10 December 2007

Holidays & Celebrations:
Winter Festivities in the Old West

By Jacquie Rogers

Yule Brings Celebration For All

The snow blows nearly sideways as it blankets the range. Ranch hands hunker down in their saddles, scarves over their ears and their Stetsons protecting them from the fierce wind. They dream of a warm fire and hot buttered rum. But they have livestock to save from freezing and starvation, so they ride on.

It's Christmas on the open range. Miserable for man and beast. But it isn't just another day at the office, so to speak. They whittle gifts for one another, sing a few carols as they sit around the campfire warming their hands and feet. Cook gives them a hot meal--the finest beans with maybe some meat thrown in. And with a little luck, Cook would bake an apple pie. Life couldn't be better and they thank their lucky stars for a sound horse and solid tack.

(Yes, I know these cattle are a modern breed and very fat, but it's the only picture I could find.)

Chanukkah in the mines

It's the 1860's in Silver City, Idaho. The Festival of Lights has been celebrated in the West since the beginning of frontier settlement, but not like their counterparts back East who have a warm and dry place to worship with their families. A menorah can be lit anywhere, and the Jewish silver miners do just that. They pray, play a little dreidel, and think a lot of home.

The picture to the left is the oldest continuously used synagogue west of the Mississippi. It's located in Boise, Idaho, and was built in 1896 by the Beth Israel congregation, now called the Ahavath Beth Israel congregation. Very beautiful.

Christmas on the farm

Everyone has chores to do every day. Cows needs milked, livestock needs watered and fed, eggs need gathered, and the barnyard needs to be tidied (to use a gentile term). So after the chores are done, the family can gather together and celebrate Christmas with what meager resources they have. If they don't have evergreen trees to spare, they might decorate a sagebrush with popcorn and berries. They make ornaments with precious bits of paper and scraps of cloth. Peach tins make nice ornaments, too, and they shine in the firelight.

1876 Christmas, Harper's Weekly

Their celebration might be more humble than those in the eastern cities, but they have a grand time, nevertheless. The women cook for days. They're resourceful and whatever they have available will do for a fine pie or stew. The Christmas feast could consist of chicken, venison, or maybe a ham, along with homemade rolls, freshly churned butter, potatoes and gravy, and pies--maybe one made with dried apples and a vinegar pie. Each family member has made modest gifts for the others and even the smallest child has labored over precious gifts--maybe a drawing or a doll made of sticks. They sing carols, maybe read the Bible, and if they're close enough to town, maybe even go to church.

For most Christian families, Christmas is a day for family togetherness and to show their love and appreciation for one another, as well as celebrating the religious aspect of the holy day.

Christmas for Outlaws, Gunslingers, and Cyprians

The saloon owner brings small gifts for the working ladies, the bartender, the resident gambler, and a few of the regulars. A few cowpunchers bring gifts for their favorite girl. They might have a nice meal together before they open for business, and even then, the customers are few. It's one night they can relax.

Happy Holidays to Everyone!

Enter the Name that Christmas Carol contest. It's fun!

Princess Keely, Star of Faery Special Romances

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