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A Year in the Home: December

Godey’s Lady’s Book played an important role in shaping the cultural customs in 19th century America. The “Queen of Monthlies” is best known for the hand-tinted fashion plate that appeared at the start of each issue, which provide a record of the progression of women’s dress.

Beyond clothing fashions, the articles and editorials in Godey’s included descriptions of current trends and acted as an arbiter of manners and helped shape many of the traditions practiced by American families today.

This was part of an 1890 series of articles covering a year of American domestic traditions and lore.

Godey’s Lady’s Book— Louis Antoine Godey began publishing Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1830. He designed his monthly magazine specifically to attract the growing audience of literate American women. The magazine was intended to entertain, inform, and educate the women of America.

A Year in the Home: December

By Augusta Salisbury Prescott

At no time in all the year is the heart so filled with joy, or the home so replete with genuine home love and home feeling as during the time that leads us up to the holiday season.

Christmas Day is, to be sure, our day of days—the most joyful of all the joyous season; but surely every home-mother, at least, will agree that the days of preparation before Christmas are filled with a quiet, steady, soul stirring happiness that could not be exchanged for any single day of revelry. For is it not during the weeks that precede the holidays that we prepare gifts for our dear ones? Are we not busy planning and scheming, and, perhaps, denying ourselves some coveted thing that we may enrich those we love?

Yes! we are doing all these dear things for a month before Christmas, and we well know how happy this preparation has made us. Truly it is more blessed to give than to receive.

It seems a pity, and more than a pity, that anything conventional should enter into our Christmas giving, yet so it must be. A change has come over the world since these days, so long ago, when the wise men came bringing gifts to the Christ-child. A sense of propriety has crept into our Christmas giving that culture renders inseparable from this most beautiful custom.

If only all gifts might come from the heart as heart-whole expressions, and be received in just the spirit in which they are sent! But this cannot always be so. The young woman who would like to give a present to her young man that should be as elegant and costly as the extreme limit of her purse would allow, must restrain her liberality and be governed by the etiquette of the case. It is not good form for a young woman to give expensive gifts to any but her betrothed. Indeed, she must not give any real gift at all. If a young man has been kind to her, she may send him a card, mayhap, or a calendar of her own painting, or some little trifle, if she so desires; but it is better taste for a young woman to send nothing at all in the way of Christmas greetings to young men.

Godey's Christmas 1866

Godey’s Christmas 1866

A young man may give presents of books, flowers, bonbonnieres, or any pretty favors that may please his fancy, providèd that he does not select jewelry, as this is not given save between those who are engaged.

There is no rule at all about family presents. The one law is, do not go beyond your means. With this restriction in mind and a loving heart to prompt the selection of gifts, one cannot go far astray.

It is almost pathetic that we are sometimes obliged to give Christmas presents. Society, or long- established custom, demands them. We must give something to Miss A, because she gave us something last year. Miss B must have a gift, because we have always given her one. Miss C will probably expect something, because she has been with us a great deal this year, and so on and so on.

Truly it would seem as if the true spirit of Christmas were more often destroyed than not by the trammels and restrictions that society weaves about us.

But let us keep the Christmas time, with its life and light and love, as much in our hearts as we may, and let us violate it neither in deed nor in spirit beyond the limits of actual necessity.

A Christmas gathering is as much a part of Christmas Day as the Christmas dinner itself. After the feast of dinner is over and the family is enjoying the reaction that follows an embarrassment of gifts and good things there comes a pause, during which games and plays may be planned for revelry later on.

A crazy quadrille is something in which all may participate, and which affords literally “no end” of amusement for both young and old. The fun itself is rather boisterous and may not recommend itself to a mixed company, but for home gatherings it is the greatest of sport.

The idea is simply for all, both men and women, boys and girls, young and old, to affect such an exchange in clothing that each one has on garments that are turned around, literally “hind side before.” Masks are then put on the back of the head, so that, to all appearances, one should be walking backward. A thin linen or muslin mask is placed over one’s face so that it will appear as if it were the back of the head.

A quadrille is danced in this way, each one walking backward and going through the figures as exactly as possible. The ridiculous effect is heightened by holding the hands behind the back in front of the false face and fanning or trifling with vinaigrette or handkerchief.

Another game, for the young people especially, is progressive salamagundi. Several tables are prepared, and the couples draw lots and seat themselves at the different tables as in progressive euchre, or any of the other “progressive” games that have been popular for a couple of years.

Upon one table is placed a set of jackstraws, upon another a miniature fishpond, upon another a cribbage set, a fourth has, perhaps, a parchessi board, and a fifth a pack of cards for euchre. At a given signal all begin to play. When the game at the first table is ended a bell is struck, and all the other tables stop playing. Those who are winners, or are furthest along in the game, pass on to the next table higher, where they immediately begin to play whatever game happens to be upon that table. At a certain hour known only to the hostess a bell is struck and all stop playing. King, queen and booby prizes are then given out.

To those who have been accustomed to only the old card games there will be a spice about this that is highly refreshing.

To diversify and give extra zest to the family dinners, a little novelty has been devised, which would, of course, be impossible outside of a family gathering. A week or more before Christmas the names of all the guests are written upon slips of paper. These slips are deposited upon a tray. Some one of the family then draws out the names, one by one, and assigns them to various other members of the family. For example, as she draws forth Cousin Will’s name, she sends it to Aunt Susie. Aunt Susie’s name goes to Sister Madge. Brother Jo is given over to the tender mercies of Uncle Jack, etc., etc. So that by the time the slips are all drawn each one receives a slip of paper bearing the name of some one else.

This is done a week before Christmas. During the interval of time a tiny present is bought by each one who receives the slip, and a verse of poetry is composed about the one whose name is written upon the paper.

Thus, Aunt Susie, who has received Cousin Will’s name, and who knows the young fellow’s fondness for pork and beans, buys him a small dish of that delicacy, done in wax, and pins upon it a four-line poem.

Sister Madge, meanwhile, is preparing small pop corn balls, perhaps, for Aunt Susie, and with them is a little poem recalling a family joke, that will be appreciated by all.

Uncle Jack has bought a soap pup for Brother Jo, and teases him in rhyme about his fondness for canines. And so it is throughout the whole list of relatives. No one is slighted. No one is offended. But all take everything in the true give-and-take spirit of Christmas.

To all the GODEY readers a Merry Christmas!. Let the cheer of the glad season enter your hearts, and let not any shade of past Christmas seasons with friends that are gone dull the brightness of face or lip.

Source: Godey’s Lady’s Book, December, 1890

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