Christmas is a time when people all over the world are happy and have fun. Every Christmas, people pile gifts under the tree and eat a big meal. For many people, giving and receiving gifts is one of the most important parts of Christmas. But what did pioneer children get and give as gifts? The truth was much less grand than what we have now.
Often, the only gifts that farmers could give their kids were simple things that might not even be thought of as gifts today. For many kids, the only gift they might have gotten was something in their presents.In the 1800s, Christmas stockings were filled with small foods like nuts and fruit. If the family had been especially wealthy that year, a coin might have been in the stocking as well. If they were really lucky, they might have also gotten a piece of food.
Children would have been given small, hand-made gifts, like gloves, scarves, or cards. People thought these things made by hand were valuable, but they didn’t cost much money. Girls might have gotten rag dolls or corn husk dolls made at home. Only families with a lot of money could buy a china doll. Boys might have been given carved toys or games that the adults in the family made at home and didn’t cost much except time and thought.
Toward the end of the Victorian era, mass production made small gifts that could be bought in stores cheaper. They might have gotten a cup or a knife from a store if they were very, very lucky. A small change, like a tin cup instead of a wooden one, would have been a big deal. Other homemade gifts could have been a hobby horse or a chair for a child, but these would have been big projects for the adults in the family who were good at crafts.
Adults were often given potpourris, cakes, and puddings as gifts, which they appreciated. Children learned to help in the kitchen when they were young. Some of these gifts were made by the family and given to guests. Children also learned to sew and knit at a young age, so girls as young as 5 would often give small gifts like handkerchiefs with crochet lace or embroidery.
Depending on their skills, boys would have been asked to make small gifts out of wood or leather. Prince Albert, who was married to Queen Victoria, brought his German traditions to their young family at Windsor Castle. He taught them about giving gifts at Christmas. At first, the Christmas tree was only a German idea, but it quickly became a part of the holiday season all over the world.
Another custom was giving gifts. Engravings of the royal family at Christmas helped make this tradition popular, and mass production made gifts more affordable. Even though the ordinary family in England and the United States didn’t have much money, many soon started giving gifts like the royal family. But life on the border was not only hard and dangerous, it was also often lonely.
Pioneer towns were spread out, and train lines and roads didn’t reach far enough to meet all of the families. This meant that sometimes, even if you had the money, you couldn’t buy the things you wanted. As was often the case on the border, this meant that they had to make do with what they had and make gifts as best they could. But for kids who lived in log houses and wore hand-me-downs, even small gifts were treasures they waited all year for.