Tag Archives: Christmas

An Ever-Green Christmas

As the question, “What are you doing for the holidays?” begins to spread over the land, here are a few past glances at Christmas Day as experienced by Kentuckians and others represented in WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Despite their lack of TV, video games, opening day movies and other distractions, it is surprisingly easy to empathize with their preoccupations and reflections.

One concern, of course, was the weather.  December 25, 1844 in Caswell County, North Carolina, dawned “a most Beautiful clear & pleasant morning,” according to one anonymous observer, “the ground a little crusted tho the Sun shines Bright and warm at 9 oclock in the morning.”  Closer to home, Bowling Green’s John Younglove recorded the temperature at sunrise on Christmas Day as part of his faithful meteorological record.  His readings ran the gamut from a frosty 6 below zero in 1878 to a rainy 54 degrees in 1889.

Some Kentuckians have made Christmas day doubly memorable: for example, George W. Shanks and Catharine Johnson, both of Galloways Mill in Warren County, chose December 25, 1881 as their wedding day.

George Shanks & Catharine Johnson marriage certificate, Dec. 25, 1881

For those in military service, unfortunately, December 25 might be barely distinguishable from other days.  “There was not much here in a Christmas nature,” wrote Army dentist Bill Fulton from Fort Knox in 1942.  “Here we are in the Army and know nothing else.”  But Marshall Cole, serving in the Philippines in 1944, found himself having a better Christmas Day than he expected, thanks to gift boxes from the Red Cross and fresh turkey for dinner.  And Major Philip Noel’s 1944 card to his in-laws in Bowling Green, with its theme of liberated Paris in the months after D-Day, suggested better Christmases lay ahead.

Philip Noel’s 1944 Christmas card

For children, letter writing more commonly took the form of communiques to Santa Claus.  Saint Nick’s replies to young Maggie Nicholls of Calhoun, Kentucky, however, looked like they might have been ghostwritten by a Victorian parent.  “I will try to get to your home Christmas,” he promised.  “If you will straighten up I will be sure to come.”  And in 1881, her gifts arrived with instructions to take good care of them, love her parents, and “always sit still at the table.”

Santa’s note to Maggie Nicholls

Other Christmas Day letters gave their writers a welcome opportunity to reconnect with those dearest to them.  On December 25, 1865, a young man in Union County, Kentucky, replied eagerly to a letter from his father, with whom he had been out of touch for almost two years.  Bringing him up to date on his teaching and preaching duties at two small churches, he reflected on the “demoralization in society that is quite visible everywhere,” with increasing crime and intemperance and a decline in church attendance, especially outside the South. 

On December 25, 1848, Ann Rowan Buchanan, the daughter of John Rowan of Federal Hill (“My Old Kentucky Home”) penned a letter to her mother from Cincinnati.  The weather was gloomy and cold, and her husband appeared unwilling to let the holiday interfere with his business activities.  Nevertheless, Ann’s heart was full.  The mother of three boys under six years of age, she found joy in their eager wait for Santa and their excitement at finding their stockings full.  Remembering her own girlhood Christmases, she had resolved to continue the tradition.  The “cares and troubles of life may break us down,” she wrote her mother, but “one verdant spot still remains ever green, which blooms to the grave, a Christmas day in our childhood.”  For her children, she would “do my best to make them happy on this day that may be a green spot in their hearts in after years as it is in mine.”

Click on the links for finding aids and other information about these Christmas Day items in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Out of the Box – December

Board of Regents Meeting 12/1939Elevator12-1914

Chamber Singers

College Heights Herald 12/1954

Commencement 12/2014

Elevator 12/1914

Hill Talk 3/1984

Home Economics Video, 1972

Modern Languages, Administration File Collection Inventory

Student/Alumni Scrapbooks

Unidentified Students, help us identify students

Western Players

WKU Owensboro

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Kiddies and Confusion

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 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.

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Dear (Christmas) Diary

Cora Morningstar's Christmas diary

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.”

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