Christmas in Connecticut Long, Long Ago

Treats of exotic oranges and nuts at the bottom of stockings, ice cream made by hand or brought in on the train, tables laden with roasted turkeys and homemade pies, houses full of grandparents and uncles and cousins and aunts, sledding on scraps of cardboard, gifts of dolls and toothbrushes, games, and more dolls....

From the local woods came the plentiful greens that children twisted and shaped into the garlands that adorned the local churches, where townspeople might attended worship at 5:30 in the morning or in the evening. There young people put on pageants, lit candles, and glimpsed Santa....

Such is the stuff of Christmas in early 20th century Connecticut as it is remembered by the people who made a life here. There words are recorded as part of the Oral History Project of the Gunn Historical Museum. Excerpts of the project's interviews with aging locals are part of the museum's "Memories of Christmas in Washington" doll and toy display running now until December 30.

The responsibilities of the household and the barnyard also shaped Christmases in rural Connecticut. Many who have contributed their stories recall that Christmas did not begin until the chores were done. Sows who farrowed did not know the day of the year any more than did the cows who needed milking. The tree that Santa decorated and the gifts that he left remained undisclosed until the work was done and the family could be inside together to enjoy it.

So precious were these gifts that they remain intact all these decades later. Age and decay have taken their toll, but not misuse. There are porcelain, wax, wood, and felt dolls. China tea sets, Indian dolls, Chinese and Japanese dolls, Russian dolls, doll clothes, doll beds, doll houses, teddy bears, and more on display at the museum. The main room of the building has been transformed into a Victorian girl's bedroom and boasts a full-sized decorated Christmas tree, faux marble fireplace, and murals of clouds and topiaries. The display is a dream for anyone who loves dolls.

The display and the text of "Memories" turns a visit to the museum into a walk through time as the voices of the people who lived in Washington, Connecticut, when it was a rural community remind us of a time when happiness and home were about the same thing.

Hear the voices: We had food on the table and everybody was content....One Christmas Eve in the 50s, I remember so well, there was about a foot of brand new snow. Griff Jones had hired a team of horses and a sleigh, and his whole family rode up in the sleigh...I had never had a damned thing to do with pigs before, but lo and behold she was going to farrow on Christmas Day....The minister would say, 'I think it's about time for Santa to come. Do you hear him?' We'd all listen, and pretty soon we'd hear sleigh bells.

Click here for more about Connecticut's oral history.


  1. so interesting! many precious information must be there...

  2. Those were definately the good old days!

  3. I absolutely love this post! I felt like I was watching an old movie or reading a classic. Very nice!

  4. I like the music in the background on the whole when I come to your blog.

    You have a nice blog with good posts.

  5. Very interesting history/memories.

  6. Love the history and the photo of the old doll, i love dolls.


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