Travel to 1906 for an old-fashioned Christmas | Ancient information and history education


Many of us seem to secretly yearn for an “old-fashioned Christmas”. When I think of a Christmas like this, my mind wanders to a time that looks like a Currier and Ives Christmas card, with lots of snow, a horse-drawn sleigh, a warm fireplace, maybe with some stockings. hanging from the fireplace. Christmas carols are sung by candlelight around the piano, with a cheerfully decorated Christmas tree in the background.

Isn’t that funny – when I imagine this idealized scenario, I don’t miss the recent times with the hectic days leading up to Christmas, shopping from store to store for last minute shopping – or going online to order something that hopefully isn’t out of stock and will arrive on time. There’s also the wrapping, decorating, baking cookies, planning Christmas dinner, and addressing Christmas cards. No wonder I fantasize about the simple pleasures of enjoying the holidays at a more leisurely pace. In the past, this seemed to be a way to savor the days leading up to Christmas, with more emphasis on faith and family than on Santa Claus and electronics.

Which brings me to Christmas 1906, 125 years ago. It was surely simpler times that could come close to my old-fashioned vacation visions. Fortunately, I have a little glimpse of what exactly was going on during at least part of that Christmas Day with the old Bowman family.

My great-grandparents, J. Alfred and Nancy Gingrich Bowman, lived on a 200 acre farm consisting of cropland and mountain forests in South Annville Township, Lebanon County, near the village of Fontana, in Pennsylvania. Their house and barn were both fairly new in 1906, having been built in 1890, after an old farmhouse on the same property had to be replaced. The farm was accessed by a three-quarters of a mile long gravel track from the main road.

The Bowman Bank barn had limestone end and headwalls and a cobblestone upstairs floor. The wooden north and south faces of the barn were painted light yellow with brown trim, and at the top of the roof stood three wooden domes. The main barn was surrounded by a corn barn, pigsty and chicken coop, all painted to match the barn.

To the west of the barn stood the red brick farmhouse. There were eight rooms in the main part of the house, with a rear wing which housed the kitchen and the ‘outside kitchen’ downstairs and a bathroom and balcony on the second floor. Just a little south-east of the house stood the combination of summer house and wash house, painted like barns. A series of flat limestone slabs formed the sidewalk connecting the house and the barn to the driveway that separated them.

December 25, 1906 was a Tuesday. Theodore Roosevelt was the president and was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the peace negotiations in the Russo-Japanese War.

In Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, the weather on Christmas Day was particularly cold, with a low of 13 degrees and a daytime high of just 27 degrees. With sub-freezing temperatures, ominous skies, and the long distance to exit their farm road to the main road, the Bowmans hoped any possible snow would resist. They had to be somewhere important that morning.

The Bowmans attended the Salem United Brethren Church on Ninth Street and Church Street in Lebanon, Pa., For the Sunday School Christmas service at 10 a.m. Their 21-year-old daughter, Fannie Bowman, was involved in this service. The occasion was significant enough to merit a copy of today’s printed program with Fannie’s signature on the front being kept in the Bowman Family Bible to this day.

The program does not reveal what Fannie’s role might have been. However, it is rated “Music” by “Primary School,” so it’s likely that Fannie was one of the children’s Sunday School teachers. There are also several recitations and exercises. The “Sleep On” exercise is listed as being presented by “Little Children”. The other recitations had names like “This Happy Day”, “‘Tis Christmas In Heaven” and “Song Of The Angels”. If Fannie was playing a musical instrument, perhaps she was part of the orchestra playing during the offering.

It sounds like a lovely service – albeit quite a long one – that began with singing “Hark The Angel’s Song” as a procession. The song’s lyrics printed in the newsletter in fine green ink show that the song was not the traditional “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” Christmas carol. Other songs printed in the newsletter include “The Bells Are Ringing”, “Rejoice” and “Hear The Bells”.

The closing song, “The Star And The Angels,” features lyrics that still ring true:

“Star of Bethlehem, beautiful star,

Shining guide ray,

Casting a light, a heavenly light,

Show the way to Christ;

Angels so bright, stealing their flight,

On the silent hill,

Carol a song in the morning,

“Peace on Earth, good will. “

After the blessing, the last line of the program reads: “Distributing gifts” – which were probably a box of candy and an orange.

Afterward, the older Bowmans, along with Fannie and her younger siblings, Ammon, Sara and Mary, undoubtedly crammed into the family car under a pile of quilts for the mile-long round trip to ‘at their farm, where hopefully a scorching heat and bountiful Christmas dinner awaited them.


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