Christmas in the Big Woods

‘Christmas was coming. The little log house was almost buried in snow.

The days were clear and bright. Laura and Mary stood on chairs by the window and looked out across the glittering snow at the glittering trees.

Ma was busy all day long, cooking good things for Christmas. She baked salt-rising bread and rye ‘n’ Injun bread, and Swedish crackers, and a 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.

When night came they were too excited to sleep. But they must sleep, or Santa Claus would not come. So they hung their stockings by the fireplace, and said their prayers, and went to bed – Alice and Ella and Mary and Laura all in one big bed on the floor.

In the morning they all woke up almost at the same moment. They looked at their stockings, and something was in them. Santa Claus had been there. Alice and Ella and Mary and Laura in their red flannel nightgowns and Peter in his red flannel nightshirt, all ran shouting to see what he had brought. In each stocking there was a pair of bright red mittens, and there was a long, flat stick of red-and-white striped peppermint candy, all beautifully notched along each side. They were all so happy they could hardly speak at first. They just looked with shining eyes at those lovely Christmas presents.’

I started Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder last night; the first in the Little House on the Prairie series. What a beautiful book it is, about a simple life in a simpler time, when life was lived in small communities, families pulled together, when food was sourced not from the supermarket, but from the natural environment outside your own front door, and happiness was playing outside all day with handmade toys, rather than sitting indoors in front of a computer screen. It is making me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and the description of Christmas is the icing on an already delicious cake. The only downside is that it has made me feel horribly homesick for my own little family, who will start to gather tomorrow for Christmas. I know my mum’s house will be filled with Christmas music, the smells of cooking, sparkling fairy lights, and the sounds of my excited nephews pleading to be allowed to open presents. Despite my own exciting Christmas plans, I do wish I could be with them, after four months of not seeing anyone except on a web camera. However, judging from the state of the British transport system, I doubt I’d make it home anyway, even if I managed to get a flight!

I won’t have time to post again now before Christmas, so I shall take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful Christmas; enjoy the food, fun and time with your families, and I hope Father Christmas brings you some special treats!

52 comments

  1. Ooh- that is such a wonderful evocation of Christmas, I’m not surprised it made you feel homesick. I do hope you have a lovely lovely time and don’t miss your family too much. x x x

  2. Aww, that’s one of my favourite passages! If you take a look at my most recent post, I also did a little tribute to Little House books, with a specific Big Woods anecdote.

    I’d gladly trade places with you at the moment – I’m currently stuck alone in London because of the flight chaos! Hoping to get to Canada late on Christmas day.

    Thanks for the bit of holiday cheer though! x

    1. I just saw that, Lija! Lovely! I’m glad this book has such special memories for you, and I wish I’d read it as a child! I hope I have children to share it with one day.๐Ÿ™‚

      Oh you poor thing…I hope you make it. A lot of my friends are attempting to fly from New York to London/Scotland and are finding themselves diverted and delayed in all sorts of places, not nice at all.

      When you get home, I hope you have a wonderful time! x

    1. I wish I had the whole series, Jillian – I just have this one so far but I want to collect the rest. So far I am finding it perfect for Christmas – so cosy and heartwarming!

  3. This is absolutely my favourite children’s book, I love the series and have them in the old Puffins. I would love to get hold of these editions. Have a great New York Christmas Rachel!!

    Jenny

    1. I wish I’d read these as a child, Jenny! If only I’d known the pleasure they’d bring! These editions are gorgeous – I only have the first one though so I have a way to go (and a lot of money to spend!) to get the whole set!

      Thanks so much Jenny – have a wonderful Christmas yourself!

    1. It’s such a family book, Laura! I’d love to read it to my nephews when they’re all sleepy and in their pyjamas, fresh from their bath!

      Thank you – I will, and I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas too!

  4. What a wonderful passage to share. I grew up on these books (one of the few children’s classics I read at the correct age). The books are full of wonderful Christmas scenes. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas, despite missing your family.

  5. I’m sorry for your homesickness, Rachel. I’m sure it comes and goes, but, especially at this time of year.

    This is one of my favorite books. I love the whole series and have read, and re-read, and read yet again the Little House books. Early in our marriage, Tom bought me the whole set. I was teaching then, and spent my entire Christmas vacation reading the series. Then, I would read it again each year (The Long, Hard Winter comes out every year after several snowstorms). Eventually, the series of books fell apart. Most children here recognize the Garth Williams illustrations. What you have with Sewell’s illustrations is a real treasure. Our girls eventually had their own set, one of which followed our Katy in marriage. Kezzie will be a lucky girl one day.

    The series is very much the story of how the pioneers, then homesteaders, settled the country westward, their hardships and their triumphs, with family at the center of everything.

    Enough of that. Merry Christmas to you, Rachel. Enjoy your Christmas in America. Penny

    1. Thanks Penny. I’ve done pretty well so far…this is just a mini blip!

      Oh Penny, I can just imagine you reading and rereading and just loving these books! They are so warm and cosy and evocative of a simpler way of life – I know I will love every single one of them. The Sewell illustrations are indeed stunningly beautiful and I intend to collect the entire set!

      Thank you so much Penny – I hope you have an absolutely wonderful Christmas too.

  6. Glad you enjoyed this! I’ll be interested to see what you think of the subsequent ones — my favorite is Those Happy Golden Years. She teaches!

    Have a wonderful Christmas, full of proper English food and crackers and things.๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Well if she teaches, then she’s certainly a girl after my own heart!!

      Thanks Jenny! I finally went to Myers of Keswick and got sausages..I’m going to be in heaven! Have a wonderful Louisiana Christmas!!๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I have read these books, the whole series, more times than I can count. Each time brings a renewed sense of nostalgia, as you described missing your family, but also for simpler times. You must read Little House on The Prairie to find what Santa brings them, and The Long Winter. I don’t have a favorite, though, they all bring their own special charm. I hope you have a very blessed Christmas, it’s been a pleasure reading your blog for the last few weeks as I just discovered it.

    1. Hello Bellezza! I just finished Little House in the Big Woods this morning and now I am just desperate for more – this family is just so heartwarming to read about! I will get to them all, I promise!

      Thank you – likewise! I’m glad we found each other, and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Merry Christmas Rachel. I’m sure your family misses you as much as you miss them. Look forward to the joy of the Holiday at Home in 2011

  9. PS When you do go home the reunion that occurs will be like the reunion of Sylvester and his parents in my favorite children’s book, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. William Steig wrote “You can imagine the scene that followed – the embraces, the kisses, the questions, the answers, the loving looks and the fond exclamations.” I wish it all for you.

    1. Oh Ellen, that’s beautiful! Thank you! You’re making me cry a little!๐Ÿ™‚

      I’ve never heard of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble…am off to look it up!

  10. I hope you get a chance to read all of the books in the Little House series–in a way, they remind me of the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES books–although Anne is far more introspective than Laura.

    Oh, and I’m so glad someone mentioned SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE. I used to work in an elementary school library and the younger children would listen rapt when we would read it to them.

    Merry Christmas…”see” you in 2011.

    1. Deb, if I can’t buy them – which I doubt I’ll be able to, as I want to buy the old copies with Helen Sewell illustrations, and they are EXPENSIVE – I will get them all out of the library as soon as I am back from my Christmas holiday! A comparison to Anne of Green Gables makes me very excited!

      I love the sound of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble – I’ll have to get a copy ‘for my nephews’!!

      Merry Christmas to you too, Deb! I hope you have a lovely time with your family.

  11. I love the Little House books. I still have all my copies. I can easily recall incidents from the books. Now that you’ve read Big Woods, you will always know how to smoke venison in a tree stump! I think The Long Winter is my favorite. I have always remembered “God hates a coward.” I just have the paperback versions with the Gareth Williams (I think) illustrations. The Sewell cover looks beautiful! I am envious.

    And ooh, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble! I was one of those rapt little kids in the library.

    Merry Christmas and good reading!

    1. There are so many fans of these books, Nancy – I can’t believe it took me so long to read them! I know, I loved that bit – so many lessons I learned, like making cheese, and making hats…such a wonderful, self sufficient life!

      Thank you, and Merry Christmas to you too!

  12. Rachel, I can imagine your homesickness. I hope your American Christmas is filled with warm and fond memories that you will share with your family next year. I usually read the Little House books every year or two. The Ingalls/Wilder families are so much a part of my childhood that I miss them and return to them frequently. Their courage in moving so far from friends and family is amazing. The isolation of being so far from others and making due with so little should be an example to us all.

    I wish you a very Merry Christmas and hope many blessings come your way. Try not to miss your family too much I’m sure their hearts will be with you.

    1. Thank you Janet, I am sure that it will be, and we will have a marvellous time to share with our families when we see them next! I know – these books are truly amazing and remind us of the simple lives of our ancestors we have come so far from; are our busy, frenetic lives really much more sophisticated or pleasurable? I am not sure.

      Thank you so much Janet – I hope you have a marvellous time with your family๐Ÿ™‚

  13. A very happy Christmas to you, Rachel. May the new year bring you much joy and more wonderful adventures in New York!

  14. I haven’t read those books so I must seek them out. My favourite Christmas themed book when I was a girl, and one I read every year in the lead up to the festive season, was one from Jane Shaw’s “Susan” series which sadly are no longer published. Wishing you a very merry New York Christmas and best wishes for 2011.

  15. Thanks for posting that beautiful section from Little House in the Big Woods! It’s making want to re-read the series which I haven’t done since I was about 7 or 8 years old. Earlier this year, I traveled through Minnesota and stopped at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove. It wasn’t the best museum in the world, but it was cool to be where LIW had been and see a replica of a sod house. It was definitely a simpler time when kids were grateful and happy to get mittens and peppermint candy for Christmas, but after seeing that sod house, I was glad to have the space and modern conveniences we have today.

    Merry Christmas!

    1. You are so welcome, Virginia! I know I was totally enchanted with it, and I can’t wait to read all of the books in the series. How wonderful that you got to see where LIW lived and the sort of living conditions described in the books! I wonder if I’ll be able to fit that in somehow this year?! The Little House in the Big Woods sounds lovely and cosy but a sod house certainly doesn’t – either way I don’t think I’d really be happy to have dead animals hanging in my attic or to have to sleep on a trundle bed all the time, so yes – modern conveniences are a blessing; I just wish we didn’t have to throw away those simpler values!

  16. Merry Christmas, Rachel! Your Christmas would have been very different this year but definitely one to remember!

    My thoughts were with you this morning as we turned on the television to see that snow has hit New York…finally! Do you have plans for New Year’s? Watching the ball drop in the square would be wonderful but don’t forget your longjohns if you do! All the best.

    1. Thank you Darlene – you are right – it was different, but wonderfully memorable!

      I know! I was not prepared for such snow! It’s a bit of a nightmare on the pavements at the moment but I am coping – thank goodness it’s not as cold as it was on the day of the blizzard anymore!

      Not sure what I’m doing for New Year’s yet but I DEFINITELY will be going nowhere near Times Square – I can just imagine the crowds and I know what hell it is in London and it would only be worse here! I shall probably do something in a quieter neighbourhood, with friends – I’m looking forward to it!

  17. Oh, I read ALL of the Laura Ingalls WIlder books when I was a kid (specially sent over from America by my Uncle and Auntie – one by one!) and absolutely loved them. Hope you enjoy the rest!

  18. I hope that you had a lovely Christmas. I am reading my way through my Little House books at the moment, and they are making me read with a big grin on my face. I re-read these books countless times when I was younger, and lent them to so many friends too. I am just loving rediscovering these marvelous books all over again. The descriptions of Christmas contained in these books are wonderful!

    1. I did, thank you! I’m so glad I have discovered these books as I know they are going to bring me much reading pleasure – they are simply delightful and I love how they exult the most important and yet the simplest values in life!

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