We Must Keep the Historical Spirit of Generosity This Holiday Season (Sen. Mike Crapo)

“Here, then, there was a cessation from toil, from hunger, and alarm. Past ills and dangers were forgotten. The hunt, the game, the song, the story, the rough though good-humored joke, made time pass joyously away, and plenty and security reigned throughout the camp.

As the pioneers settled Idaho, they obviously didn’t have access to merchandise like they did on the East Coast. While the popularity of catalog shopping reaches back to these early Idaho households, most Christmas presents were handmade dolls, clothes and toys. Similarly, most decorations were handmade.

In the mid-1800s, Boise, Idaho residents had a community Christmas tree rather than trees in their homes. The nearest trees were in the Boise foothills, a prohibitive distance for most families to get one for their house. Also at that time, charities played second fiddle to the generosity of individual families. Perhaps because hardship was so common, there was an acute awareness of the needs of those less fortunate. Many gifts were brought to the community tree for others.

War Christmases are always more poignant because of the knowledge that fellow Americans are spending the holidays far from home and far from what is familiar. In the summer of 1916, the Idaho National Guard, Second Regiment was placed on duty in Nogales, Arizona. Over the next few months, all other regiments were sent home, to the frustration of family and Idaho Governor Moses Alexander (incidentally, the first Jewish governor in the history of the United States). In December, Alexander received word that the regiment would be mustered out of Utah. He asked for a reconsideration of the order and sent telegrams to the Idaho Congressional Delegation, pleading for assistance. The order was changed and the Idaho Second returned to spend Christmas with their families and was mustered out of Boise Barracks on January 22, 1917.

The very next year, the United States was hit by the Spanish Influenza and Idahoans suffered along with the rest of the country. Fortunately, in 1919, Idaho families received another Christmas present of sorts—a welcome respite from the epidemic—it subsided for a month in December of that year.

Many Idahoans, along with people from other western and mid-western states, experienced scarcity and hardship during the Christmases of the agricultural depression of 1921-1928. Idaho’s farming, ranching and timber families were just starting to recover when the Great Depression struck. Prior years of want may have prepared Idaho families for the struggles of the 1930s, but hardship is hardship and, as Idaho’s economy gathered strength after World War II with the rest of the country, Christmases of the 1950s on were better for most.

Today’s holiday season is very different than those early pioneer days. The Internet has changed the face of shopping. We are comparatively better off than our predecessors. As we prepare for the holidays, reflecting on the past can help us be thankful for our blessings, and keep our historical spirit of generosity and close family ties alive in our celebrations. And, while it’s true that we’re better off economically than our ancestors, most of us can identify hardship in our own lives or the lives of those we know or know about, even in today’s world. Our toil might be a long daily commute or lengthy work hours, the struggle of living paycheck to paycheck or the emotional toil of having a long-term illness or knowing someone with a long-term illness. The holidays are a time to take our own 21st Century “time out

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