I grew up reading those pale yellow paperbacks literally to tatters. In a world in which I was stuck with only brothers, Laura and Mary were my constant companions. The past few days, I’ve been revisiting the Little House in its various locations, savoring Christmas with the Ingalls family through the years.
It all starts in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, with Pa carving the shelf for Ma’s china shepherdess, and Ma baking, and the girls learning to make snow candy. Then the cousins arrive and the little house overflows with noise until the children are sent outside; and despite their hard day of play nobody can go to sleep until late into the night, to the music of Pa’s fiddle. Charlotte, the beautiful rag doll, is Laura’s most treasured gift.
The days leading up to Christmas in the next Little House, the one in Indian Territory, are anxious ones – no snow, only day after day of dreary rain and a rising creek that will surely hamper Santa on his way across the wide prairie, and undoubtedly keep jolly Mr. Edwards from honoring his invitation to dinner. But as it turns out, Mr. Edwards had happened to run into Santa in Independence a few days before and been commissioned to carry Christmas to the Ingalls girls. A swollen creek might have been too much for the old saint to ford, but to hear him tell it, it was no great feat for a “long, lean razor-back” like Mr. Edwards. And so it is a bountiful Christmas after all, with a shiny tin cup AND a stick of candy AND a white flour-and-sugar cake AND a bright new penny in Mary’s and Laura’s stockings.
Back in upstate New York, farmer boy Almanzo Wilder quickly forgets the disappointment of having to stay in the house and help Mother and the girls with the inside chores of Christmas preparation when he finds in his stocking a “boughten” cap with ear flaps and a four-bladed jackknife.
The Christmases on the banks of Plum Creek are as different from each other as can be – one year a mild winter and extravagant gifts for everyone off a paper tree in the church; the next, Pa lost in a blizzard, unable to see that he is only yards from home, eating all the Christmas candy he had bought in town in order to survive.
A comfortable Christmas Eve on the shores of Silver Lake is made still merrier by the unexpected arrival of new neighbors to share “the first Christmas dinner anybody ever ate in this part of the country,” and the holiday spirit lasts well into the first days of 1880 as the Ingalls help the Boasts set up housekeeping in De Smet.
It seems certain, once more, that there will be no Christmas celebration, that next long winter, what with both stores in town out of food, every household out of coal, and the trains unable to get through in the short days between blizzards, but Laura is a resourceful young lady by this time, and she and Ma manage to make it a happy holiday anyway for Pa and Mary (now blind) and Carrie and Grace.
Christmas is hardly mentioned the next year; Mary is away at a college for the blind, and her absence is keenly felt in the Ingalls house in the Little Town.
The happy, golden years fly by, and when Christmas next comes around a blizzard is threatening again. This time the Ingalls family is well-provisioned and in no danger, and once more an unexpected visitor, Laura’s betrothed, Almanzo, brings in an extra measure of good cheer.
Merry Prairie Christmas!