Christmas is a special time in South Dakota, and it was no less special in the 1880s. Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of The Little House on the Prairie series, lived on a homestead near De Smet, and wrote about Christmas in Dakota Territory in “The Long Winter.”
Even if the train was unable to reach De Smet at Christmas time, Santa Claus always managed to find his way to the Ingalls household. In “The Long Winter,” which takes place in 1880, Laura and her family were faced with a tough, snowy winter, but they still took time to enjoy Christmas. Each of the girls had packages of Christmas candy, Pa got a pair of blue suspenders, Ma got a cardboard hair receiver, Mary got a roll of knitted lace, and Carrie got a nice Christmas card in a frame.
In addition to the presents, Pa bought two cans of oysters from the store and let the girls have the last of the cow’s milk – a cow they recently had to sell. Laura wrote that whatever happened, they always had a lovely Christmas.
Today, in a time of greater abundance and spending, it might seem odd that something as simple as knitted lace could mean so much. It reminds us that a gift is not measured by size or monetary value, but by the love with which it is given. Gifts made with a true and sincere heart, to those we love, are tokens of our deeper feelings.
The story told by Laura Ingalls Wilder is also a reminder that the meaning of Christmas extends beyond the trappings of the holiday. Decorating the Christmas tree is fun. Receiving presents is enjoyable. Hot cocoa, Christmas cookies and ham are also enjoyable, but sharing our abilities and resources with those in need gives true meaning to Christmas.
The man who shovels his neighbor’s driveway, the little girl who gives her allowance to the bell ringer, and the church that opens its doors to someone without shelter – they are expressing the true spirit of Christmas.
We’re all busy, especially during this time of year. Remember to find time this Christmas to be a blessing to someone in need. . Don’t underestimate the immense value of your life and the difference you can make in the lives of those you touch.