Monroe’s Christmas memories

Reporter in Residence
Monroe Mouse

It is the time of year when I reminisce about Christmases past. My greatest pleasure was seeing children’s delight while enjoying a new toy.

Of course, the Stroud Mansion’s seasonally decorated Victorian parlor contributes to my fond memories. This year was even more fun because of a road trip with Education Committee members to the “Tree Lighting” festivities at Stroudsmoor Country Inn.

Our volunteers were asked to do a craft activity with children. Of course, not known to them, it was my subtle hints (a photo strategically placed) that made them decide to do a paint-stick snowman.

This experience led me to recall the toys Victorian children enjoyed. A climb to the third floor children’s room encouraged my reminiscing. The wonderful variety of toys represents items found in many homes.

Much like today, the toy often depended on the resources of the family. Boys in wealthy families found toy boats, rocking horses, clockwork trains, a jack in the box, and pretend villages under the tree. Girls would delight in china dolls, tea sets, and detailed wooden doll houses.

Of course, such toys were not found in the homes of the less fortunate. Clothespin dolls were as well loved as any china doll. Sawdust-filled bags substituted for a football for boys.

Just as there were contrasts in children’s toys in the society of the second half of the 1800s, there were also dramatic differences in the everyday life of children. Children of poor families, especially in urban areas, often worked under the worst of conditions in factories, as chimney sweepers, and in workhouses. They were exposed to dangerous machinery and chemicals. Others supplemented family income selling flowers, bootlaces, matches, and buttons. They ran errands and swept busy roads.

Children of the wealthy were often raised by nannies, dressed like little adults and taught to behave that way. Some may think that these children missed the freedom and spontaneity of youth.

However, today’s young and adults alike can enjoy the delights of childhood play through the years by simply visiting the Stroud Mansion’s children’s room. This is a wonderful place to start intergenerational conversations. “Remember when” stories are often the highlight of family holiday occasions for years to come.