In 1887, Henry C. Bowen celebrated Christmas with a group of twenty-six people. Afterwards he divided the day into pieces and asked family members to each write about a particular part of the day. The whole is a fascinating look at how people can experience and remember the same event in different ways.
From Sunrise to Breakfast
I did not see the sun rise; but I heard enough noise to make it rise. I know the noise made me rise while yet it was dark. My first recollection was in hearing the Richardson children crying out in the hall: "Oh! Look at my presents! See this, Auntie!" and so on, and before I knew it Gardner and Lucy rushed into my room, and with a "Merry Christmas!" said it was time to get up. I pretended to be asleep, at which they yelled more loudly, blew their trumpets in my ears, and at last began to pull me out of bed! "Get up and see the presents! Dress and come into Grandpa's room! Aunt Grace wants you to get up!" were what the children were saying when Rufus interrupted them by saying: "Why! Uncle Clare is dead!"
I got up and dressed. I put my riding boots on, wore my bath-gown and a high silk hat, and carried my riding stock. The gloves I wore completed my costume. When the others made their appearance in the hall they were all dressed in outlandish costumes, according to our time-honored custom. In Grace's room we were given masks, and then all formed in single file and marched through the hall, singing "Merry Christmas to all! Merry Christmas to all!"…
C. W. B.
The Christmas Dinner
The dining-room proving too small the Christmas dinner was spread in the parlors. At half-past one the doors were thrown open, and, laying aside all precedence and formality, we trooped in to dinner, and what a sight it was!
A long table, loaded down with good things and lighted by lamps, and with an evergreen tree, brilliant with candles, in the center, stretched far into the ends of the rooms. Finding our designated places we sat down. Father and Mother sat at one end and Harry and Lizzie guarded the other, while the sides were irregular with bald heads and bibs.
Full twenty-six in number we sat down, and twenty-six full in body we got up an hour or so later…Oysters, turkey, goose, fixings, cream, cake, fruit, appetites, all disappeared…
F. D. B.
Every family should have its photograph. To keep alive the memory of important events each household must have its photographer.
After dinner (a worthy banquet, served by worthy people), arrangements were made for the family picture…
Heads were counted and an absent one was noted for the twenty-sixth. Who was it?" The baby! Hurriedly little Paul was sought and the group was made complete. Each looked his best, also her best -- once -- twice -- only a moment and the picture pronounced a success. The event is now a part of history.
Think of the Christmas celebrations in the Bowen families in 1987 and 2087 and thereafter, when the family as it was in 1887 shall be passed around the Christmas table for inspection!
May all the descendants prove worthy of their ancestors and send down the ages picture added to picture, so that in the last day we shall have a grand family group entire, and one to be proud of.
H. E. B.
From "The Celebration of Christmas 1887 at 90 Willow St., Brooklyn, N.Y."; Historic New England Archives.
What’s your favorite holiday experience?