A homemade Christmas with gifts from the heart

Published 7:11 pm Monday, November 29, 2021

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The weekend after Thanksgiving was the unofficial start of the holiday season many decades ago, just like it is now.  When I was growing up here, everyone I knew in my neighborhood started making Christmas gifts right after Thanksgiving.

Most of the women I knew were skilled at baking, and the weeks before Christmas were their time to shine. I am willing to bet the Pillsbury Company might had known some of these women when they came up with their jingle, “nothing says ‘lovin’ like something from the oven”.

My neighbors made the best cakes with great love and care and they would give them as gifts.  Their baking was a true labor of love and represented the care and sacrifice they put in those cakes. I say sacrifice because some families had tight food budgets.

To bake a pound cake that required eight or nine eggs, a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of flour and three teaspoonfuls of vanilla extract was a big deal. Vanilla extract was such a precious ingredient back in those days, some women would put a dab of it behind their ears and wear it for perfume when they went to church.

To bake a few cakes for gifts using those ingredients could easily put a strain on the budget, but the cakes were the best gifts they could give.  When they brought your family the cake on Christmas morning, the care they had taken to bake it and the love they put in it was almost as wonderful as the aroma and the delicious taste.

Some families harvested pecans, peanuts and black walnuts and would carefully shell them, put them in Mason jars and tie a pretty ribbon around them as gifts.

There were gifts of pear preserves or watermelon pickles in pretty glasses.  The glasses were the kind that came in detergent or oatmeal boxes. Duz Detergent had beautiful glasses inside the box as a promotional item.

Quaker Oats had beautiful Anchor Hocking glassware in their oatmeal canisters. To share those glasses were a gift from the heart because a lot of people treasured them, and the nuts or preserves inside the jars were an added blessing. Some people would give a prized piece of their depression glass with homemade jam in it as a gift.

Depression ware was promotional glassware some cereal and flour companies gave away inside their products during the depression to help boost sales.  Sometimes movie theaters or gas stations would give it as an incentive to buy gas or go to a movie.  The glassware was precious to some people as it had been handed down to them from their grandparents.

One neighbor would make homemade sedge bush brooms for the elderly people because she knew how much they liked them. No store-brought broom would do for them. It had to be a sedge brush broom.  Those older folks would faithfully sweep their yards every morning with that broom.

Another popular gift for the elderly folks was a big supply of Rabbit Tobacco and Sassafras to help them fight or colds and flu during the winter months. As a child I could never understand why people would be so thankful to get a small burlap sack of weeds.  But they were welcome gifts to the recipients.

The memories of those heart gifts I saw given for the holidays warms my heart to this day.  Nothing says love like a gift given from the heart.


Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-founder and co-executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.