Sugar Plum Dreams

Before safe, reliable central heating units were commonly installed in homes, coal and wood burned in stoves and fireplaces were the norm for comfort in winter. But staying warm into the wee hours of the morning, as fires turned to ashes, meant having a bed that was well appointed for the task. Even wealthy families with servants to lay and feed the household fires for them, depended on their beds to keep them warm and carry them safely through the night.

The poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas", first published in 1823, gives some indication of the way people in the early 19th century needed to dress when retiring to their bed for the night. The line, "Mama in her kerchief, and I in my cap," acknowledges the fact that bedrooms tended to gradually become very cold, if they weren't already so, and that the only part of the body not covered by blankets or quilts, had to be kept warm by other measures. Perhaps the stockings were hung by the chimney with care not just on Christmas night, or only "In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there", but so that after a fire was rekindled in the morning,
the children could pull warm stockings onto their chilly little feet.

The general nature of wintertime weather, when the arrival of the figure we today know as Santa Claus could be expected, is suggested by the shuttered windows on the house in the poem and the original Dutch spelling of the reindeer names, Dunder and Blixem, or, Thunder and Lightning. Today we carefully weather seal and caulk against winter and we (generally) no
longer wear caps or kerchiefs to bed to keep our heads warm. But during the winter holiday season a comforting glow is still to be felt when we peek inside their bedrooms at midnight on Christmas Eve and see that the children are nestled all snug in their beds, dreaming of sugar plums.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!


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