Making Christmas Bright

Isabella Alden knew all about the Christmas shopping season. She had a large extended family, and she either bought or made gifts for each family member.

Her niece, author Grace Livingston Hill, recalled what it was like when the Aldens, Livingstons, and Macdonalds got together:

Our Christmases were happy, thrilling times. There were many presents, nearly all of them quite inexpensive, most of them home-made, occupying spare time for weeks beforehand; occasionally a luxury, but more often a necessity; not any of the expensive nothings that spell Christmas for most people today.

Isabella—being a clever and creative person—made many of the gifts she gave.

Sometimes she got gift-making ideas from magazines. She subscribed to The Ladies’ Home Journal and Harper’s Bazar, both of which regularly printed directions for making items to use or give as gifts. Sometimes she passed those ideas and directions on to her own readers.

For example, an 1898 issue of The Ladies’ Home Journal published instructions for making this pretty wall pocket:

Drawing of a wall pocket made of a long board or cardboard. At one end is a ribbon so it can be hung vertically on the wall. Spaced evenly down the board are three fabric pockets decorated with different trims.

Isabella liked the idea so much, she wrote simplified instructions that children could follow and printed them in an issue of The Pansy magazine. She told her readers how to make the wall pocket from pine board, calico, buttons, and felt, and hinted it would make a lovely gift “for mamma.” She wrote:

I get the idea and most of the details from Harper’s Bazar. The article from which they are taken says the contrivance is for an invalid, but let me assure you that mamma will like it very much, or, for the matter of that, papa also.

At Christmas she encouraged boys and girls to make gifts not only for family members and friends, but for strangers, too. She wrote this to readers of The Pansy magazine:

How many Pansies are planning the Christmas gifts they will make? In all the merry bustle and happy, loving thoughts, don’t forget to throw a bit of kindly cheer into those poor little lives darkened by distress and want.

If every member of The Pansy Society would make some little gift as a loving reminder to one who otherwise would have none, how many children, think you, would be made happy?

Remember, you do it “For Jesus’ sake.”

There were instructions for making this simple knitting bag, made of fabric, ribbon, and embroidery hoops:

Illustration of a cloth bag made with hoops for handles.

And this case, made from pieces of cardboard and colored ribbons, to hold photos, greeting cards, or pictures cut from magazines.

Drawing of a "case for Christmas cards." Made of square cardboard, it has a photo pasted in the center. It is bound on the left with pieces of ribbon and tied on the right to keep it closed.

She wrote:

What a delightful present that will be when you get it done! I can imagine an ingenious girl and boy putting their heads together, and making many variations which would be a comfort to the fortunate owner.

Isabella always knew how to give those gentle reminders that children (and adults!) sometimes need about the true spirit of Christmas.

Isabella Alden quote: Remember the poor always, but especially at Christmas. It is the kind of giving which our Lord, the Gift of gifts, would most approve.

What is your favorite way to share the message of Christmas with people in need?

Have you ever made a Christmas gift for someone? How was it received?

Daisy Bryant’s Wall of Pictures

In Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant, little Daisy Bryant loved beauty. Even at the tender age of eight she recognized that the home she lived in with her mother, brother and sister was far from beautiful.

The walls of the little cottage were not lathed and plastered; were not even painted; their weather-stained unsightliness had been among Daisy’s trials.

Little Daisy dreamed of covering those unattractive walls with pictures.

From Godey's Lady's Book, April 1895
From Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1895

Mrs. Bryant laughed. “You dear little dreamer,” she said, “where do you suppose the pictures are to come from, and how much paste and time do you suppose it would take?”

“Oh, but I don’t mean all at once. Be a long, long time, you know; and take just a tiny teaspoonful of flour at a time; we could afford that, couldn’t we? When we found a real pretty picture anywhere, paste it up in a nice place, and in a g-r-e-a-t many months the walls would be covered.”

It was impossible not to laugh at the bright face and dancing eyes, and there was something so funny about it to Line and Ben, that they laughed loud and long.

Mrs. Bryant was the first to recover voice. “It is a pretty thought,” she said, “and I will certainly try to furnish the spoonful of flour for my share; but we have almost no chances for pictures, darling, and I’m afraid you will be old and gray before the walls are covered.”

“Well,” said Daisy cheerily, “then I will put on my spectacles and sit down and enjoy them.”

Godeys Ladys Book 1895 April Vol 130 pg 97
From Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1895

The first picture to be pasted to the wall was one Daisy’s brother found in a magazine a friend had given him. Magazines in 1890—the year Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant was published—often printed pictures and photographs that were suitable for framing.

From Munsey's Magazine, 1905
From Munsey’s Magazine, 1905

In fact, many magazines encouraged readers to clip out pictures and frame them even though the images were in black and white.

From Ladies Home Journal, April 1916
From Ladies Home Journal, April 1916

Sometimes the images were simply of the latest fashions.

From Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 1896
From Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1896

Sometimes the images were of famous people or events.

From Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 1896
From Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1896

And other illustrations gave readers a window onto faraway places and the works of popular artists.

From Woman's Home Companion, September 1922
From Woman’s Home Companion, September 1922


From Woman's Home Companion, 1922
From Woman’s Home Companion, 1922

By 1910 some magazines began printing two-color pictures. And by 1920 many magazines featured pictures and advertisements in full color. Copies of the Old Masters or religious paintings were very collectable.

From Ladies Home Journal, February 1916
From Ladies Home Journal, February 1916


From Ladies Home Journal, December 1916
From Ladies Home Journal, December 1916

While other pictures illustrated places and lifestyles most people could only dream about.

From Woman's Home Companion, October 1922
From Woman’s Home Companion, October 1922

Since magazine issues ranged in price from five to fifteen cents, they were an affordable source for pictures. Unfortunately for Daisy, even five cents was an unattainable sum. So she sacrificed her dream of having a beautiful wall of pictures; but by the end of the book, Daisy and the Bryants would find themselves surrounded by beauty and blessings of a very different kind.

Cover of Miss Dee Dunmore BryantYou can read more about Daisy and her dreams in Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant. Click on the book cover to find out more.