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December 2007: Volume 26, Number 3

Celebrations!  Holidays Make the Richest Memories | Archival Chronicle Index | CAC Homepage

Holiday Memories

This issue of the Archival Chronicle Gallery features holiday celebrations in northwest Ohio.

Independence Day

The Fourth of July was often a boisterous day, marked by outdoor games, band concerts, parades, and speeches. Fireworks could also be part of the celebration, assuming there was no danger of fire. Often, some spectacular event would be held to help make the day memorable.

The diaries of William C. Holgate, father and son, record the daily activities of members of a prominent Defiance, Ohio family. The elder Holgate's diaries date from before the Civil War and describe the Fourth from an adult's perspective. He notes orations delivered, balls held, and even a balloon-launching in 1857. The younger Holgate began keeping a diary in 1868 at age thirteen. As he grew, he took a more active part in the day's activities. Through his eyes, researchers learn some of the life patterns of the nineteenth century: if the holiday fell on a Sunday, it would be celebrated the day before; a summer term of school would have a vacation day, but stores and businesses remained open.


The Statue of Liberty was an early subject of postcards. This example dates from 1906. 

July 4, 1868. The band of hope and the other temperance band cellebrated today up in the grove up by Uncle Boutons'.--William Holgate, Jr. (age 13)

July 4, 1869. This afternoon our boys club from the Union School house played a match game with the men...We played 6 innings, & they got 16 tallies & we got 22. We beat them 6 tallies. The Chronicle says that our boys got 26 & theirs 20.--William Holgate, Jr. (age 14)

   Demonstrating the new fire equipment, Bellevue, Ohio, ca. 1900.
CAC General Photograph Collection.
Source: Bellevue Fire Department.

Postcard, ca. 1900, Statue of Liberty
Bellevue Ohio Fire Department Engine, ca. 1900


July 4, 1870. I went down town this morning & seen a good many people there, & two or three engine company's & engines[.] They marched round town a while. There was two bands down there... The park was just crammed full of people... The road right in front of the park runing north & south was where the engines throwed water...There was eleven fire companys that I counted... They came from different parts of the state. The prettiest engine amongst them was the Independent of Whitehall. It was a steam fire engine. There was an other steam fire engine besides that, the rest were all hand engines. They tried to see which would throw water the furthest. The Washington beat & got the highest prize & the Montpelier got the next. It was very hot today. They shot a canon off down by the city hall, every hour or so this morning. They dare not use fire crackers here. --William Holgate, Jr. (age 15)

July 3, 1871. Monday. I have been a running round a good deal today fixing for tomorrow, George & I belong to the Fantastics.

July 4, 1871. Tuesday. I stayed over to George's 'till half past 12 o'clock and then we got up and shot our cannon until about 4 A.M. Then we went to bed at our house & got up at about half past 8 this morning. We got together our things for the Fantastics & went up to the Fair-Ground where they all met. They all dressed there & then we started in a procession for town[.] George & I were Dressed alike. We had linnen coats & pants trimmed with green sowed round & round. The coats were shaped something like a swallowe tailed coat. We had false faces alike & hats alike, tall peaked paper hats. We rode round till dinner time. Then we had 30 minutes for refreshments. After dinner we went back & rode round till near 4 then we were separated in two divisions & had a Sham Battle. It was not much of a Sham for I got struck several times. Then we broke up. Dave Marcellus was our General, & he had a captain under him. Dave got the Fantastics up himself. They had in the procession a large wooden cannon made of boards, about 6 feet long & 50 inches across the back part of it & 30 across the front. It was painted black & a ways off looked like a cannon. They got George & my cannon & put it out top of the wooden one & fired it off every little while. they also had in the procession a wagon with a platform out it & there was a lot of them blacked up & fixed off into a regular minstrel troop. They done well. Then it was an other wagon with a tin band & an other cart hauled by a mule. In front up high sat a fellow dressed like a clown & back in the lower part was a fellow all dressed up like a girl & she had a false face on. The cart had wooden wheels & on the back it said San Dimingo Shoo Fly. In the evening they had fire Works. The town was pretty full & I think that I enjoyed myself.--William Holgate, Jr. (age 16)


Holidays of thanksgiving were celebrated from the earliest years throughout the American colonies, marking the end of the harvest season. Only about six such dates were proclaimed nationally during the early years of the republic. However, many states, including Ohio, did have late-November observances, as shown in a number of entries from the diaries of Aaron West (MS 210).  A typical entry is excerpted below.  The day was marked by church services, although businesses may not have closed.  Later, during the Civil War, President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863, and the tradition persisted. As early as 1870, William Holgate Jr. observed the holiday with two days off from school, a football game, and a turkey dinner.

Children's Thanksgiving Party, BGSU, ca. 1950s

 Thanksgiving in the classroom provides children with a chance to learn about their nation's history.
BGSU Archives General Photograph Collection

Toledo, Thursday, Nov. 24 [1853]
This is the day recommended by the Governor for public Thanksgiving. I called on Mary about 1/2 past ten and went with her, Miss Warren and Miss Corning to the Methodist Church at 11 o'clock and heard a very appropriate discourse by Rev. Mr. Platt.
--Aaron West.

Wednesday, November 23, 1870. I went to school today...We have got a new foot ball up to school & commenced to play with it today. We are not going to have school tomorrow because it is Thanksgiving...We are not going to have any school Friday either...

[Thursday, November 24, 1870] We had dinner about 2 o'clock & had roast turkey, like we generally do...--William Holgate, Jr.

Rutgers University established the first set of rules for what was to become American football in 1867. The "foot ball" played by Holgate was probably more like rugby, as shown this postcard from about 1905.   Look Right

Children's Thanksgiving Party, BGSU, ca. 1950s


A heady mixture of religious and secular celebration, Christmas was a special time for young and old.

An old German tradition, the Christmas tree was widely adopted in the United States. Churches often used them as the centerpiece of their holiday decorations, although individual families may not always have had them. Stockings with small tokens and candies were given to children.

Christmas in Tiffin, 1902

D. 24. [1868] Thursday. This was the last day of school. I went. It was out at noon. This evening our church had a Christmas tree. Fanny got a pair of gloves & a pair of earrings & a little bag of candy & I got a pair of gloves & a cap & a little bag of candy.

D. 25. [1868] Friday. It was Christmas to-day....This morning Fanny got a stocking of candy & some Drawing cards & stocking yarn. & Catherine gave her a little marble hand & somebody broke the thumb off & she gave her a blue vaile [?] & I got a stocking of candy & some drawing cards, & Catherine gave me a mug & a led pencil. This afternoon Fanny & I went up to Aunt Fannys & Aunt Julet gave Fanny & me each a cup & saucer & Aunt Bell sent Fanny little box with shells on it & me a box of dominos. There was 55 in the box.--William Holgate, Jr. , age 13.

  Mae Parks (later Weininger) celebrates Christmas with a homemade tree hung with presents at the Zarges Farm near Tiffin, ca. 1902.
CAC General Photograph Collection

Traditional evergreen Christmas tree, ca. 1900. Decorated with garlands of popcorn and tinsel and homemade ornaments, there are larger presents waiting beneath the tree. Small presents may have been hung on the tree as decorations.
CAC General Photograph Collection


Christmas Tree, ca. 1900


Christmas pageant, date unknown

 Look Left  School Christmas Pageant, date unknown.
CAC General Photograph Collection

24th December 1870. Saturday. I went with Allie Prouty up to the Episcopal church this morning to see the trimings in the church. Allie goes to that church. It was very cold today. This evening Ella Hoyt & emma Macober & Fannie & I went with them up to the Episcopal church. They had a christmas tree & we saw them distribute the preasants. They had some fine music on the organ als good singing. They had the church trimmed very nice.--William Holgate, Jr.

26th December 1870. This evening our Sunday school...had a Christmas tree... We went in the church parlors & then all marched into the sunday school room, where they Christmas tree was. It was a very nice tree. They distributed the presents I got a book. Mr. Benedict...put it on the tree for me. The name of the book is Captain John or Loss is Sometimes Gain. He gave each of the boys of our class a book. It was very kind of him. Each of the schollars & nearly all of the other people got a cornocopia (of candy). After distributing the gifts, we all went into the church parlors & there they passed round cake &c.--William Holgate, Jr.

New Year's Day

New Years Day marked the final rounds of holiday season parties. Although some people attended church services, others marked the New Year with a little more noise.  An extra day off from school allowed time for ice skating and sleighing.  Even the Civil War could not stop the celebrations completely, and many couples used holiday furloughs to get married.  Jennie Bysel shared the news of hometown social activities with her fiance Private Ira Conine in a letter.

Ice Skating near North Baltimore, ca. 1910

 Ice Skaters near North Baltimore, Ohio, ca. 1910
CAC General Photograph Collection. Source: Jim Bueher.

January 1st, 1870. Saturday...I skated this morning down on the pond below the barn. There was a lot of boys & some girls there.--William Holgate, Jr.

26th December 1870. Monday. This morning Fannie & I got a letter from Pa in which was inclosed $12.00. This afternoon I bought Fannie a pair of skates with ankle supporters that cost $3.50 & Fannie got me a pair of patent skates that fastened on the sole of the boot. I picked them out. They was $4.00. This evening Fannie tried hers & I mine. Mine did not work very well....It was pretty dark when I put my skates on & I could not see very well how to put them on, so perhaps they will go better next time.--William Holgate, Jr.

Sunday, December 31, 1854. This is the last day of the yr. and the Dutch seem to be watching and celebrating its departure with fire crackers, guns &c. to the great annoyance of peaceable citizens.--Aaron West Diary

January 2, 1865. How did you spend Christmas and New Year? No doubt you enjoyed yourself. We had had balls and oysters suppers here with out number I attended one Christmas eve. I did not participate in the dancing as you know that is not in my line. I received a note soliciting me to attended an oyster supper New Years eve...Andrew McLough was married last Thursday. --Jennie Bysel to Ira Conine (MS 673)

Mr. & Mrs. Rumsey in their sleigh, Stryker, Ohio, ca. 1907  
CAC General Photograph Collection. Source: Mr. Van Rens.

Mr. & Mrs. Rumsey in their sleigh, Stryker, Ohio, ca. 1907
Children sledding on BGSU campus, ca. 1950Children sledding on BGSU campus, ca. 1950

 Children sledding on BGSU Campus, ca. 1950 BGSU University Archives General Photograph Collection   

One of the few places in Bowling Green with a natural slope, the area to the east of the present Bowen-Thompson Student Union provides a family with a place for winter fun.



MS 335 mf  William C. Holgate Diaries. Microfilm available at the CAC. Original manuscripts found at the College Archives, Anthony Wayne Library, The Defiance College.

MS 210 mf  Aaron and Mary West/Orange and Emma Comstock Family Papers. Microfilm and original documents.

MS 673  Ira B. Conine Correspondence.