Celebrating the Holidays 100 Years Ago in Champaign County, Illinois

Image by Vincent Ciro from Pixabay

This Christmas blog post is two weeks too late! I thought this might make a good article for a quarterly, but here it is instead on my own blog. Try to catch whatever remains of the Christmas spirit in the air and enjoy!

Do you ever wonder what the holidays were like one hundred years ago?  Have you ever thought about what gifts people would be giving each other or what food they would put on their tables for their friends and families? Local newspapers of the time can answer these questions and put some color into your genealogical research and family stories.

Advertisers started preparing for the Christmas rush by placing ads in the newspapers with suggested ideas for presents.  Advertisements for gift ideas included typewriters, fancy mirrors, smoking sets, luxurious fur garments, watches, percolators, kimonos, cuff links, cigars, and sterling silver pencils. Ray C. Sparks of Sparks Auto Supply suggested heaters, carpet, cigar lighters, and fenders for your Dodge or Ford.[1]

Of course, foods for the holidays needed to be bought and menus prepared.  The Urbana Produce Company placed an ad for the Christmas feast – “Turkeys, Geese, Ducks, Chickens (live or dressed), Pumpkins, Fresh Eggs, Jonathan Apples, Cheese, Lard and Jewel Compounds, Sugar Creek Butter, and Enterprise Flour.”[2]Abbott and Wells, the Cash Grocery & Market, sold plenty of fancy Christmas candies (including peanut brittle), nuts, oranges, apples, pineapples, grapes, and grape fruit. They also had plenty of turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, and oysters.[3] Many sellers of chocolates and candy said that Christmas dinner would not be complete without their treats.

As far as cooking a holiday meal 100 years ago, some families would still have used wood or coal stoves.  Some families may have had a “modern” gas stove but many recipes still used the designations “slow – moderate – hot” for the oven times instead of a specific degree.  Most families did not own a refrigerator and instead used an ice box.  Sinks were on legs (to prohibit mold growth) with no built-in cabinets under them and cabinets, in general, were free-standing and not built in as they are now.

In the cookbook A Calendar of Dinners by Marion Harris Neil published in 1922, the suggested Christmas dinner included Oysters, Mangoes, Celery, Stuffed Olives, Roast Turkey, Cranberry Jelly, Roast Sweet Potatoes, Mashed Turnips, Brussels Sprouts, and English Plum Pudding.[4]

In Good Housekeeping’s Book of Menus, Recipes, and Household Discoveries published around 1922, a menu for a Christmas dinner included Fruit Cocktail, Oyster Soup, Roast Suckling Pig, Diced Turnips in Hollandaise, Scalloped Tomatoes, Cranberry Apple Sauce, and Orange Ice and Small Cakes for dessert.[5]

As for Champaign County, Illinois in December 1922, the newspapers reported that there was a shortage of currants for Christmas that year due to the Greek crop being small.  Cooks had to substitute seedless raisins instead for their Christmas fruit cakes and mincemeat.[6] Housewives (yes, housewives did the majority of cooking, and articles about food were directed specifically toward women) were told that turkeys would be plentiful (60 to 65 cents per lb.), the pork market was plentiful, but Yuletide trees would be scarce due to unsettled labor conditions and a cold winter in the northern states.[7] Cranberries were plentiful (25 cents per lb.) and lots of chestnuts were on the market from 20 to 25 cents per lb.[8] 

A holiday pun from The Daily Illini of 2 Dec 1922 quoted “You are not the only unfortunate that had to eat Chicken in Champaign instead of Turkey in Greece.”[9] Actually, anyone who could eat chicken in “champagne” would have been fortunate as this is the era of Prohibition. As for crime in the county during 1922, at the end of the year, Police Chief A. G. Kellar said that serious crime was less frequent than in previous years but there were more shootings and stabbings in 1922 that were attributed to “an increased use of moonshine and other bootleg liquor”.[10]

As seen by the ads in the paper, holiday dinners often included meat such as turkey or shellfish such as oysters. Excerpts from the Urbana Daily Courier of 30 Dec 1922 mention some of the meals served at Christmas. The Warnes family in Longview served a turkey dinner at William Warnes’ house that was enjoyed by a large number of relatives. In Savoy, Senator and Mrs. H. M. Dunlap hosted the annual Home View Christmas party, serving a luncheon consisting of escalloped oysters, sandwiches, pickles, cakes, and coffee.

As for celebrating, there were lots of events to attend in December.

“Urbana to Frolic under Christmas Tree as Band Plays”, proclaimed The Daily Illini on 7 Dec 1922. Mrs. Freda B. Temple and Mrs. C. G. Lumley distributed Christmas seals.  The school teachers were instructed to sell these Christmas seals to their students.  The Girl Scouts sold candy to buy apples to distribute to the needy. The Rev. James C. Baker of the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church spoke about Christmas music and the ministry of song. The Pi Beta Phi alumnae (the “Pi Phis”) were selling an enormous four-pound fruitcake.[11]

Many societies held their annual Christmas parties. Churches held Christmas pageants. There were Christmas bazaars, Christmas meetings, and Christmas programs. Unfortunately, the county newspapers did not mention Hanukkah (Festival of Lights) which was observed from 14 December to 22 December that year.  There were, however, articles in the Daily Illini that mentioned the Jewish Ladies’ Social Circle was to meet at the home of Mrs. Leonard Lewis on 8 Dec[12] and Mrs. Samuel Weingarten on 29 Dec.[13] The Sinai Temple Sisterhood held its monthly meeting on 26 December. They were hoping for a good turnout.[14]

The papers were full of the usual gossip, letting everyone know who visited whom over the holidays. Some examples from the December 29th & 30th Urbana Daily Courier include such genealogical gems as:

Bondville – Merle Doolan spent Christmas day at the home of Mr. and Mrs. F. A. Doolen. Miss Iona Elwarner of Sydney spent Christmas at the E. Elwarner home.

Dewey – Walter Cook and sister, Miss Grace, spent Christmas day with their brother, R. F. Cook, and family.

Homer – Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Manning and family spent Christmas at Kingman, Ind., the guests of their daughter, Mrs. Harry Ratcliffe.

Illinois Central – Mrs. O. Atterbury, wife of Engineer Atterbury, returned to Centralia on Saturday after spending Christmas at Champaign with relatives. Ben Proctor, truck driver, returned to his duties Wednesday after being absent the past few days spending Christmas with relatives out of town.

Locust Grove – George Corray spent Christmas with his wife’s mother, Mrs. L. Shroyer, in Urbana.

Mayview – Mrs. Jennie Love and children of Indianapolis spent Christmas with her sister, Mrs. Frank Koch.

Ogden – Mr. and Mrs. Walter Divan and baby of Broadlands were guests of his parents, Mrs. and Mrs. Isaac Divan, Christmas.

Philo – Mr. and Mrs. Philip Lovingfoss and children from near Sydney, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Melohn and son, Donald spent Christmas day with John Melohn.

Rantoul – Mr. and Mrs. James Neal of Urbana were Christmas guests of the former’s mother, Mrs. Lettie Neal on Bodwell Avenue, Monday.

Sadorus – Mr. and Mrs. Earl Evans of Indianapolis came Saturday to spend Christmas with the former’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. T. J. Evans. Mr. and Mrs. Dick Woodcock of Champaign, spent Christmas day with the latter’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Homer Mills.

Savoy – Mr. and Mrs. Elbert Morrison and children of Mahomet spent Christmas here with Rev. and Mrs. C. R. Morrison.

Seymour – Carol Bowman returned to his work in Chicago Tuesday after spending Christmas with his mother, Mrs. Minnie Bowman.

Shiloh – J. F. Trotter and family set the Funston Christmas dinner. Mrs. Trotter was a Funston before her marriage. Miss Bernice Downs nurse at the Burnham Hospital spent Christmas with home folks.

St. Joseph – Mr. and Mrs. B. F. McLaughlin spent Christmas with relatives in Bloomington, Ind.

Thomasboro – Misses Opal Babb and Chastie Carter spent the Christmas vacation in the home of their parents here.

In the African-American newspaper, the Metropolis Weekly Gazette of 15 Dec 1922, it was reported that Henry Alvertis Long, son of Mr. and Mrs. Geo. W. Long, who is attending the Illinois University at Champaign, will spend the vacation with parents.”

As for charity, the good citizens of Champaign were generous during the holidays.  The Salvation Army (led by Commandant H. G. James), along with the Elks Lodge and Champaign businessmen distributed 210 baskets to the needy, along with 500 toys and 117 pairs of stockings.[15]The papers were full of stories of collection baskets, food, and donations being given to the poor.

Some things have changed and other things have stayed the same.  Most of us will not be receiving typewriters, “luxurious furs”, and cigar lighters for our cars as gifts, and we may not be feasting on roast suckling pig, but we hope everyone will not want for currants in their fruit cakes and will remember their families in years gone by this holiday season.

[1]“Sparks Auto Supply” [advert], The Urbana Daily Courier, Urbana, IL, 8 Dec 1922, p. 11.

[2]“Let us Help You Plan Your Christmas Feast” [advert], The Daily Illini, Champaign-Urbana, IL 15 Dec 1922, p. 2.

[3] The Urbana Daily Courier, Urbana, IL, 22 Dec 1922, various pages.

[4] Marion Harris Neil, A Calendar of Dinners, (Hamilton, Ontario: Procter & Gamble Distributing Co. of Canada, 1922), 229.

[5] Good Housekeeping’s Book of Menus, Recipes, and Household Discoveries, (New York: Good Housekeeping, c. 1922), p. 49.

[6]The Daily Illini, Champaign-Urbana, IL, 7 Dec 1922, p. 12.

[7]The Daily Illini, Champaign-Urbana, IL, 16 Dec 1922, p. 12.

[8]The Daily Illini, Champaign-Urbana, IL, 21 Dec 1922, p. 12.

[9]The Daily Illini, Champaign-Urbana, IL, 2 Dec 1922, p. 5.

[10]The Daily Illini, Champaign-Urbana, IL, 31 Dec 1922, p. 7.

[11]The Daily Illini, Champaign-Urbana, IL, 7 Dec 1922, p. 9, 11.

[12]The Daily Illini, Champaign-Urbana, IL, 8 Dec 1922, p. 6.

[13]The Daily Illini, Champaign-Urbana, IL, 29 Dec 1922, p. 5.

[14] The Urbana Daily Courier, Urbana, IL, 23 Dec 1922, p. 3.

[15] “Salvation Army’s Year to End Jan 7,” The Daily Illini, Champaign-Urbana, IL, 31 Dec 1922, p. 7.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s