Dakota Datebook

Christmas in Calvin


Christmas was simple but memorable at Calvin, North Dakota in the era of World War One. In his book, I Remember, Russell Duncan relates how he and his father, on their way home from hauling grain to town shortly before Christmas, stopped near a clump of trees.

He writes, “While I held the horses’ reins, Dad cut off a tree branch and put it in the sleigh. When we came in for supper after doing our chores, Mother and the other children seemed especially happy. ‘Come into the front room,’ they said. There, to my surprise, was the branch we had brought home in the sleigh, decorated with different colors of crepe paper and pieces of cloth. It was our first Christmas tree.”

They opened presents on Christmas morning. “We didn’t receive very many, but we really enjoyed what we got,” he wrote. “I received a big red apple and a Jack-in-the-Box that looked like a camera.”

Pretending to take someone’s picture, Russell told his subjects to look at the glass on the front of the box. While they posed, he pressed a button, causing a two-foot paper snake to jump out. “I tried it on everyone,” he said, “but after the first few times, my victims knew what to expect …

“My aunt and uncle were coming for dinner, though, and I couldn’t wait to play the trick on my aunt. She posed nicely, I pressed the button and out jumped the snake. It landed in her lap and scared her half to death, but I kept ‘taking pictures’ until my camera wore out.

“We children had no trouble deciding on a present for Mother that year. We had eaten loganberry sauce and loved it. Commercially-canned fruit was a luxury in those days, so we decided on a can of loganberry sauce. We kept it hidden until Christmas, although we often looked at it, admiring the picture of the loganberries on the label.

“At last Christmas came and Mother was pleased with her gift. We urged her to open the can immediately, and when she did, we enjoyed her gift as much as she did. I kept the empty can with its brightly-colored label as a toy for a long time.”

In the early 1900s, an evergreen branch, a trick camera and a can of loganberries made Christmas memories for one young lad in Calvin, North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Karen Horsley


I Remember, by Russell Duncan, 1978


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