Christmas was a busy time for Martha (Woods) Potter (1868-1963), but as a lifelong diarist, letter writer and journal keeper, the mother of four always found time to record the hubbub of the season in what she called her “Christmas books.” Today, they offer us a detailed look at the activities of a Bowling Green woman during every holiday season from 1912 to 1954.
Martha usually began each year’s account with a summary of her “family status,” particularly the whereabouts of her children as they grew up, went to school, married and began lives of their own. She continued with notes on every aspect of the holidays, including the weather, her charitable and church work (she was the longtime choir director and organist of the First Presbyterian Church), gifts given and received, the comings and goings of family and friends, entertainments, decorations and food.
In 1936, with her children grown, Martha reflected on her Christmas record-keeping in a manner familiar to many mothers. “When I read back over all these busy Christmases,” she wrote, “it makes my head swim and my back ache to think of the work I did . . . . Now Christmas is so quiet and restful, but I miss the kiddies and the confusion.” Her subsequent entries betray increasingly quieter times, but when Martha finally ended her last Christmas book, she did not forget that “on its sacred pages is recorded forty-two happy years.” Nor did she allow the vagaries of winter weather to darken her spirit. On one of her greeting cards was a summer-like photo and the caption, “Here are roses from my garden / To brighten your Christmas scene / Ice and snow may be holding sway / But roses reign supreme.”
Martha Potter’s Christmas photo
Martha (Woods) Potter’s Christmas books are part of the Lissauer Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Special Collections Library. For more collections relating to Christmases in Kentucky, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.
Cora Morningstar’s Christmas diary
Although the details of Christmas celebrations have long been features of 1-year or 5-year diaries, in 1899 Bowling Green merchants L. D. Potter & Co. gave their customers a little pamphlet-style “Christmas Diary” to make a special record of the season. Cora (Gossom) Morningstar (1866-1926) picked one up and used it to note few incidents of her Christmas Day. She arose at 7, and breakfasted at 9. Under “state of weather,” she wrote “cold and snow.” She enjoyed a Christmas dinner of turkey, cranberry sauce, biscuit, macaroni, oysters, olives, sweet potatoes and peas; for dessert there was ice cream, cake, nuts and raisins. Cora’s dinner guests were two friends from Louisville, but perhaps their meal was a quiet one, since she made no notations under the heading for “Table Talk.”
That evening, it was time to open presents. Among Santa’s gifts to Cora’s 5-year-old son Roy were a policeman’s uniform and patrol wagon, building and picture blocks, and some toy soldiers and guns. Cora received some cut glass – a bowl, celery dish and tumblers – and (perhaps to christen the tumbers) two bottles of whiskey.
Cora (Gossom) Morningstar’s Christmas diary is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library. Click here to download a finding aid. And (to quote her diary) “At this glad season of the year, / May health and plenty you attend, / May friends be near, / your heart to cheer, / And smiles with words of kindness blend.”