Little Christmas on the Prairie

Life on the prairie in the middle of December was an uneasy time. Repeatedly barraged by thundering blizzards and savagely frigid winds, the pioneers looked forward to any chance to forget their hard everyday life and focus on a holiday.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote eloquently about life for the pioneers. Yet, none of her writings are as eloquent as the passages devoted to the Christmas holidays.

In "Little House in the Big Woods," Laura relates the preparations for Christmas. "Ma was busy all day long, cooking good things for Christmas. She baked salt-rising bread and r'n'Injun bread, and Swedish crackers, and huge pan of baked beans, with salt pork and molasses. She baked vinegar pies and dried-apple pies, and filled a big jar with cookies, and she let Laura and Mary lick the cake spoon.

"One morning she boiled molasses and sugar together until they made the thick syrup, and Pa brought in two pans of clean, white snow from the outdoors. Laura and Mary each had a pan, and Pa and Ma showed them how to pour the dark syrup in little streams on to the snow.

"They made circles, and curlicues, and squiggledy things, and these hardened at once and were candy."

That was the year that Laura was truly blessed...Santa brought her a doll of her very own, Charlotte.

In "Little House on the Prairie," Laura tells the story of how Christmas almost missed the Ingalls family...but was saved by the strength of Pa and the devotion of family friend Mr. Edwards. Despite the rainy wet December, Mr. Edwards managed to walk all the way to Independence, where he met Santa, who sent Laura and Mary's gifts with him.

"These new tin cups were they very own. Now they each had a cup to drink out of. Laura jumped up and down and shouted and laughed, but Mary stood still and looked with shining eyes are her own tin cup.

"Then they plunged their hands in to the stockings again. And they pulled out two long, long sticks of candy. It was peppermint candy, striped red and white. They looked and looked at that beautiful candy, and Laura licked her stick, just one lick. But Mary was not so greedy. She didn't take even one lick of her stick.

"Those stockings weren't empty yet. Mary and Laura pulled out two small packages. They unwrapped them, and each found a little heart-shaped cake. Over their delicate brown tops was sprinkled white sugar. They sparkling grains lay like tiny drifts of snow."

But that wasn't all...at the bottom of each of their stockings was a bright, shiny, new penny. Mr. Edwards had forged a raging, flooding creek to bring the girls their Christmas, but was rewarded by two of the happiest girls on the prairie.

By the time the Ingalls family moved to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, to live on the banks of Plum Creek, they were back to strapping for a living. And, again, it was questionable whether or not Santa Claus was going to find the little family living in a sod dugout by the creek. Most importantly, the little dugout had no chimney for Santa to come down. Worse yet, Ma and Pa said that they hoped Santa would bring them a team of horses for Christmas.

But..."In the morning Laura heard the fire crackling. She opened one eye the least bit, and saw lamplight, and a bulge in her Christmas stocking.

"She yelled and jumped out of bed. Mary came running, too, and Carrie woke up. In Laura's stocking, and in Mary's stocking, there were little paper packages, just alike. In the packages was candy.

"Laura had six pieces, and Mary had six. They had never seen such beautiful candy. It was too beautiful to eat. Some pieces were like ribbons, bent in waves. Some were short bits of round stick candy, and on their flat enders were coloured flowers that went all the way through. Some were perfectly round and striped."

Whether it was a few things Ma and Pa managed to provide for their family of girls or some offerings from the church barrel, the best Christmas present of all was the family being together...loving one another and holding the thought of those joyous Christmas' in their hearts as they faced adversity.

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