting in said resume just for me and recommendations were already given.

“Lord,” I thought, “You dropped this into my lap; You must have a reason. I don’t know how on earth I’m going to get to this job, if I even get it, but You must have something in mind. I’m going to trust You in this…and not worry about the ‘how’ of it all.”

So, last Monday, I submitted my resume before 8 a.m. and, by 10 a.m., I had received the call to set up the interview. The young lady on the phone sounded enthusiastic about everything so we set the interview for Thursday. I contacted a friend of mine to see if she was available to take me up for the interview and I put a call into my rep at the Unemployment office about the reimbursement program. While I waited for the returned call, I tried not to think about how much a cab ride, twice a day, from Brooklyn, Connecticut to Sturbridge, Massachusetts, and back again, was going to cost up front…and fought to suppress the shudder that threatened to erupt in that contemplation. The chorus to Lauren Daigle’s “Trust in You”: “I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You...” echoed through my brain over and again.

The first ray of hope occurred. Mom put in a call to the bank that holds the loan on the car. We had avoided this for weeks, fearing they might repossess the car instead and she would lose all of the money she had invested in it. But she said they were wonderful. She explained how she has cataracts. She gave up her driver’s license as she fears harming another on the road driving with such blind spots in her vision. She told them she also owed back taxes (something we are still struggling to remedy) but the biggest hurdle is that the Connecticut DMV refuses to renew the registration because of her loan and her not having the valid license anymore. She lives with me. I am a licensed driver. And I’ve been the one driving the car, not only to work, but taking Mom to her doctors’ appointments, to the store, to visit family, etc. The DMV wouldn’t put me on the registration because Mom still has the note on it…despite having put me on the insurance policy as the main driver of the car. The bank sent a letter authorizing the DMV to transfer my name to the registration. Once the back taxes are paid, we should be able to re-register the vehicle.

Thursday came. I donned my favorite garden gnome attire (my period-correct costume that I always volunteer in) and waited for my friend to arrive. We stopped for coffee (her) and tea (me) and, along the way, the second obstacle was blasted out of the way. My friend bought a “new” (pre-owned) truck; she offered to let me use her current vehicle until we can get Mom’s vehicle issues resolved. God bless this woman! Now, the only two hurdles left were the salary questions…and the actual hiring for the job.

The interview went well. There was a good, instant rapport. We toured the Herb Garden together while we talked. She asked about my education. I told her I had received my certificate in Herbalism from Michael Ford and Joanne Pacheco, then Apollo Herbs, now Mike heads up Apollo Botanicals. I also have a Master Gardener certificate from the University of Connecticut; my minor in Environmental Science with Southern New Hampshire University also stood me in good stead. I shared my experience with beekeeping as OSV now raises honey bees.

She had another person to interview.

I breathed a sigh of relief after we parted; I hadn’t realized how nervous I had been. I thought even then that it had gone well but, of course, we always second guess ourselves. I thought about all of the things I could have mentioned, the questions I could have asked and then forced myself to quit stressing about it. He was in charge of the outcome, not I. Thy will be done, Lord. I realized, as I went back to the car where my friend was waiting, that salary had never come up. I hadn’t asked, not wanting to blow the interview, but knowing if it was too low, it might be a game-changer.

The next day passed in a sort of fretful struggle not to fret. I considered calling. Then rejected it as I remembered a friend of mine who used to do hiring that today’s employer doesn’t want skeighty-eight hundred calls from hopeful employees. Before I went to bed that night, the idea came to me that she hadn’t asked for references. I sent her an email with three. She called me two days’ later, thanking me for the references and said she was waiting on one of them to return her call; she would let me know one way or another on Monday. She also realized she hadn’t mentioned the salary.

The third miracle. It was much better than I expected. Another sigh of relief. While it won’t make me rich, it’s enough to live on.

Monday morning I got the call. And the position.

How quickly a life can change! After over seven years of first unemployment and then under-employment, I now find myself not only in a full-time position, but in one that utilizes most of my formal education, and I get to do something I absolutely love. A more perfect job could not be tailored for me. And every obstacle that could have made me hesitate too long and lose this opportunity, He removed.

That simply.

How is this even possible? I have been in complete awe since Monday. Yes, there’s the usual jitter of nerves; that’s natural. I’m going into new territory…almost. I have been a volunteer there so I know most of my co-workers already. That certainly helps. My awe is in Him. Again, this position won’t make me rich. But I can’t help thinking how all these years of struggle and strife have molded and shaped me…for this??? This is wonderful. This is incredible. This is better than anything I could’ve ever imagined. I mean, I’m working in a garden most days, playing with and instructing about herbs; I’m steeped in history; I’m surrounded by antiques and farm animals; I get to wear beautiful, period-correct clothing on a daily basis. Not only am I using my certifications in herbalism and master gardening, but even the two semesters of acting I took at the Community College of Rhode Island back in the mid-1990’s. No, we don’t role play at OSV but, trust me, you become another person anyway when you don such attire and move amongst the public. How cool is that? I almost want to ask, how did He know?? But this is God we’re talking about. Of course, He knows.

Looking back over these last several years, while I’ve railed and cried and growled in frustration as yet another thing goes wrong, another something breaks, another vet bill, another something crops up, when I look at my very limited income over these years, really, I shouldn’t still be standing with a mortgage intact and surviving as well as I have. He’s been with me all along. And, though there have been times when I’ve doubted along the way, deep in my heart, there’s been this little mustard seed of faith that maybe, just maybe, He was grooming me for something bigger and better.

Wow. Was He ever.

I’ve been singing His praises along with the rails and cries and growls; now those praises are shooting straight to the moon and back, Alice, to the moon. Because this is all Him; it always has been. And I know, in this heart of mine, that He truly is with me…and always has been. I know that whatever storms or ripples may come up in my future, if He leads me to it, He will lead me through it. The key is, and has always been, for me to let go of that “how”; to let go of the outcome. His plans are so much bigger than mine. Or yours. Such gifts are here for you, too…if only you let go and trust in Him:

When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You”

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Daigle, L. (2015). “Trust in You”. Centricity Music. Trust In You Lyrics (n.d.). Lyrics.com. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from: http://www.lyrics.com/lyric/31688835.

First Decent Snowstorm

First big snowstorm hit last night and I became a little kid again. Though an inch of snow fell in December, it barely coated the ground. This is different. According to Channel 3 News, 8 inches in some areas. I’d say we’re pretty close here in Brooklyn, CT. The snow hadn’t finished falling last night when I went out to the barn around 7:30-8 o’clock to feed, water and check on the animals, and it was over the back of my calf.

I love it!

Of course, I’m not looking forward to the clean up this morning. My driveway’s not super-long but my shoulder will be screaming abuse at me before the job is done. Thankfully, this is the light, fluffy, sugar-snow…as opposed to the heavy, wet variety…and I can push more than actual shoveling. That’s a little easier on the back and shoulders but, though I am scheduled as a Eucharistic minister this morning, I doubt I’ll get shoveled out in time for the 8 a.m. Mass. No burly young men to sweet talk into doing the shoveling for me (and I’m not really lamenting that, just stating the facts) nor do I own a working snow blower. This ought to burn some calories. =)

But, aside from these practical considerations, and a deeply-felt gratitude that we did not fall victim to the power outages that were predicted for the area (we were woefully unprepared for such; we have plenty of bottled water, candles, oil lamps but no wood for the stove), I’m feeling that childhood magic that comes with the first big snowfall.

And, yes, I do feel that it is magical. Those first few moments, before any of that snow is disturbed, that pristine blanket makes everything feel safe, clean and fresh, and makes me think of some sort of fairy land, like Narnia. I sincerely hope the White Witch doesn’t come riding up on her sleigh, but the artist and author in me sees a thousand pictures, paintings and/or stories hidden in each and every flake. I see a snowman on someone’s front lawn and think of Frosty. I see a pattern of hoof prints in the snow by the woods and, despite the yuletide season being over (unless you’re of Ukrainian descent; yesterday was Ukrainian Christmas (or Eastern European)), I think of Santa’s reindeer and their white-tailed cousins who live in those woods behind my house. The big kid in me wants to follow their trail, roll one of Frosty’s cousins into existence, throw a few snowballs at someone and lay in that snow to make an angel.

Of course, for those of us who grew up in Rhode Island, there’s still that little kid inside, hoping to hear Salty Brine’s voice singing out over the radio: “No school Foster/Glocester!” (I always wanted to live in either Foster or Gloucester as a kid…they had more snow days than every other town/city in RI combined!) God bless him; he will forever be a Rhode Island icon, his voice forever recorded in my memory.

I’m praying that these magical snowstorms will never be “forever recorded” in just a memory. Eight inches on the ground today; temperatures in the 50’s Tuesday through Thursday this week. As a kid, this sort of snowfall would last weeks. Guess I’ll have to do the angel thing on my way to the barn again. Might not get another chance.

May God bless you & keep you!

Can’t Call It a Holiday

Black Friday, that is. And many do refer to it as a holiday, of sorts. Somehow, camping outside of Walmart in frigid temps, snow, rain, or whatever else the elements are throwing at us this time of year, doesn’t seem like much of a holiday to me. Neither does fighting the hordes of humanity, swearing and cursing in an attempt to find a parking space, being flicked the bird when I do find it ahead of some other shopper, simply to find that “perfect” gift is “out of stock” and the store isn’t issuing rain checks…the “perfect” gift that will likely be returned the day after Christmas. But to each their own.

(Sorry, inner-cynic coming out…LOL!)

Of course, I used to pride myself in having all of my Christmas gifts purchased by Black Friday and to spend this day actually wrapping them and filling out Christmas cards. I’m not quite as efficient these days. And, as I tend to make most of my gifts now, instead of purchasing, and I tend to procrastinate, I’m still working on those gifts right up until the last possible moment. This year may be different though. While I don’t have any gifts completed to wrap today, having found a new passion in the form of painting, I may not be procrastinating quite so much this season. Rather, I plan to use the day to simply make out my Christmas list.

But I can’t help wondering how such a tradition got started. Yes, from my years of volunteering at Sturbridge, I know that the Christmas tree became popularized in 1848 by an engraving that was published of the Royal Family–Queen Victoria and Prince Albert–admiring a Christmas tree in their home. Prince Albert was German and the yew tree was already a tradition in his homeland. This started the trend of trimming a tree. And, shortly thereafter, as the world figuratively shrunk due to what were then modern methods of travel, and cultures blended, the tradition of gift giving became a regular thing during the Yuletide season. But, back in the 1840’s and 50’s, gift giving involved a few sweets, or small tokens, hung on those evergreen boughs. I can remember, too, reading the “Little House” series of books where Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about the gifts she and her sisters received in their stockings but, again, they were modest by today’s standards: a shiny tin cup, a penny, an orange. This was the 1870’s and 80’s. Santa was ho-ho-ho-ing across the skies on Christmas Eve by now. And has been doing so ever since. But why has this day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, become marked in red on every modern calendar as the quintessential day to bowl our fellow man over in an attempt to get the best deals? I know it’s a marketing ploy for retailers but it just seems like such a waste, such a vulgar display of materialism, greed and pride.

But, then, I tend to be a minimalist.

And, as a Christian, I would rather remember the real reason we celebrate this day. While there is no mention of a date for Christ’s birth in the Holy Bible, remembering that a Savior was born to save the world fills me with far more satisfaction and peace than snagging that marked-up 50″ plasma screen TV, at 20% off, before every other shopper does.

May God bless you & keep you!

Thanksgiving in 1830’s New England

Having been a volunteer at Old Sturbridge Village since 2011 has been the best on-going history class I’ve ever taken. While, in recent posts, I have lamented not being able to learn many of the antiquated skills that make The Village such a popular attraction–for both tourists and local folks alike, I cannot deny the value of those history lessons. I shared a condensed version of this in the dealership’s newsletter.

In 1838, the year that OSV roughly interprets, Thanksgiving was the big holiday. This was the time where, if you could, you went home for the holiday (note the singular here). The Christmas celebrations we enjoy today were unheard of. Christmas was, by the puritanical standards that still governed much of New England in the 1830’s, a papist celebration and considered idolatrous and unscriptural by Puritan fathers. That’s a tough one for most folks to wrap their mind around. But nowhere in the Bible does it give an actual date for Christ’s birth. Therefore, the Puritan religion, with its strict adherence to biblical truths, did not mark December 25th as anything out of the ordinary. OSV has many diaries and journals where the author’s entries mark this day as business as usual. And, while the Puritan religion had died out by 1838, the influence was still felt. The Christmas celebrations we enjoy today were enjoyed in the big cities, like New York or Philadelphia, but it would be close to another decade before they moved into this part of the country.

That being said, families gathered together in celebration of Thanksgiving. This was the start of our great nation, a symbol of the fellowship between our Native American neighbors and our Pilgrim forefathers. As President Abraham Lincoln would not officially mark the 3rd Thursday of November as Thanksgiving in the United States for a few decades later, the actual date for this celebration tended to vary as it was usually the mayor of a town that declared the holiday.

Much like today, housewives began their baking for this holiday weeks in advance. And, before anyone asks, because this is a time long before refrigeration, they stored their baked goods in the top dresser drawers of upstairs’ bedchambers…where they froze solid. Local dry goods’ stores would receive in rare treats, such as raisins and cinnamon, well in advance of the holiday. And, as raisins were not pitted in those days, young children would be set to helping by removing those pits, one raisin at a time. While we think of turkey as the main entree, duck, goose and other wild game were also common. Incidentally, venison would have been rare; New England of the 1830’s was mostly farmland, taking over much of the habitat, so that deer were few and far between; we have more forests today in New England than they did in 1838 due to clear cutting and the 11-14 cords of wood needed by each household just for cooking (isn’t that a kick in the head?). As so many would gather, those not seen for the better part of the year, many and myriad special dishes were set to table to enjoy together.

Interestingly, because so many loved ones would gather together in their Sunday best, a church service would lead off the holiday, and so many special entrees graced this feast, celebrating weddings was also a common practice at Thanksgiving. Housewives would simply add a few extra entrees and a special cake for the bride and groom.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t anticipate any weddings today. And, as a pescetarian, I won’t be eating any turkey, but I always look forward to the wide array of my favorite vegetables: turnip, squash and green bean casserole, and a healthy slice of pumpkin pie.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! May God bless you & keep you!