The Cavendish Historical Society's accepts tax-deductible contributions to help preserve our history. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org 802-226-7807 or PO Box 472 Cavendish, VT 05142 The CHS Museum is located at 1958 Main Street (Route 131) in Cavendish.
Friday, December 20, 2013
A Civil War Christmas in Vermont
In keeping with the "Dickens of a Christmas" theme that the Cavendish Historical Society is working with the students at the Cavendish Town Elementary School, we found today's post from the Vermont Humanities Council "Civil War Book of Days," very much in keeping with what we have been talking about with the students. There is always the question, when did Christmas become a celebration in Cavendish? Clearly, from the article below, Christmas was definitely an important holiday in Vermont prior to the start of the Civil War.
Vermont Town Enjoys its First Christmas Tree and Works
to Make Christmas a Happy Time for Children Despite the War
In 1913, St. Johnsbury, Vermont resident
Sarah French set down her memories of Christmas 1862, 151 years ago. She wrote:
Fifty years ago people in St. Johnsbury spent little
time in merrymaking, or in social functions of any kind, The country was in
throes of the Civil War and there were few families where there was not a
vacant chair and anxious hearts awaiting news from the battle fields.
The weekly Caledonian of December 19 and
December 26  carried long lists of the Union soldiers from Vermont killed
and wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Pink teas, luncheons or seven
course dinners formed no part of social life and busy women spent much time
making garments, rolling bandages, and scraping lint for wounded soldiers.
Not withstanding all this, it came to the minds of
some of the kind people of the South Church that it was not right to shut out
the children from the joys that rightly belonged to them. "Let us make the
coming Christmas a happy time." The plan was heartily endorsed and soon
took shape. "It shall be a Christmas in the Church." There were no
department stores or art stores from which we might make choice of gifts and so
loving fingers wrought and the needles flew merrily in willing hands and the
pile of gifts grew apace.
. . .
As the time drew near Mr. Jewett began to fear we
might be lacking things to go around. So he made a hurried trip to Boston where
he invaded toy shops, and book stores, confectioners and fruit dealers, and
when he returned we could see the successful conclusion of our labors.
Two tall fir trees found their places in front of the
pulpit, and verily fir trees never bore such fruit before, at least in St.
Johnsbury. . . .
Christmas was cold as Christmas should be and the
hills were white with snow and Christmas Eve found the South Church full of
happy expectant children and equally happy grown folks.
The trees fairly groaned with their burdens and
underneath stood a huge basket filled with oranges, a great treat in those
days, for Florida and California had not emptied their treasures of fruits into
our markets and our oranges came from the Mediterranean or the West Indies.
Our pastor Rev. Lewis O. Brastow, who had recently
returned home from nearly a year of service as chaplain of the Twelfth Vermont
Regiment, was a bachelor and was a target for many gifts, books for his
library, a dressing gown and slippers enough for a centipede. The
Superintendent received a gold headed cane such as Superintendent are apt to
have. Teachers had books and the children had just those things that children
love, toys and games for the winter evenings, story books and boxes of candy.
Bright eyes and shining faces showed their
appreciation of the gifts and when the senior class of elderly men led by Mr.
[James K.] Colby of blessed memory, with Deacon Arnold Hutchinson, Levi Harlow
and Francis Brigham received copies in most effulgent colors of the choicest of
the nursery classics, "The Hare and The Tortoise," "Little Red
Riding Hood" and others. Their faces were wreathed in smiles and I do not
believe an Encyclopedia or a Webster Unabridged Dictionary would have been more
The Candles burned low as we wished one another a
Merry Christmas and wended our ways home. And so it was that the South Church
in 1863 celebrated the birthday of our lord.
Transcribed by Lynn A. Bonfield and published in the North Star Monthly, December 2010. This
entry was submitted by Lynn A. Bonfield.
Read letters from Vermont Civil War Soldiers about what Christmas was like for them.