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Join the Bonhams for a Victorian Christmas

Victorian Christmas card with padding and fringe

You can enjoy a Victorian Christmas at the Bonham House, 152 East Market Street, York from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, December 2. The free family event, presented by the York County History Center as part of Light Up York, offers costumed house tours, crafts, games, live music, refreshments and more. Living historian Myra Reichart will explore Victorian Christmas holiday traditions from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Click here for details on the festivities.

The family of artist Horace Bonham did enjoy Christmas. A letter from “Santa” in the YCHC files to Eleanor, the youngest daughter, gives you an idea of what almost eight-year-old little girls were hoping for on Christmas morning. The note is datelined “All around the world, Xmas eve—Dec. 24, 1889.” It continues:

My dear Eleanor,

By the time I got here I found I had no more copies of the Blue Fairy Book, I am sorry to say—But I hope your Mamma will give it for your birthday gift, for I find by looking at my book that you were born just about eight years ago—I give you some money for a trycicle. I hope it will be enough—My friend Mr. Wanamaker keeps very good ones. I hope you will be a good little girl and remember your old friend Santa Claus for this may be my last visit, as you will be nearly nine years old next Xmas.

Believe me truly your dear friend who will often think of you,

Santa Claus.

The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang had just come out it 1889. It was the first in a still-popular series of books of fairy tales for children. Eleanor’s birthday was coming up on December 31, so it sounds like she was pretty certain to get the book then.

Another find in the York County History Center Library/Archives reveals that a grown up Eleanor still had Christmas in her heart. Eleanor Bonham McCoy wrote the poem below, in 1931, when she was nearly 50. It was subsequently published in Pennsylvania Dutchman/Pennsylvania Folklife, for many years a premier periodical on all things Pennsylvania German. Even though some of her ancestors, like the Bonhams and Lewises, were of English origin, she also had Pennsylvania German ancestors in her background. York countians can enjoy the “Dutchy” twist to her poem:

Christmas Greetings (1931) by Eleanor Bonham McCoy

Here is a little paper tut

But please don’t think it’s empty still

Because inside of it, I put

My Christmas wishes and good will.


I want you should get lots of stuff

And have a Happy Christmas, too,

And New Year’s Day—and what’s enough

Better, good victuals all year through.


Now for the Christmas Dinner, mind

I hope your table groans and sways

With all the things you mostly find

At funerals and wedding days.


Turkey and trimmings, pork, gravy,

Pickles, a mess of schnitz and gnepp,

Cake, pie—(It wouldn’t wonder me

When dinner’s over if you slep!)


If you must ride, I want the sun

Or, if it makes snow, you can rutch;

And after supper, lots of fun,

Hard cider, kissing games and such.


I wish my tut was full to bust

With presents for you, big and small;

Instead of Christmas wishes, just,

But then—my bank account is all.

Hope you can join us at the Bonham House next Saturday.