Sat Dec 25th Christmas. Have had to do the
housework and have had a busy time of it
Henrietta called in for an hour or two
and then Miss Alger came and was here
to dinner Alson & wife & Edwin & wife here
to tea. The girls came in the stage
My feet trouble me so much that I can
scarcely go about house Sent Mrs Whitwell a delaine dress
Christmas Day was pretty much a non-event at the Ames compound. Like last year, the household followed a fairly normal routine. Old Oliver grumped about the poor weather and “bad carting.”* At Evelina’s, the servants were in Canton, at church presumably, with family and friends. They returned via stagecoach late in the day. Before they came back, Eveline “had a busy time” with the meals and cleaning, balancing the latter with a social call from her sister-in-law Henrietta Williams Gilmore. She also must have facilitated another piano lesson – the 19th one – for her daughter Susan and niece Emily. The indefatigable Miss M. J. Alger arrived to teach and stayed for dinner.
Outside of puritanical New England, the celebration of Christmas was on the ascendant. Periodicals like Godey’s and Gleason’s referred to the holiday with poems, stories, and illustrations. Families and friends exchanged gifts, although with much less commercial goading than today. And the following Christmas, 1853, President-elect Franklin Pierce would put up the first-ever Christmas tree in the White House.**
For all their disinterest in what they saw as a Catholic holiday, members of the Ames family did show small signs of acknowledging the occasion. Here and there, they exchanged gifts; we saw it last year and see it again. Evelina made a gift to the minister’s wife, Eliza Whitwell, of a wool dress. As the years would go by and the generation of Fred, Oakes Angier and the others gained primacy, Christmas would come to resemble the holiday that we know, replete with gifts and church pageants and family dinners – but not while Old Oliver was alive.
*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection
**Credit for the first Christmas tree at the White House is disputed by historians. Some say Benjamin Harrison was the first president to put one up, in the late 1880s.