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Early Lorain County Residents Found Much To Celebrate During Christmas Season

Services, Socializing, and Santa Claus were integral to Christmas celebrations in Avon Lake and surrounding towns

On Christmas day, 1883. John and Mahala (Moore) Dunning of Avon Township (OH) celebrated more than the traditional seasonal festivities when they witnessed the marriage of their daughter, Eva Mathilda, to Mr. Frank Lamont Masten, son of John I. and Rosella (Loomis) Masten of Rochester, Lorain County, Ohio. The couple was married by Reverend D. R. Owen at the Dunning home (pictured above, 1964), which was built in the early 1850s and still stands on Jaycox Road in what is now Avon Lake.

The following Christmas brought another joyous occasion when Frank and Eva Masten welcomed their first child, Nina Josie.

While Christmas weddings and births were not typical experiences for early Lorain County families, area residents still found much to celebrate during the holiday seasons of the late 19th century. Some people traveled within or outside of Ohio to visit friends and relatives. College students returned home on winter break. Those who remained locally usually attended church services, where they enjoyed music, readings, and children’s programs.

Santa Claus occasionally made a special appearance at these programs, but not all children appreciated his visit. Some were “terrified by his wolf-like raiment” and “refused to accept the proffered kindness of the venerable gentleman for fear of being gobbled up by him,” according to one newspaper report. Once most children realized that the “proffered kindness” involved candy and other treats, though, their attitudes quickly shifted in favor of the jolly, bearded gentleman.

Almost every church throughout the county was decorated not only with wreaths and evergreens, but also prominently displayed an indoor Christmas tree that was laden with gifts distributed to the pastor and congregation at Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. A newspaper report from Belden Township described one church’s tree “and its appurtenances” as “rang[ing] from the sublime to the ridiculous – from bologna, pickles and crackers, to the almost life-like wax figures which graced the tree.” One such wax figure was a plate of fruit that one churchgoer described as “look[ing] so natural that we thought it might taste good.”

For gift givers who preferred purchasing items rather than making them, merchants were more than happy to suggest ideas from their inventory. For women, one store’s list of possible gift ideas included parlor coal vases, fire iron sets, carpet sweepers, and soapstone foot warmers for cold sleigh rides. Men might prefer sleigh bells and lanterns, among other things, and children would probably enjoy sleds and skates.

Shortly after Christmas, people began looking toward the coming new year and contemplating New Year’s resolutions. One newspaper editorial encouraged people to “keep away from saloons” and “give up chewing and smoking tobacco” so that “life’s race will be Heavenward.” Saloons and liquor were enough of a concern that one newspaper article noted, “There was a marked absence of drunkenness and rowdyism on the streets Christmas day.” Another reported, “Christmas passed off very quietly, with very little intoxication in the streets.”

The Christmas season was not always without sadness, such as when an individual died or lost his or her house to a fire. Overall, though, a LaGrange reporter seemed to capture the mood of most years when he wrote, “Christmas passed pleasantly to all, as far as we may know.”

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