Practice English Speaking&Listening with: A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas

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Well, hello everybody. Im so glad all of

you came out here tonight. I know its a busy time of year with Thanksgiving just around

the corner. But I think its always a good idea to stop and think back a little bit about

how things used to be. And, I hope you enjoy the program. You are the very first audience

to see this program. So, if something terrible happens, just remember thats part of the

fun of live entertainment. Now in just a minute, Im going to actually

turn into Laura and Im going to be talking as her most of the program tonight - though

I am going to make a couple of asides. And when youre going to be able to tell if

its me or if its Laura is because Laura has a hat. So, when I have that on Im going

to talk as Laura and when I dont, Im going to talk as myself.

Now, when they asked me to talk about Laura and Christmas, that seemed to be a really

big topic because Laura actually lived a very long time. She was born February 7th 1867

near the shores of beautiful Lake Pepin. Mark Twain said it was true sunset country and

Bryant said every poet and artist in the land ought to visit. And she lived until 1957.

So, she started out with travel by covered wagons and lived long enough to travel on

an airplane. So as you might imagine, Christmases changed a lot during her life. And especially

because a lot of that, the first half of her life, was during the Victorian period, and

it was the Victorians that invented Christmas as we celebrate it today.

So, I decided that the best way to handle this subject, would be to pick a time, and

sort of go from there. So what Im going to be doingin just a minute here while

I get on my hat and glovesis were going to be going back to 1939. Were going

to be in Mansfield, and the reason I picked 1939 I hope will come evident in just a minute.

Oh, I do like to get Christmas letters1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

It seems like there are more of these cards every day. Ugh, and I will have to get answers

out to them, butOh look! Ones from Rose, my daughter, let me see what she has

to say. Oh! She sent me a clipping from a magazine

articleWomans Day, December 1939. “We have asked famous author, Rose Wilder

Lane, of Danbury, Connecticut, what she does for Christmas and of traditions in her family.”

Well, this ought to be good. “But I do not do anything unusual at Christmas. There is

a family Christmas tree trimming all Christmas Eve Day. And I dont like, or have, smart

modern blue and silver trees. My trees are trimmed with the magic idea that the tree

itself bursts into magic flower and fruit. I use lots of very fat tinsel and bits as

short as the trees green furry twigs and glittering colored balls and real candles

to be lighted and to be very careful of fire about.”

Christmas Eve is just a family, including any hired help there may be. Lighting the

tree is a ceremony. In a dark room with a taper, all the candles are lighted on the

tree. It is beautiful. We just look at it for awhile. And maybe we sing or have a phonograph

record, “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Then we turn on the lights and open the gifts till

the place is knee deep in wrappings and ribbons. And we just have fun. Afterward, at midnight

a totally indigestible supper: plum pudding, fruitcake, candy, nuts and coffee. Christmas

Day evening is for the young folksparty. And the tree is lighted again. Do you know,

most people to the young people today have never seen a real candle light on a Christmas

tree? The tree bears again, this time little gifts. Really party favors, and then theres

dancing and another late supper. I usually serve waffles and sausages for this. Everyones

tired of sweets by now. Thats all and Im sorry, there isnt a scrap of any idea in

it.” Well, it does sound like we have quite the

time doesnt it? I think though, if Rose is being honest, the part shes like the

best was this: “We open gifts till the place is knee deep in wrappings and ribbons.”

Rose likes to get gifts and to give them. Of course, before we can get to that, we have

to get through all the fun of Christmas Eve. At Christmas Eve night, we would gather together,

and wed all hang our stockings. None of these specialized things you can buy from

the dime store. They were real stockings that we wore on our feet. And we hung them up and

we waited for Santa Claus to come and fill them.

Now weve got a lot of interesting presents in our family over the years.

And Im going to take that opportunity to step back as Sarah for a second, because I

remembered I didnt say something. Remember what I said about the fun of live entertainment?

Santa Claus is going - and Mrs. Claus, are going to be showing up in some of our pictures.

So be sure to keep an eye out for them. Okay, now back to Roses presents.

All right, probably the very first big Christmas present I can remember getting was when Pa

gave Ma the china shepherdess. He carved the rack for it to stand on himself. And ever

after that we knew a place was really home once Ma got out the china shepherdess.

That same year, I got Charlotte. Now before this, I just had a corn cob doll. Her name

was Susan. And NellieIm sorry, Maryalready had a rag doll named Nettie.

And sometimes she let me hold her, but I only did it when Susan couldnt see. But this

year for Christmas, I got my own rag doll. And she would stay with me until she literally

disintegrated. The next big Christmas I remember is when

we were down in Kansas. We didnt think we were going to get a Christmas at all. But

then Mr. Edwards showed up with his presents. And he brought us each a tin cup. Now, Im

sure children today probably wouldnt be impressed with an old tin cup. But back before

we had this Christmas, Mary and I used to share from one cup when we ate, so to have

our own seemed to be quite miraculous indeed. Then there was the year Mary and I worked

together to make a button string for Carrie. Ma had saved up buttons, ever since she was

a little girl. And she said we could use them for the button string. So, we were determined

to have the most beautiful button string in the world. And we sat and worked hours on

it. And weMary started on one endand I started on the other. We put the buttons

on. We took some off. A couple of times we took them all off and started over again.

It was going to be the most beautiful string in the world. And then Ma told us Christmas

was almost here and we couldnt make any more do-overs. So finally we got it together

and made this beautiful button string. Then, there was the year Ma asked us if it

would be okay if we just wished for horses that year for Pa. And Christmas morning there

they were, Sam and David, the Christmas horses. And then, there was the presents we got from

Ma and Pa. We saved up our money to buy Ma a hair comb to put back in her hair.

And we had the year that we had the community Christmas tree. I got a little box with a

wee china cup and a wee china tea pot. Carrie got a little brown and white dog. And I got

a fur cape and muff which was even nicer than Nellie Olesons.

And, during the long winter, when we didnt think wed be able to have much of a Christmas

at all, we were able to put together enough money to buy an embroidered set of suspenders

for Pa. He said that they were too pretty to cover up with his coat. As the temperature

dropped below zero, somehow he found the will power to anyway.

And there was the year when my Manly, Almanzo James Wilder, who I was engaged to, went back

east for the winter and I didnt think Id see him at Christmas at all. And he brought

me a pin when he showed up at our house on Christmas Eve. This one. And you can see theres

a little carved house on it, and a lake, and some wheat. I treasure it.

Later, after we were married, one year Manly made a sled for Grace.

And one of our first married Christmases together, we gave each other a set of dishes from the

Montgomery Ward catalog. When our house burned down, this was one of the few things we were

able to save. Times were hard in those first few years of

our marriage. And one year, Manly got our Christmas present for each other by trading

a load of chopped wood and brought us a clock that he would wind every night for the rest

of his life. Sarah again, Christmas presents were also

strongly connected to Laura because of her fans. For years, much the way Harry Potter

books were in our time, children would wait for Christmas to come so they could get the

next new Little House book. This year is the 75th anniversary ofLittle House on the

Prairie.” And every couple of years, for a little over a decade, a new book would come

out bearing that magic name, Laura Ingalls Wilder. And even today, Laura fans look forward

to seeing what surprises that their loved ones got them for Christmas that have to do

with Laura but the loved ones know about it ahead of time or not.

And the food of Christmas! Christmas always meant just a flood of preparations for all

sorts of different kinds of food. We had Injun Bread, or self-rising bread there was all

sorts of goodies and pastries and meat. For Christmas morning breakfast, when we were

very little, Ma would make us a man out of pancakes.

And sometimes, whether either Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, depending on what our schedule

was, we always had oyster soup, with oyster crackers. The year Pa was lost in a snowbank

on the way home, he ate all the oyster crackers and all the Christmas candy, but he didnt

eat the canned oysters. And oranges were always a big thing when I

was growing up because it was still quite the deal to get an orange all the way from

Florida or California to the plains of South Dakota. But it was getting to be a little

easier with the train and an orange soon became standard fare in a Christmas stocking.

Baking and preparations could go on for days. And any help was greatly appreciated.

And, of course, everyone pulled up to the table. If there was any relatives in the area,

theyd come. And if not, wed try to invite in friends and neighbors.

Ah. And as I mentioned before, Christmas candy was always a big deal. Especially the ribbon

candy with the multiple colored layers striped like ribbon but frozen solid in sugar. We

used to get some Christmas candy like that only at Christmas. In fact, that was the strongest

memories I have of riding the train when we first went to Walnut Grove to DeSmet, was

that a boy came along with a tray in his arms and he had sandwiches wrapped in wax paper

and little packages of Christmas candy. And Ma got us some, even though it wasnt Christmas.

I was going to eat one of my pieces and save the other one. All of us girls agreed to do

that. But after I ate the first one, I thought the other one looked like it should have a

lick. Just one. Then two. Okay, I ate the whole thing! Even Mary gave in in the end.

It was such a special wonderful trip treat to have Christmas candy. And in later years,

once we started to have Christmas trees, especially in town, wed make little - theyd make

little baggies of Christmas candy out of mosquito netting and hang it on the tree.

Now, as we think about Christmas we probably think of a white Christmasand snow. And

certainly there were places where we were growing up where there was snow pretty much

every Christmas. But, that wasnt always the case. Pepin seemed to have a talent for

attracting snow. And we tended to have lots of it every year at Christmastime. And where

Manly was growing up, up in New York State, they too got an inordinate amount of snow.

Especially, it seemed, for Christmas. But a lot of places that I lived when I was

growing up, and in later years here in Missouri, there wasnt snow, no matter how handy it

would have been. And a lot of times youd be as likely to have a Christmas Day that

looked like this, as you did to have snow on the ground. In fact, the first New Years

that we spent in Dakota Territory we had the door wide open during dinner and letting the

fresh air breezes in because it was so warm. Santa Claus has certainly changed a lot since

I was a little girl. You all probably think of Santa as something like this, big, and

plump, and jolly. You might have heard of the poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,”

and in there they call him an elf. And thats because before they got going with Thomas

Nast and Coca Cola, Santa Claus looked a little bit more like this, or even more elf like.

Rather than the jolly fat man that we know today.

When I was growing up I had never seen a Christmas tree at all until I was 9 years old. And then,

we saw a community tree. Thered been an ad in the paper asking the members of the

community to bring their Christmas presents in. And between that, and the missionary barrel,

the whole tree was just covered with presents and little bags of candy. It was something

I had never seen. In later years, of course, we started to have our own trees, as Rose

talked about. Though always the old fashioned kind, and not one with the modern silver bells

and whistles. I always enjoy thinking about Christmas. “Our

hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout

the year for having, in spirit to become a child again at Christmastime.”

And I think were all better off at Christmastime for remembering Laura. And they certainly

have not been remiss for reminding us of that in the publishing industry. And Ill let

you all know that the book in the right hand corner there is available in the gift shop.

Along with, “The Little House Guidebook,” which I highly recommend; and the wonderful

papers to the conference on Laura that was here at the Hoover Library and its on sale

now for 10 dollars now which is a total steal! So, thank you for spending a little time with

me as we talk about Laura and Christmas. And I hope you enjoyed the program. I hope that

if you didnt get your fill of looking at the trees and memorabilia tonight, youll

come back between now and January 2nd. Also, find Hoover Library on YouTube. You can see

footage of the 1995 Laura Wilder exhibit. And you canLikethem at Facebook and

see all sorts of pictures of the event tonight. And you can also find me in all those places

under the nameTrundlebed Tales.” Thank you very much.

Applause

The Description of A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas