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Christmas in Kansas

Christmas

From the beginning of settlers in Kansas, there has been Christmas is Kansas. Diaries and letters written in the early prairie days of Kansas offer us a glimpse of Christmas in the hard times of the territories early history. Many families, even those whose circumstances were meager, usually managed somehow to save, buy, or do something special to celebrate the holiday.

Julia Hand, who with her husband Burton were among the first settlers in Salt Creek Township of Reno County, wrote in her diary on December 25, 1872: "A lonely Christmas to us No Santa Claus comes here. I pop some corn and boil some molasses candy for the babies." The following year, however, the family's condition had improved, as on Christmas Day 1873 Hand commented: "A Christmas without snow. Santa Claus gives me a set of dominoes and the boys find some candies raisins and cookies in their socks. We go over to Mrs. Thompsons and take dinner."

In the eastern part of the state, which was more established in the 1870s, a more traditional commemoration occurred. Harriet E. Adams wrote of her Christmas as a seven-year-old in Marysville in the mid 1870s:

The Christmas which made the first lasting impression upon my mind, I think must have been the one following my seventh birthday . . . [A]fter dark I would peep out of the window, or out of the door to consider anxiously whether all conditions were favorable . . . enough to support that wondrous reindeer drawn sleigh . . . There was no chimney down which he [Santa] could slide safely . . . My concern on this matter finally reached such a pitch that I took it up with Mother. I told her my fears, and she said he would most certainly be able to leave his gifts, for when no large chimney was provided, the parents would leave the door open a crack at least, so he could push his way in with no difficulty whatever ….

With the settlement of the Westm and the acceptance of Kansas into the union, things became more settled, and Christmas traditions became more established. In 1936 Jennie Small Owen, a journalist and member of the Kansas Historical Society's staff, took note of how Christmas was celebrated by ethnic groups in their communities. She was apparently hoping to gather sufficient information to write a newspaper article on ethnic Christmas traditions in Kansas, but the responses she received indicated that many of the foreign traditions had already been integrated into a more universal, American celebration. Some of the letters she received describe in detail Kansans' celebrations of Christmas in 1936.

Ruth Gagliardo, Lawrence described her family's ritual: “Breakfast in bed for the kinder while the house warms and turkey is being put in oven etc. so that helper and everyone can share the fun around the tree…. The children don't get loads of things but they do have a happy time. Three of four weeks before Xmas, they begin making simple gifts--calendars, blotters, book marks (last year's cards!) pen wipers, needle books.”

Owens gathered information on the Christmas traditions of prominent Kansans of the day.  William Allen White, editor of The Emporia Gazette (Emporia, Lyon County), indicated that the White family's celebration did not "differ from the Christmas in any other house in town; a turkey or a goose for dinner in the evening and some friends, Santa Claus in the morning."

Charles M. Sheldon, a Topeka (Shawnee County) Congregational minister and writer, described a typical holiday.  "Christmas with us is always a family home day.  At the breakfast table we read the story of Christ's birth as told in my own 'Everyday Bible.'  Dinner is a family custom often with some invited guests who are alone or without friends near.  We have the usual things to eat including homemade mince pie made by Mother.  After dinner I usually read a Christmas story, and have one of my own to read this time.  We spend the day quietly looking over Christmas cards and talking about the friends who have sent them.  We have stopped giving things to the grown ups and don't expect any from others.  But if we can find a college girl or boy who is having hard sledding we try to do something for them.  We thus save all the worry that so many people have over Christmas gifts."

Christmas in Kansas seems to be a time of giving, family, and neighbors. A familiar theme is that Kansans worry less over the gifts and more over the time with their families. Many traditions from many cultures have swirled together to form the unique Kansas Christmas.

Aluminum Trees

Christmas Tree Candle Holder

History of Christmas Trees in Kansas

Entry: Christmas in Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2004

Date Modified: June 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.