A glimpse of Christmas time joy 120 years ago
Imagine the streets of local towns 120 years ago at Christmas time. With the warm glow of candle-lit trees beaming through house windows, the clicking of horses’ hooves drawing carriages through the snow-packed streets.
The various holiday displays and the newest toys in the store shop windows and the sense of merriment and joy of people attending holiday observances or making last-minute preparations.
Articles from December issues of the Big Rapids Pioneer paint a picture of the Christmas season in 1898, from religious observances to school programs and holiday vacation and feasts and gatherings.
An article printed on Dec. 26 said Christmas Day was a joyful time.
“Christmas was a nice day so far as Big Rapids was concerned, notwithstanding the mercury dropped to four-degrees below zero on Christmas Eve. In every instance the churches were suitably decorated, and the exercises very appropriate to the occasion.
“Fully as many presents as usual were received by both little and big, and it is thought that the travel on the railroads exceeded that of the former years. The trains were all late, and a good many of our people entertained relatives from a distance, while quite a good many spent Christmas out of town.
“Although yesterday was Christmas, today is being observed a Christmas by the business world, and consequently little business is being done here today — only as much as seems to be necessary. The weather has grown cooler during the past 34 hours, and at the present writing we are enjoying quite a blizzard.”
In one instance, a Spanish American War soldier celebrated the holiday with friends in the Big Rapids area.
“D. E. Stearns went to Grand Rapids this forenoon to escort his wife and daughter to this city, where they will spend Christmas. In all probability, Ensign A. L Williard, who frequently returned to Grand Rapids after taking a hand in the Spanish War, will accompany Mr. Stearns on his return home and spend Christmas in Big Rapids.
“Ensign Willard, who was a classmate of Stearns, has the honor of holstering the first American flag that waived in Cuba,” the article read.
Schools took part in Christmas observances, and were said to be well attended. Netzorg’s Orchestra gave a performance for junior high students at Big Rapids.
“Netzorg’s Orchestra did a good share of amusing. Milton Netzorg is a very fine violinist for a boy of 13, being clear and sweet in tone and fine in his expressions. The room was nicely filled, and everyone enjoyed the playing and speaking. The schools let out yesterday for the holidays. The bell will not ring again until the second of January,” the account read.
Ferris students enjoyed a week of Christmas vacation.
“The Ferris Institute closed today noon for a holiday vacation of one week. A very neat Christmas card bearing holiday greetings and good pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Ferris was given to each student. The Pioneer wishes a Merry Christmas to everyone connected to the school.”
Churches in town offered Christmas services. St. Mary’s Catholic Church had three Christmas Masses, the “midnight Mass” at 5 a.m., a Mass at 8 a.m. and again at 10 a.m.
“This is the only day in the year on which a priest is allowed to celebrate three Masses,” the article read. “Christmas services at St. Mary’s Catholic Church were held as announced on Saturday.
“The Midnight Mass, celebrated at 5 a.m., the church was crowded with worshipers. Fully 500 people came at that early hour to adore the new born savior. The alters, especially the high alter, under the soft light from a hundred burning tapers of wax, and the semi-circle of electric lights of ruby shade, took on the appearance of the sublime.
“The old and classical Gregorian chant was mingled with the sweet strains of Cecilian and modern music. Father Delany preached at each mass.”
Among other holiday amusements, the German Band entertained a hotel full of people at The Northern with such songs as “Twilight Bells.”
Holiday trade was reported being good, “Judging form the packages and bundles that are seen in the arms of the people we meet on the street, Big Rapids merchants must be enjoying a splendid holiday trade.”
Some of the holiday supplies in stock were a full line of raisins, currants, dried fruit, fancy prunes, lemons, oranges, citron peel and Christmas candies.
Some of the meats advertised were turkey, geese, duck, chicken, tenderloin and oysters.
Christmas of 1898 was an occasion enjoyed by old and young alike as a time set aside to celebrate family, faith and community.