Christmas From The Old Country
Leelanau Historical Society
Created on December 4, 2020
Explore toys from the archives that once delighted the children (and adults too!) of Leelanau County, MI. As well as glimpses into the many holiday traditions observed by the many cultures that make up this county.
More creations to inspire you
1) Monopoly Game (copyright 1935) that belonged to the Nowinski family who summered in Leland.
Donated by Laura Quackenbush. Accession #: 2000.26.42
2) Nativity Set made of paper mache.
Donated by Richard A. Grout. Accession #: 1986.02.07a-q
3) Stereopticon from the 1800s made out of wood.
Donated by Lucille Seelig Wilson. Accession #: 1958.19.02a
6) “Pin + Rings”, a Native American game from 1938.
Donated by Helen Lindquist. Accession #: 1997.73.11a-j
8) Michigan Cards from Cedar in 1909 that have facts about the State’s history on them.
Donated by Agatha Wozniak. Accession #: 1964.05.03
19) “Pontiac Club de Mer” Revell Model Kit from 1995.
Kit was collected by the Leelanau Historical Society Staff. Accession #: 2007.05.09
20) “Lost in Space - Dr. Zachary Smith and Robot B-9” Plastic Model Kit from 1999.
Kit was collected by the Leelanau Historical Society Staff. Accession #: 2007.05.10
26) Wooden Jumper Sled from the late 1800s.
Donated by Phylis A. Carnahan. Accession #: 1989.18.172
Christmas begins in Sweden on December 13th, Santa Lucia Day. The eldest daughter of the family dresses in a gown of white with a crown of evergreens and candles on her head. She serves her family coffee and special Lucia buns while they are still in bed. This custom emulates the Saint who was known for her good deeds and generous spirit towards the poor.
From this date on there are many Christmas preparations. The house is thoroughly cleaned and the holiday baking of cookies and breads takes many days.
The high point of the holiday comes on Christmas Eve, 'Julafton'. Dinner is a family gathering started with a generous smorgasbord and finished with a rice pudding. An almond is hidden in the pudding and whoever finds it is sure to be married before next Christmas.
After dinner, the tree is lit and all gather to open their presents. Children believe that they have been brought by 'Jultomten'--a little gnome who is the guardian of the household or farm.
The Christmas tree is an important part of the celebration. The tradition of a 'Yule' tree is a centuries old in Scandinavia. Decorations include ornaments made of straw, wood shavings, apples, paper birds, tasseled candies and, of course, cookies.
In Norway, all work must stop at four o'clock on Christmas Eve day. Inside, the house has been scrubbed and all the Christmas baking is completed (including 14 kinds of cookies). The wood has been cut and the farm animals are given extra portions of feed. A bath and complete change of clothes for every one completes the preparations. The menu for Christmas Eve dinner is by tradition all white. Foods include lutfisk, rice porridge and potatoes. A bowl of porridge left out that night for the Juinissen (Christmas elves).
The Juineke (Christmas sheaf) is hung high on a pole or attached to the house or barn gable as a treat for winter birds. In some regions, the snow is cleared from the ground for the birds to dance on Christmas Eve.
When dinner is finished the family moves to the Christmas tree. The presents underneath are believed to have been brought by the Julnissen (Christmas elves) who live in the house. The Christmas tree is decorated with woven paper hearts, straw ornaments, goat and pig cookies, white candles, and Norwegian flags.
The children of Poland receive gifts twice. On St. Nicholas Day, the good saint himself brings presents. On Christmas Eve, the Star Man visits to quiz the children and reward their knowledge.
The Star of Bethlehem is the most popular image in the Polish Christmas. It is the first star on Christmas Eve that ushers in the time of Christmas feast, the 'Wigilia' or Vigil Supper. The meal must have an odd number of dishes and there must be an even number of diners. Empty places are left for absent family members and for the Christ Child. 'Oplatki', small white wafers, are served with the meal. These are symbolic of the Sacred Host that is received at Mass and make the Wigilia a secular version of Communion for the family. Straw is put under the white tablecloth and on the floor to represent the stable where Jesus was born.
Following the meal, the family gathers around the Christmas tree to sing 'Koledy' or Christmas carols. The tree is decorated with paper "porcupine" stars, various other paper ornaments, straw stars and a star at the top.
4) Poker Chips from the 1920s-1930s used by the Barton family who had a cottage on Glen Lake.
Donated by Cynthia Dougal. Accession #: 2005.27.02
5) Game of “Pegity” from 1939 used by the Barton family who had a cottage on Glen Lake.
Donated by Cynthia Dougal. Accession #: 2005.27.03a-b
9) “ABC” Slate Chalkboard from Northport in the 1920s which children could practice their spelling with.
From the estate of Florence Lackie Hanes. Accession #: 1999.49.11
12) A wooden Toy Truck used by the Nordberg Family who had a summer home in Leland on N. Lake Leelanau.
Donated by Kathryn Nordberg. Accession #: 2006.47.03
7) A “Merry Christmas” Stocking from a Leland resident in 1930.
Donated by Helen Lindquist. Accession #: 1997.73.05
21) A small Stuffed Mouse made by Omena artist, Lynn Spitz-Nagel in 2001.
Donated by Carolyn Brady. Accession #: 2005.06
18) Two Santa Cardboard Puzzles made by the Saalfield Publishing Co. in the 1950s and come from Suttons Bay.
11) A Cribbage Board made by Walter Lackie of Northport in the early 1900s.
From the estate of Florence Lackie Hanes. Accession #: 1999.49.07
In Germany, the celebration of Christmas begins on December 6th with a visit from St. Nikolas. He wears a bishop's hat and robe and always has a white beard. Carrying a bag filled with candy, fruit and nuts, he goes from house to house scolding naughty children and rewarding the good.
The Germans are known worldwide for keeping Christmas. They were the first to make the Christmas tree an important part of their celebration. Early in December many towns hold a Christmas Fair. Booths are set up to sell toys, cookies, decorations and food for the holiday shoppers.
The Advent Wreath originated in Germany. Each Sunday, of the four Sundays before Christmas, a candle is lit and a paper star with a Bible verse written on it is stuck on the evergreen wreath. The final candle is lit on Christmas Eve.
The Advent Calendar originated in Germany and Scandinavia. They are popular throughout the world today. One numbered window is open each day of December revealing a tiny picture.
In the Czech Republic the Christmas season begins with a visit from Savty Mikulas (St. Nicholas) on December 6th. He descends from heaven in company with an angel, dressed in white, and a devil called Cert. It is these two that decide whether children will receive gifts from the angel or will be punished by Cert.
On Stredy Vicer (Generous Night) the Christmas Eve feast follows a two-day fast. Whoever breaks the fast will not see the golden pig on the wall when the candles are lit. Part of the meal is taken to farm animals to ensure meat, milk and eggs during the coming year. The evening's entertainment includes games and fortune telling.
After the Stredy Vicer (Generous Night) feast, the family gathers to light the candles on the Christmas tree and distribute gifts. The decorations on the tree are simple and artistic. They include apples and oranges, ornate cookie figures, colored pinwheels, magpies (ribboned nuts), and ornaments of straw.
Fortune telling games are a popular Christmas entertainment for Czechs. One game calls for each member of the family to place a tiny candle in a walnut shell. The shells are set in a basin of water. The shell that floats to the center of the bowl tells of a long journey. The one whose candle remains upright the longest will be the next to marry. The longest burning candle foretells a long life.
16) Game Pieces/Pawns.
Donated by Laura Quackenbush. Accession #: 2004.17.03a-g
17) Three Wooden Tops and Spinning Stick from the Freeman-Ninde Collection. They were used in Leland but were made in Japan.
Donated by Tamsen Byfield. Accession #: 2012.01.15a,b,c,d
15) Checkers from the estate of Edmund Peters of Leland.
Donated by Laura Quackenbush. Accession #: 2005.32.19
13) “Thanksgiving Days” Puzzle from the 1950s used by the Trueblood-Abbott Families who had a cottage in East Leland.
Donated by Porter Abbott. Accession #: 2003.12.65
25) Metal Toy Dump Truck with a front shovel titled “Lumar Contractors” made by Marx Toys in the 1940s.
Donated by Larry Cate. Accession #: 1993.21.06
14) “Childhood Days” Puzzle from the 1950s used by the Trueblood-Abbott Families who had a cottage in East Leland.
Donated by Porter Abbott. Accession #: 2003.12.66
The Christmas Tree
The American Victorian Christmas tree was developed by the combined and varied influences of family heritage, economic circumstances, geographic location and taste. The tree, itself, is a German tradition, made popular by Queen Victoria's consort, Prince Albert. It was quickly adopted by Americans who were enthusiastic about imitating anything "Victorian" and aided by the fact that evergreen trees were readily available in North America.
The theme for the Victorian Christmas tree could be "everything and much more". Most ornaments were hand-made and the Victorians prided themselves on using scraps, odds and ends, and their ingenuity to decorate their trees. Beginning in the late 1870's ideas and directions for home made ornaments and toys were found in popular magazines. Peterson's Magazine of December, 1888 suggests that children make ornaments of paper. Paper chains, paper strands of hearts and other designs were suggested along with cornucopias to hold candy, gilded nuts, cut-outs decorated with tinsel and glitter and scraps. Small gifts were left unwrapped and served as decorations. Larger gifts were placed under the tree and one could sometimes find a miniature farm or garden nestled among the gifts.
Christmas Eve was the time to "plant and dress" the tree. This pleasant task was usually left to parents and older children. Christmas morning the parlor door was opened on the candle-lit tree in all its splendor (water bucket and sponge standing by!).
St. Nicholas (Santa Claus)
The image of Santa Claus became one of the most popular symbols of the holiday season. Based on the legendary 4th-century Bishop of myra, St. Nicholas became known as a patron of children and a special gift-bringer. Various early drawings portray St. Nicholas as a tall, thin man wearing red ecclesiastical robes, carrying a bishop's staff, and occasionally riding a white horse. The popular 19th-century poem by Clement Clarke Moore, "A Visit from St. Nicholas", created the image of the gift-giver as a small, elfish character dressed in fur riding in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.
Not until the appearance of Thomas Nast's cartoons was the Santa Claus image solidified. Basing his cartoons on the Moore poem, Nast, more than anyone, created the Santa Claus image with which we are familiar today. From 1863 to 1886, Thomas Nast's Christmas cartoons appeared in the widely-popular news magazine Harper's Weekly. In 1927 the New York Times described this new appearance as "A standardized Santa Claus...height , weight, stature...the red garments...the hood and the white whiskers. The pack full of toys, ruddy cheeks and nose, bushy eyebrows and jolly, paunchy effect are also inevitable..."
Whether in a long white robe, a bishop's garb, or red suit and shiny boots, Santa Claus represents the spirit of generosity and hope to all, especially children.