Wednesday, November 20

Serafina and the Twisted Staff + A Gilded Age Christmas unit study

With the advent of our Roaring 20's New Year's party, we're finding all sorts of ways to incorporate late 19th / early 20th century history into our studies.  Here is a Christmas unit study, easily tailored up or down for all ages, that begins with a mystery in the heart of the Blue Ridge...

What to Read
  • Serafina & the Twisted Staff - set against a backdrop of Christmas at the Biltmore House, Serafina and Braden must solve the mystery before it ruins the holidays!
  • A Victorian Christmas Collectiona compilation of cookbook recipes and newspaper articles related to American Christmas cookery, holiday customs, and stories spanning from the 1850s through the 1890s.
Music Appreciation
  • Vintage Christmas Songs from the 1900's & 1910's Medley (compilation)
    • With nearly an hour of vintage classics, this holiday set will get you in the mood to celebrate Christmas in the old-old-fashioned way!
  • Vintage Christmas Songs from the 1900s and 1910s -- stream the audio below

Classic Literature (Reading Comprehension)
In The Gift of the Magi, O'Henry brings us into a working class home to see the hardships, holiday customs, and lifestyle of this era.  Listen to the story, then complete the comprehension pages below.
At the Top and Bottom (History)
During this era, as decorations, gifts, and traditions became more elaborate and more expensive, the holiday took a more materialistic turn, beginning to push the merchandising over the religion.  'The Gilded Age' was a term Mark Twain used to show the great divide between poverty and opulence in America.  He said that the wealth and extravagance gilded (masked) the poverty and corruption.  It was an era of great contrast...

In Seraphina and the Twisted Staff, and in the video below, we get elaborate descriptions of the opulence seen at the Biltmore Estate.  Read a vivid description of Christmas in the Lower East Side Tenements of New York City, and watch the video below.  While it's easy to relive and appreciate the glorious parts of the upper crust holiday, we must remember that only a small percentage of people lived that way.  Many more celebrated in impoverished conditions, though it did not dampen their spirits.  
    Decorations & Gifts (Math)
    While they were brought to America by German immigrants, Christmas trees only became popular after Godey's Lady's Book published a photograph of Queen Victoria and her family gathered around the tree in 1850.  Suddenly, all of the stylish families wanted their own tree!  By 1900, most homes had floor to ceiling Christmas trees that were lit by candles.  Some families, such as the Vanderbilts, used electric lights on their trees at the turn of the century.

    One simple decoration for the trees was strung cranberries and popcorn garlands.  Using a needle and waxed string that was knotted on one end, they could pierce the kernels and berries to make a beautifully-colored pattern that contrasted with deep green of the tree.  It was only after lady's magazines began to showcase various tree decorations that Christmas ornaments, as we think of them today, began to become popular.  Ornaments, such as glass balls and cut tin shapes, were imported from Germany.

    Harper's Bazaar Magazine published, "Love is the moral of Christmas...what are gifts but the proof and signs of love!"  Gift giving came to symbolize the importance of a relationship.  Those who were closer to the gift-giver, or who the gift-giver revered more, were lavished with larger gifts.  An 1894 newspaper advertisement suggested to shoppers that, "while busy buying things for Christmas, think of other children who are less fortunate than your own."  Stores would sell marked-down goods to be given to the poor as an extension of Christian goodwill during the holiday season...and thus the Angel Tree was born.  This was an attempt to dissension between religion and materialism.

    Complete these math problems:
    • You have 300 cranberries and 525 kernels of popcorn.  Design a pattern for your tree garland that uses all of the pieces.
    • Your family bought a 106" tall tree.  How much will you have to cut off the bottom for it to fit in your parlor?
    • Glass balls are 3c each, and tin shapes are 2c each.  Using exactly one dollar, how many of each ornament will you buy to decorate the tree?
    • Using the Macy's Mail-Order catalog, plan on Christmas gift purchases for your family with a total budget of ten dollars.

    Christmas Recipes (Home Ec)
    Figgy pudding, of the 'oh bring us some figgy pudding!' fame, originated in 14th-century Britain as a way to preserve food.  It was originally served as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas season.  Interestingly, the dessert was banned in 1647 by Puritans, but reinstated as a Christmas tradition by King George I.  The recipe became standardized in the 19th century, and resembled our modern-day version.


    • 12 dried figs, chopped
    • 1/2 cup raisins
    • 1/2 cup water 
    • 1/2 cup orange juice
    • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 3 eggs
    • 1 cup brown sugar
    • 2 cups plain bread crumbs
    • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
    • 1 cup dried cranberries
    • 2 cups whipped cream (optional, for serving)
    • In a small sauce pan, add chopped figs, raisins, water, and orange juice and bring to a simmer. 
    • In a separate small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.
    • In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, bread crumbs, and melted butter. Once combined, stir in fig mixture (let it cool slightly) and dry ingredients.  Use a flat spatula to fold cranberries.
    • Butter a large Bundt pan. Add a few cups of water to another pan that is large enough to hold the Bundt pan. Place the Bundt pan into the larger pan (like a roasting pan) and make sure the water comes at least halfway up the side of the pan. Adjust water levels accordingly.
    • Scoop thick pudding batter into buttered Bundt pan, smooth it out, and cover with foil. 
    • Cover and bring water in larger pan to a simmer, reduce heat to low and let pudding steam for 2 hours. Check water levels every 30 minutes or so.
    • After steaming, let the pan cool and then remove it from the water bath. Remove foil and flip it over so pudding comes out.
    • Slice and serve with whipped cream!

    Letters to Santa (Writing)
    ... there would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence ... Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world...  ~Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus

    If you've ever confused Father Christmas and Santa Claus, you're not alone!  They are actually two separate stories.  Father Christmas was a sign of returning spring, and usually dressed in green and showed up at midwinter festivals.  Our modern-day Santa evolved when the Dutch immigrated to America, as they brought Sinter Klaas and his holiday gift distribution!  Thanks to C.C. Moore's 'A Visit from St. Nicholas,' children had visions of sugar-plums and lots of Christmas hope and dreams!  

    Pretend you are a boy or girl of the late 19th century.  Write a letter to Sinter Klaas.  Try to make it about a page long.
    Snowball Dinner (Arts & Crafts)
    The Victorian Christmas dinner often had a separate table for children that was adorned with special, whimsical decorations and gifts.  The table's centerpiece was a large snow globe filled with hidden gifts.  Candles tied with ribbon led from the snow globe to each plate, leading each child to his or her surprise!
    To design your own snow globe centerpiece:
    • Cover a hollow globe (or round fishbowl) with cotton batting.  
    • Set it inside a wreath laid flat on the table.
    • Place a small gift inside for each child.  Tie each gift to a long ribbon.
    • Fill the opening of the globe / bowl with holly and mistletoe.
    • Decorate the table with pretty holiday dishes.  They make disposable holiday dishes, if you're not sure about letting them use the good china...
    • Place the other end of the ribbon underneath the plates.  (One ribbon goes to each plate.)
    • Let the children choose where to sit, and that decides their gift!

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