Wintertime of long ago was far from dull, for there were many forms of entertainment to furnish amusement during the long evenings. Social gatherings of all sorts – birthday parties, surprise parties, church suppers, bazaars, amateur theatricals, quiltings, spelling bees, dances – gave opportunity for the people to get together and have fun. Of all these none was more popular than the sleighing party. These began after the New Year for up to that time the activities of Christmas kept the young people busy.
There was nothing formal about a sleighing party for the arrangements had to be made in a hurry, as no one knew how long the snow would last. Usually the parties were limited to small groups for the average block sled (Bluckie) could not accommodate more than eight or ten couples. When different age groups made up the crowd more than one sled was used, for the young folks wanted to be by themselves. In every community was a farmer who made a business of driving such parties and he kept a sled ready.
A deep layer of clean straw was placed in the box and blankets laid over this. The boys and girls alternating sat along the sides of the sled with their feet toward the center. Heavy blankets were used for cover and by sitting tightly together everyone was warm.
The horses had to be very gentle, for each member of the party had a tin horn or cow bell and these were used freely when going through a town or when passing another sled. When not just making noise and yelling the riders would sing and the horses seemed to catch the rhythm of the song, for when “Jingle Bells,” “Polly-wolly Doodle,” or “Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party,” started they would strike a faster pace so that the bells on the harness played an accompaniment.
Supper was ordered at a hotel about six or eight miles away, and around six o’clock in the evening the party got started, for about two hours was necessary to make the trip, depending on the condition of the road. Sometimes bare spots were met where the snow had melted or blown away and that meant that the boys got out and walked. If such a place happened to be on a steep hill everyone got out. While this slowed down the time it was not considered a hardship as the exercise stirred the circulation and brought warmth to chilled fingers and toes.
By the time the hotel was reached everyone was cold and as soon as overcoats and rubbers were removed all gathered about the big round stoves. Supper was soon served – what a supper! The main item was fried ham, and a veritable mountain of slices was placed in the middle of the table. This was flanked with a huge platter of fried eggs on one side and a deep dish of fried potatoes on the other. Sometimes smoked sausage was served as an extra, but stewed dried lima beans, dried corn, pickled beets, chow-chow, pepper cabbage, celery, apple butter, cottage cheese, and several kinds of jelly were all part of the regular menu.
Dessert was mince pie, raisin pie, egg custard, and a variety of cookies, and this did not mean choice, for the most welcome diner was he who could take at least one helping of everything offered. On one occasion the wife of the land-lord whispered to one of the boys, “Don’t you feel good tonight?”
“Why do you ask that?” he said.
“Why,” said she “You did only eat six eggs.”
Such a meal required plenty of digestion and this was helped by playing games or dancing. For this part of the program the side room was used if it was large enough. If not, the dining room was cleared. The games were those ordinarily played by children – “Heavy, heavy, what hangs over?”, “Blindman’s Buff,” “Post Office”, “Spin the bottle,” charades, etc. These games played by young ladies and young men produced some very interesting situations and many a bashful suitor got so much inspiration from them, the he became quite bold when snuggled under the blankets on the way home.
Music for the dancing was furnished by a piano or a fiddle and a guitar, and sometimes the old parlor organ gave out two-steps and waltzes. Some hotels had small orchestras and advertised for sleighing parties. On Saturday nights at these places a professional caller conducted the square dances. These were public affairs and lacked the intimacy of the small and private parties.
By 10:30 they got ready to leave. Outer clothing was put on, and the blankets, which had been brought into the hotel, were held near the stove so that they were well warmed before starting.
Horses always go faster toward home than they do when going away, so that the return trip not only seemed shorter but actually took less time. It was colder than earlier in the evening so the couples had to sit much closer to keep warm and after singing a few songs they became quiet. Conversation was very subdued and except for an occasional suppressed giggle, nothing was heard but the jingle of the bells and the creaking of the sled runners on the snow.
- Louis J. Livingood M.D. Wyomissing, PA January 1945
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