Victory Menus for Christmas Week, 1918

I have fully participated in the modern food trends of the holiday season. I’ve read the cookbooks, watched the baking shows and the Christmas menu videos, and have eaten my share of it all.  It’s as if we take all the richest, sweetest, most decadent foods we’ve ever experienced and cram them into the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, with nary a memory our first round of decadence at Thanksgiving time. Then we wake out of our stupor on January 2nd, stock up on vegetables, and wonder how we possibly survived on sugar and butter for so long. It’s a wonderful cycle.

I recently ran across an article written in 1918 on Christmas menu planning. One hundred years ago, when the article was first published, World War I had ended just weeks before.

 

The war is won! Reconstruction is here! We are to have a simple Christmas this year, for every member of the big Good Housekeeping family is shouldering her burden of war support with man power at the front and money power at home…and the day will prove the richer for its very simplicity.

Here is the suggested Christmas Day menu:

Breakfast:

Grapefruit

Rye Pancakes

Margarine

Coffee

Dinner:

Roast Goose

Hominy Chutney Stuffing

Celery

Sweet Pickles

Potatoes on the Half Shell

Creamed Onions

Yellow Winter Squash

Dressed Lettuce

Cheese Straws

Date and Nut Pudding

Company Coffee Cake

Supper:

Goose Giblet and Egg Sandwiches

Applesauce

Fig Cookies

Tea

It looks elaborate at first glance, but it’s actually much simpler than many of our modern day feasts. And so healthy! As for the rest of the Christmas week menus, they’re even simpler.  Here is the recommended menu for the day after Christmas:

Breakfast:

Hominy with Raisins

Top Milk

Creamed Dried Beef

Toast

Coffee

Luncheon:

Combination Soup

Crackers

Bread and Margarine

Orange, Banana, and Coconut Jelly

Tea

Dinner:

Tomato Soup

Cold Sliced Goose

Roasted Potatoes

Creamed Cauliflower

Bread and Margarine

Cocoa

Cornstarch Pudding

The menus contain barely any wheat, butter and sweets, all of which had been rationed to provide more for the troops. In its place was an abundance of vegetables. If these menus are indicative of the World War I era, there’s hardly a cause for overindulgence anywhere.  

This is just a fun post to show the difference 100 years can make, and how truly prosperous we really are.  (And from now on, baked potatoes in this home will be referred to as “potatoes on the half shell.” How very elegant.)

An Amish Schoolhouse Christmas, part 2

 

…I divided up the chores, with some of them clapping erasers, washing off desks, and emptying trash, while the older boys moved all the desks to one side of the room then back to the other side while the older girls and I swept the floor. A few girls drew pictures on the blackboard and a welcome message for our guests. During the weekly art time in December, the scholars had colored Christmas pictures, made stars from old Christmas cards, glued construction paper chains, and hung paper snowflakes from the ceiling.

 

The families soon began to trickle in–parents, babies, grandparents. Some came by car with a driver, many came by horse and buggy. Some of the men brought in with them the benches they used for church services. I always marvel at how many people are able to fit in one of those little Amish buggies. They used those same squeezing skills to fill the benches. If an Amish school had a fire code, we blew past the prescribed number of occupants in a short time.

We didn’t have any sets, costumes, or anything that would indicate a program. In fact, I had been informed by the school board that the recent Amish trend of hanging a curtain across the front of the classroom and having the children come out one by one to say their pieces was not acceptable.  It was too theatrical, attention-seeking, and too much like the English way of doing things, they said. (It’s easy for the rest of us to snicker over the concern for a simple curtain. But it’s those little things that turn a simple Christmas program into an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza with costumes, rehearsals, and sets that exhaust children, teachers, and parents alike.) So the children stood in the front of the classroom and took turns stepping out of the choir in between the songs to recite their poems.

Amish schools are judged in part by the quality of their singing. Loud singing is good singing, and the more booming, the better. They sing with an Appalachian-like lilt, unlike any singing I’ve heard before or since.Without accompaniment or note reading, song tunes change slightly over time and vary from school to school.

 

 

 

After the program, the nervous tension of the morning completely dissipated. The children exchanged their gifts with each other and I passed around my gifts to all the children. None of the gifts were expensive or elaborate–coloring books, small games, puzzles, marker sets, flashlights, etc., but that didn’t lessen the excitement. Some of the parents brought treats, like popcorn or candy canes to share with both the school-aged and preschool children. All of the families presented me with small gifts, such as a glass candy dish, a handmade doily, or some homemade candy. The parents had also collected for one larger gift for me. Here is one gift that still hangs in our home.

My Amish school days were good ones. In the excess that makes up much of modern life, the simplicity of an Amish school Christmas is a refreshing reminder that more activities and stuff doesn’t mean increased happiness.

An Amish Schoolhouse Christmas, part 1

Once upon a time, I was a teacher in a most unusual setting. I taught in a little one room schoolhouse without electricity or running water. (Nope, I’m not 120 years old, either.) While not a member of the community, I was the schoolteacher in an Old Order Amish settlement.

The settlement was a new one and very small at the time. It was made up of young, growing families with no one free to take over the school responsibilities. So in an unprecedented move, they looked outside their community, asked around, and offered the job to me, an English (i.e., non-Amish) 20-something. Who could turn down an opportunity like that? Well, apparently, a lot of people could. Not everyone would enjoy spending 8 hours a day in a different culture, teaching children in 8 different grades, and all without modern technology or conveniences. But I couldn’t pass up the chance and that was lucky for me.

People have asked me what it was like. Think Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books, except that for me, it was an entirely different culture, including the language. It was an incredible experience and the stories could probably fill a book.

card with a handmade ornament, made for me by Elizabeth, a 5th grader

One of the highlights of the school year was the annual Christmas program. Around Thanksgiving I chose and passed out the recitation parts to all my scholars. The older children were given long Christmas poems, with an impressive number of stanzas to memorize. For the youngest scholars, I chose shorter pieces from my book of Amish school poems and “pieces.” Besides their own pieces, a few would share a poem, each taking a stanza or two. I also picked out several Christmas carols for us to practice. The children would memorize the poems on their own at home and as Christmas drew closer, we practiced our songs and took turns reciting for a few minutes before the end of every school day.

handmade cards

The Christmas program also included gift-giving. We drew names in early December, with each child drawing the name of a classmate or that one slip that simply said, “Teacher.” Oh, the pressure on the child who drew Teacher’s name, and how envied the child whose name I drew! Besides a special gift for the student whose name I drew, I also bought a small gift for each of my students.

Christmas break in Amish circles is typically short, usually only taking Christmas Day off. So the program was scheduled for Christmas Eve. Children are children the world over and Christmas brings out the squirreliness in all of them, Amish included. We did our usual morning routine and I followed it with a few simpler lessons, in hopes of giving the restlessness an outlet. After a quick lunch, it was time to get ready for our company. We had to clean the schoolhouse, make sure all the Christmas artwork was hung, and do one last practice of the program….

Spending Money to Save Money

I can’t resist reading all the “how to save money at Christmas” articles online during the holidays. Frugal gifts, inexpensive meals and treats, DIY decorations–all the suggestions are interesting. Keeping things simple seem to be the overall theme.

But I’d like to suggest that spending less and taking a minimal approach during the Christmas season isn’t always the best long range strategy. Instead of saving money during the holidays, I often spend more than I usually do. Way more, actually. I’m flinging money around at a madcap pace.

Me on a recent spending spree

As a new housewife, I was happy to find butter and chocolate chips on sale and appreciate my one-time bargain. It meant that my holiday baking would be cheaper.  But then one year it clicked that I should take advantage of all these bargains. Instead of buying just the butter I need for the week plus an extra few pounds for my Christmas baking, I should buy enough butter to store it in the freezer so I won’t have to buy any for months. And as for chocolate chips, why not buy enough to last most of the year while they’re almost half the price? It was a light bulb moment for my dimly lit self. It’s not as if those bags of powdered sugar are going to spoil (ever). Things like sour cream and cream cheese won’t last forever, but they’ll be good until the expiration date, assuming I have enough refrigerator space to store them.

I also like to buy gift cards at local businesses that offer a bonus. One restaurant last year included a free meal with a gift card purchase. Well, as long as I’ll eat there next year anyway, why not pay for it now and get an extra meal? And those online companies that give you a bonus when you load a gift card? You can load one for yourself to use throughout the year.

I haven’t always been able to take advantage of the holiday sales, especially at first. It took me a year or two to modify my spending patterns. In spite of how you may feel during your intentional shopping spree, you’re not actually spending more. You’d be buying groceries for January and beyond anyway, so you’re just spending money earlier AND at lower prices than you would after the new year.

And then comes January. The little extra planning and shopping in December gives me a head start on simplifying my life for the rest of the year. And if there’s anything I can do to avoid having to leave my cozy home in January, I’m happy to do it.