Here at Wylie House we’re busy preparing for the return of our annual event Wylie House by Candlelight, which will take place Saturday, December 7th from 5:00-8:00pm. Docents in period attire will lead tours of the house by candlelight, while seasonal refreshments, live music, games, and crafts will be offered next door in our education center. Also, be sure to stop and look at the small exhibit on Christmas at Wylie House prepared by our grad assistant and one of our volunteers.
In the spirit of the Christmas holiday, we’ve decided to share some selections from the diary and letters of Theophilus A. Wylie pertaining to Christmastime. Among the topics he discusses are the sending of Christmas cards, their Christmas tree, IU examinations, his views on the holiday, and family gatherings.
From diary, December 25, 1835
“This is “Christmas Eve,” a time of running to and fro from shop to shop, of all the good Pas & Mas (i.e. Fathers & Mothers) of the town to purchase “bonbons” and “joujouse (?)” [playthings] as we say in french for their little ones, have been in town this evg Chestnut & Market st are crowded with persons of the above description and dear friends of every kin, engaged in this laudable work. The book stands, had their goods, from the Bible to Mother Goose, displayed on their counters. But the toy stores and cooky shops and confectionaries, were we are sorry to say were more crowded. There is something pleasing about Xtmas the better feelings seem then to get the upper hand. I remember that last Xtmas to have been much pleased, and amused, by seeing a~ old man who had perhaps seen 70 returns of this day – toddling along the St , leading by one hand a little grandchild or grandchild’s grandchild for ought I know, and holding in the other a wooden horse of German workmanship, and behind him followed and prattled a dozen more of both sexes and of various sizes and ages, all bearing visible and substantial proofs of grandpa’s good nature. It is no unusual thing on this day to see an old gentleman walking in the streets with the greatest gravity carrying in their hands penny whistles and rattles and other seasonable goods. This looks nice & whether Christmas is popish or Xtian, or a vestige of the Saturnalia it is a pleasant time and I for one would be very sorry to see these innocent follies of other years frowned on. No body as far as I know, as yet says anything against such observances of Christ, as is here mentioned, but in these days of nice reform, it will be strange if they dont cry down christmas boxes & christmas pies as demoralizing & superstitious.
“But, in fact I know no reason why it should not be religiously observed. Why should not the recurrence of the birthday of the Savior of Men be held as sacred? If Xtmas be that day, why not consider it as one of peculiar rejoicing? If not, the commemoration of that great event, by the observing of this or any other day, would surely not be sinful.”
From letter from Theophilus A. Wylie, Louisa Wylie, December 26th, 1860
…Yesterday the children had their rejoicing over their Christmas gifts. The stockings were all duly suspended on Monday Evening and their treasures examined the next morning. It seems to me that the happiness it gives the little ones compensates for the folly of the custom. The Old S. Presbyterians had a Xtmas tree in Dunn’s hall and the Sabbath school assembled there to receive its decorations. So you see how old Popish customs are sanctioned and observed by grave Protestant Presbyterians. You remember the story told of John Bunyan. Somebody, knowing his hatred of every thing Popish, in order to vex him when in jail sent him a present of a Christmas pie. John eat the pie and sent back word to the [one word] that he had lived long enough in this world to know the difference between Christmas and Pie. So it is with these customs, they have a popish name, but there is a good deal of difference between them and Popery….”
From diary, December 25, 1864
“Last Sab of year. Xtmas day. pr. on “time part of our lives &c” Day wet sleety, not many at ch. Thursday last very cold. Th 7 ½ A.M. -13. Wind changed Fr. though still cold. Sat. pleasant. A week of Holidays. Dr Owen not back. “Labuntur anni” quam celerrime! [How quickly the years slip by.]
Sherman invading Savannah — perfectly successful in his expedition.”
From diary, December 27, 1874
“On Thursday morning Herman (Prof. Boisen) came from Terre Haute — & made another rejoicing. All day Thursday Prof. & others (not the children) arranged a beautiful Xtmas tree in German style. A Balm of Gilead we used to call it (Canada pine or fir) was placed on a table in the middle of the parlor and decorated with bonbons, & [even] lights — The Xtmas presents were arranged on tables around it, It was delightful when the appointed hour [written above “Thursday 24. 6t P.M. ±l] came to see the joy of the little ones– Anton particularly– can’t enumerate all the presents. I became possessor of a big chair Uxoris meae carissimae donum [A gift from my very dear wife]. All received something. Next day– a family dinner — All of the family save Theoph. & Arthur C. Mellette — were present — Theophs in Philada Arthur on a trip to Colorado Our company was — from the oldest downwards — Self & wife — Aunt Emma-Prof. Herman B & Louisa –Maggie Mellette — Brown Wylie –Dory Wylie, Richard Speck (Nephew) — then the little ones, T Wylie Mellette –Charles Mellette & Anton Boisen Mellette — Baby was somewhere about — & Lizzie Brackenridge — served the table. Gaudia et hilaritete, caenavimus — delicibus fruentes. Gratias Deo. 0. M. reddentes. [With gladness and cheerfulness, we dined — with the pleasures we were enjoying. Returning thanks to God.]”
From diary, January 3rd, 1875
“Rev. Mr Clark — formerly of Princeton now of Iowa — preached for Mr MeN Eph VI 11. “Put on the whole armor &c” Prof. Ballantine Col. Ch. “Noah”-a man of piety & enterprize
Monday very rainy
— Thursday night relighted the Xtmas tree, which had been standing during
the week, & had another rejoicing of the children. The good things were
distributed & the tree dismantled & removed.
Yesterday open College — only 37 students in attendance.”
From diary, December 25, 1987
“Mr Minton preached an Xmas sermon from Mat. About the birth of Xt. He spoke of it as the birth day and celebrated everywhere. It is very uncertain, unknown instead the day of Xt’s birth.More like the Christmas & Xmas week is the successor of the Roman Saturnlia. We do not see however, since all Xendom nearly, directs its thoughts to the nativity — that there is any harm in joining in the celebration of this greatest event in the history of the world.
Yesterday we had our Xmas dinner — only guests Elizabeth Dennis & Seadie & The & Sam & Reba & baby. About 6 o ‘C the table was covered with gifts for the children (not many & not expensive) which they enjoyed. Afterwards went to the church where they had their children’s exhibition – Tableaus music speeches from the little ones. The last performance, was the introduction of a wagon drawn by a goat, the wagon loaded with bonbons for the S.S. scholars. Every thing went off well.”
From diary, December 25, 1881
“Vacation No chapel service.
Last night the children had their Xtmas tree — no strangers – we should not call them strangers — no one besides the family but Aunt Em & Lizzie D –were present. Tree lighted up about 7~ O’C & Children delighted.
In church to day there were allusions to Xtmas — very different from what would have been 25 or 50 yrs ago. The Presn churches, are beginning to think it not wrong to have Xtmas services.”
From diary, December 23, 1883
“Mr McNary Mat V 13-16 Ye are the salt of the earth &c.
Examinations closed Friday. College will commence Jan 4th.
Christmas day after to morrow. A week and a little more than a day & 1883 will be in the past time. Labuntur anni [The years slip by].
Have been sending some Xtmas cards, perhaps too many — but maybe will not have another opportunity.”
Happy Holidays from all of us at Wylie House!
-Allison Haack, Graduate Student Volunteer