This is our 12th and final day of Christmas Past. We’ve enjoyed bringing back the past and hope you have as well. Our grand prize FREE tour drawing will be tonight! For an extra last entry, post something under our recommendations on facebook.
Question 12th and Last Day of Christmas Past: What can we still learn and apply from the Saints’ very first Christmas in the Salt Lake Valley?
In our bounteous lives, we may well reflect upon the more meager Christmas seasons of our pioneer ancestors. We might say to ourselves, “But that was yesterday. What about today? Have times changed? Is everyone so well off that he doesn’t need the real spirit of Christmas?”
To this I would answer, Times have not changed. The commandments of God are the same. The principles of gratitude and of giving of oneself are the same, because today, like yesterday, there are hearts to gladden and there are lives to cheer and there are blessings to bestow upon our fellowmen.
Isn’t that the spirit of Christmas, really—to forget self and to think of others? I clipped an item taken from the diary of Mrs. Rebecca Riter, entered December 26, 1847. She describes that first Christmas in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake:
“The winter was cold. Christmas came, and the children were hungry. I had brought a peck of wheat across the plains and had hidden it under a pile of wood. I thought I would cook a handful of wheat for the baby. Then I thought how we would need wheat for seed in the spring, so I left it alone.”
During the first few years after the arrival of the pioneers in the valley the dirt floors of the log cabins sufficed for the dances and socials that were a regular and important part of their lives. There was little furniture in the best of the homes, but what there was couldn’t be damaged by being set outdoors, so the rooms were cleared, and through many a winter night could be heard the strains of the violins accompanying the dancers.
One of the first socials of which there is any record took place on Christmas night in 1850. A pioneer mother wrote of the affair: “On this day I went to Brigham’s mill to a Christmas party. Stayed all night. We had a first rate supper at midnight. I helped to get it on the table. They danced all night until 5 o’clock in the morning the party broke up.”
In the pioneer homes and towns of Utah, the Christmas day was always fittingly celebrated. And in those far gone days, the children were taught to appreciate any little gift. There was no store full of toys, as we have them today. Sometimes a man gave a beaver skin or a buffalo robe to his wife and children. The gift made all happy. Often the head of a household provided venison and wild fowl for a feast, and all shared, and neighbors were invited to partake. There was no selfishness, no envy, no bigotry. People did not hold themselves aloof from others. There was a social equality and regard for one another, that was sincere and spiritual. They were people who not only knew the truth, they were people of the truth. On Christmas day, they had the real Christmas spirit. It was the day of Christ to them, and in every gift, there was the expression of the love and good will of the giver. Children did not have every whim pacified; they were satisfied with any little plaything, and the dissatisfaction seen among the young people today, was absent from the home and school. There was manifested a joy in living, and when they prayed they felt God’s watchful care; when they worked, they knew of his helpful presence.