Tales from the Tread: Pioneer Christmas memories

Candice Bannister/For the Steamboat Today
The Tread of Pioneers Museum's Festival of Trees goes through Monday.

We hope that everyone has had a chance to experience the light and the magic of this year’s Festival of Trees at the Tread of Pioneers Museum. The event features 20 uniquely decorated holiday trees on display through Monday.

This is the 20th year that the museum has hosted this community tradition. Looking back through the museum archives, we find that Christmas trees long have served as the focal point of most Christmas celebrations.

The Christmas tree was the most important holiday decoration in Victorian times. It was set up on Christmas Eve and taken down Jan. 6, the 12th day of Christmas. The early Victorian Christmas trees were decorated with fruits, nuts, pine cones, candles and small homemade gifts. Trees often were strung with popcorn and berries. A star ornament was placed on top to remind everyone of the star that led the three wise men to Jesus.

Later, Victorian trees were much more elaborate with ornaments that were miniature furniture, musical instruments, toys, fans and books.

On Christmas Eve, families decorated the tree, played games and music, sang songs and told stories. In the country, families went on hay rides while sipping hot apple cider and singing Christmas carols. Like today, many families attended Christmas Eve church services.

The custom of hanging stockings became popular during the Victorian era. Pantomimes were special plays for children, often staged during the Christmas season.

Christmas crackers were invented during the Victorian era. Crackers were rolled pieces of paper tied at each end. When tugged apart, they made a loud bang. Inside were treats such as cookies, puzzles or toys.

Throughout the years, Christmas has been a special time for family, fun and unique holiday traditions.

Mary Crawford King left a written record of the first Christmas gathering in Steamboat Springs in 1877. Those who attended were Mr. and Mrs. James H. Crawford, their children, and Mr. and Mrs. S.D.N. Bennett.

On this occasion, there was a small tree strung with ropes of popcorn and paper cornucopias that Mrs. Bennett had made and decorated with pictures and pink ribbons. The cornucopias were filled with Mrs. Crawford’s homemade candies and raisins.

The Bennetts arrived at the Crawford house in the morning to enjoy the tree and stayed for dinner. The two families ate trout, venison roasts, mince pie and cottage cheese. They ate in the one room of the cabin that was completed at this time.

Early pioneers only received mail about once per month, and it was carried by snowshoe from Hahn’s Peak. This particular year, a few days before Christmas, a package of popcorn and books arrived from Crawford relatives in Sedalia, Missouri.

Candice Bannister is the executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum.

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