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Woodworking: Christmas: My, how gift giving has changed from humble beginnings

When I first discovered my Great-granddad Dave Wood's diaries, 57 years of them, I loved digging into them to see what was going on back in the 1870s on the Wood homestead.

I especially liked to look up important dates, like elections. All Great Dave ever wrote was that he went to the village and voted. He never tells for whom he voted and who won.

I figured he voted straight Prohibitionist because he ran for the state Assembly on that forlorn ticket. He never wrote down who won because folks out in the boonies never found that out for months. (Sort of like Minnesota in the 21st century!)

And then there was Christmas: In the early years, there was never a mention of a tree or of gifts for his wife and kids or even attending church, which was a big item on the Wood family agenda.

I found out why years later when Ruth and I visited Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts -- the Pilgrim dissenters who came to America did not celebrate Christmas because it was not mentioned in the Bible.

That explained it all, for my great-grandmother descended from those Pilgrims.

Then Norwegian and Polish immigrants began to arrive and settle in near the Wood homestead, bringing along their customs, their Christmas trees and gifts for the kids.

Apparently that appealed to Dave and his wife because, before you knew it, Dave reported in his diary that he had cut down a tree for Christmas and began buying gifts for all and sundry.

On Dec. 25, 1879, he reported:

"fair and Very cold 38 below this mor. &Ii it is 6 below to night. at home all day. Brought Grandma over & took her home again. Also cut & drew her a little wood from here. Santaclaus brought me a shaving glass & cup. Also a watch case. He also remembered the rest of the family."

Well right on, Dave!

His 12-year-old son Jim began keeping a diary that year and he also put pen to paper:

"It is Christmas today. Ma got a pair of overshoes, some mittens, and a pincushion. Pa got a mug, a looking glass, and a watch pocket. (Brother) Archie got a toy wheelbarrow, a book and some cloth for a shirt. I got a toy wheelbarrow, a nice scarf and a book. Mr. Tull (the town shoemaker) gave (baby brother) Ralph a new pair of shoes."

Reading these little blurbs got me to thinking about how Christmas has evolved out here in the Midwest.

It's all pretty opulent these days. I'm not certain that my wife would appreciate getting galoshes and mittens and, least of all, a pincushion. (Although she really liked the cheap mittens I bought her years ago at Fleet Farm.)

As for me I wouldn't know how to use a shaving mug and don't need a case for my wristwatch.

Over the years I've received wonderful presents from my parents, my grandparents, my wife, far more opulent than Jim and the old Dave Wood gave or received.

I've also received some bummers. Like when my grandmother gave me a bedspread when I was in fourth grade. Or when my parents finally got around to giving me a complete Boy Scout uniform after I decided I wasn't going to stay in scouting.

Or when Beautiful Wife gave me an off-white denim leisure suit, which when I wore it made me look like that great white whale that did in Captain Ahab.

Then there were the great presents I've received over the years: Like the shiny new tricycle that Santa Claus brought me the year I had chickenpox. Santa bounded into our house on Eau Claire's Graham Avenue, with breath that smelled like Uncle Floyd's after he'd drunk two Manhattans.

Or the 6 3/4-inch hickory skis with spring bindings given to me by my father back in the days when he made only $50 per week. Or the pricey shaving lotion Beautiful Wife gives me every Christmas.

Quit that, Ruthie! If Old Spice was good enough for my father, it's good enough for me. Besides, I inherited 45 bottles of it when the old man passed.

LATE BREAKING BULLETIN: I just asked Ruth what she wanted for Christmas.

Her reply: "Would it be OK if I got new eyeglasses?"

Whatta wastrel!

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.