This I Remember: Christmas [c. 1900] by Charles S. Ilingworth
Text From Niagara Frontier, Fall 1958

Christmas time was a season of feasting and good cheer at our house, for father would bring home such delicacies as layer raisins, which are raisins as large as grapes dried on their own stems.

Smyrna layer figs: wooden boxes of figs as large as tea cups, pressed and packed in Turkey. Pulled figs, smaller fat figs that grew farther north. Fard dates, as long as my little finger, thick as my thumb, black and sticky. Hallow dates, golden in color, smaller, but as sweet as honey.

Crysalized ginger from China, candied fruits, pounds of it. Large budded walnuts, paper shell almonds, pecans, and Brazil nuts, in bowls on the sideboard. Dishes of candy in every room.

More activity in the kitchen. Cracking and blanching almonds, then roasting them in large pans spread with butter in the oven. Suet and plum puddings cooking in the double boilers. In the ice box a four-rib roast of beef, pink with rings of white fat, ready for the oven. And the most beautiful sight of all, the white arms of the cook holding a pie tin at eye level on her finger tips, as she trims surplus crust from around the edge.

In the sitting room a sheet is spread in one corner, and everybody helps put up the tree and hang the ornaments, strings of popcorn, popcorn balls, candy canes, and holders for the candles.

Everyone is excited. Two of mother's lady relatives, single, are over from Kingston. Grandfather Illingworth is coming up from Medina in the morning.


I had gone with father and bought a pair of long gloves for evening wear for mother. Mother had taken me to Chouffet's to get a gold watch chain for father, also we bought a sash for the maid to go with the dress mother was giving her. I hid them under my bed, where I also had a present for Mama Scobell.

I hung one of mother's stockings on the mantle, and went to bed.


It is dark but I get up and go downstairs, the house is quiet. I light a wall fixture, take a look at the tree, then let out a yell. The first thing my eyes behold is a team of hair covered horses hitched to a stake wagon, just like one of father's.

One of the men at the store had pasted part of a baking powder label on some thin wood and fastened it on each side of the dray so I had a sign on my wagon the same as on our big wagon. I ran up to my parents' room and jumped on their bed - they were awake - hugged and kissed them, then ran back to the tree.

Upon examination, I found that I could unhitch the horses from the wagon. It had a tongue and double whiffle-tree, the stakes at the back of the wagon were removable, and had a pair of skids.

By the time I had examined all this mother had come down, and reminded me to bring down my presents for the others; by the time I had carried them to the tree, father was down. Father said we would have to eat breakfast before opening all the presents, so we waited on pins and needles. He told me that Albert, the chief clerk, promised to make enough boxes and bags to fill the wagon.

Eva and Lillian, the girls from Canada, and Mama Scobell came down, so we went to breakfast. Sausage meat patties, fried potatoes, two dishes of toast, and Arabian Mocha coffee. After we finished, and I didn't eat much, we went to the tree, and the presents were given out.

Mother got the material for a silk dress from father and my gloves to go with it, and gifts from all the others. Father got a pearl pin for his ascot tie from mother. I gave Mama Scobell a dressing sac, trimmed with lavendar ribbon. When I gave father his watch chain he put it on right away.

Father called in the maid and mother gave her the dress and told her the dressmaker would make it up for her. I gave her the sash and Mama Scobell gave her a parasol. When father gave her an envelope with two weeks' wages in it, she started to cry and ran back to the kitchen.

In addition to the team and wagon, I got a Daisy hair rifle, two freight cars for my train, the Wyoming series, three books by E.S. Ellis, a Henty book, a leather school bag, some kid gloves and some clothes. The stocking held an orange, a bag of marbles, some nuts and a necktie. Everyone was pleased with their presents, and I got more than I expected.

After the excitement died down, mother said we had better help Christine. Father and I put two extra leaves in the table and went back to the tree.

Soon a hack brought grandfather Illingworth from the station and he had to examine all the presents; there was a necktie and muffler for him from mother. Later arrived two young men, friends of father, and about one o'clock Christine announced dinner.

When we sat down at the table, grandfather said grace. I watched him, as with closed eyes and bowed head, he asked God's blessing on the food and upon us all.

Father carved thick, round slices from the roast, and the maid passed it, then she served brown and sweet potatoes, parsnips browned in the juices of the meat, golden squash, and then filled the glasses with claret from the decanter.

Everyone laughed and talked gaily, plates were refilled until all had a second helping. Then the table was cleared and the plum pudding was brought in, which father served, while mother served the tea. Nuts, raisins, figs and candy followed with coffee, if you wished.

One of the young men excused himself and in a short time drove up with a span of horses and a two-seated sleigh. The two young ladies from Canada and his friend went for a drive through the parks around the city, returning in a couple of hours.

Father fell asleep in the Turkish rocker, grandfather took off his coat and lay on the couch in the dining room. I started to read Wyoming, mother and Mama Scobell went up to mother's sitting room. The house was quiet and peaceful.

Shortly before six Christine announced that she had "whipped up" some hot biscuits and honey, if we were ready. So we all sat down and ate that, with tea, Christmas cake, candied fruit and port wine. After supper father lighted the candles on the tree. The lamps were lighted (no gas), Mama Scobell played the piano. Now and then we heard the bells of a passing cutter as we talked.

Before nine o'clock I was sleepy and went up to bed. The day was over, Christmas had ended. It was a joyful one.

[The Niagara Frontier quarterly was published by the Buffalo Historical Society (The Buffalo HIstory Museum) from 1954 through the early 1980s. Charles S. Illingworth (1884-1965) had a long and varied career in sales and contributed a number of articles to Niagara Frontier about some aspect of "the old days."]