Though it’s not quite the holiday season yet, I’ve spent much of this morning reading Christmas scenes from various children’s books. For Candlelight (the museum’s biggest event of the year), I decided to create a pre-visit lesson plan for teachers visiting in December. And what better way to talk about how holidays have changed in the last 150 years than kidlit history?
As I was finishing up, I realized that some of you might be interested in the selections and discussion questions. What favorite scenes am I missing?
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (set in the 1860s, during the Civil War)
Chapter 1: “Playing Pilgrims” and Chapter 2: “A Merry Christmas”
Times are tough during the war. The four March daughters decide to spend their Christmas money not on themselves, but on gifts for their mother. After they share their breakfast, they put on a play—and end up having a wonderful party through the generosity of their neighbor.
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
How did the Civil War affect their Christmas?
What kinds of gifts do the sisters want for themselves?
What kind of surprises happen on Christmas? How do their plans change?
Was it a Christmas without any presents?
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Set in the 1870s.)
“Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus”
Mary and Laura are worried that Santa Claus will be unable to reach them, since there is no snow and they live so far from other families. Ma and Pa are worried because they are unable to get Christmas presents. But Mr. Edwards saves the day!
“They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny. Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny. There had never been such a Christmas.” p. 250
Why is the Ingalls family worried about Christmas?
How is Santa Claus described? Is it different than the way we describe Santa Claus today?
What were the presents that Mary and Laura received?
More Adventures of the Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald (set in the 1890s)
Chapter 1: “The Night the Monster Walked”
Tom Fitzgerald, aka The Great Brain, has reformed and is no longer tricking his friends out of items. But in the aftermath of Christmas, he’s up to his old tricks.
“It was the first Christmas parents bought presents for their sons, believing my brother wouldn’t try to connive their kids out of them.” p. 2
Have you ever tried to be a better kid to get what you wanted for Christmas?
What reasoning does Tom give for his bet with Parley? What do you think the real reason?
What do you think of the reaction of the town to the tracks of the “monster”?
Do you think Tom and John’s punishment was appropriate?
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace (set in the 1900s)
Chapter 10: “Christmas Shopping” and Chapter 11: “Mrs. Poppy’s Party”
Every year, Betsy and Tacy go shopping and this year, they bring a new friend along. Christmas celebrations last longer this year, with the addition of Mrs. Poppy’s party.
“You see,” Betsy explained to Winona when they invited her, “we usually make our Christmas presents, or else our mothers buy them for us. . . the ones we give away, I mean.”
“Then why do you go shopping?” Winona asked.
“We go shopping to shop,” said Tacy.
What kind of stores do the girls visit?
Why do the girls choose to buy an ornament every year?
How does the Ray family celebrate Christmas?
How do they continue celebrating at Mrs. Poppy’s?
Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (set around 1900 in New York City)
Chapter 6: “Born is the King of Israel”
Lucinda decides to plan a special holiday surprise for her friend, Trinket. She takes odd jobs around the neighborhood to earn money for presents. And all her friends join them for a party—and Trinket’s very first Christmas tree.
“It’s the nicest tree I ever had, and it will be Trinket’s onliest up to now. I do hope you’re as excited about it as I am, Miss Nettie.” Lucinda spread sugary fingers about Miss Nettie’s neck and said something that surprised them both: “I do love you, Miss Nettie.” p. 112.
How do Lucinda’s neighbors help her in throwing the Christmas party?
How is the Christmas tree decorated?
What kind of traditions does Lucinda have to celebrate? How are some of those shaped by where she lives?
Why do you think this was such a memorable Christmas for everyone?
General Discussion Questions
Of the traditions mentioned in these stories, what traditions do you also use to celebrate?
How are some of these Christmases from the past different from your Christmas?
If you read more than one selection, what do these celebrations have in common? How are they different? What are some reasons for these differences?
If you could pick one Christmas to celebrate with some of the characters mentioned above, which would it be?