Christmas in Montpelier is a book written by Montpelier’s own Ross Peterson. A compilation of 12 short stories based on personal reminiscences and recollections about Christmas in the Peterson home during the 1940s and 1950s, this book is a delightful look at life not only in Montpelier, but of life lessons learned as Ross and his brothers grew up in our little corner of the world. Ross says that Christmas has been a constant in their family through all generations of the family, even economic and geographic circumstances. He wrote these memories to introduce his children to his parents who died in 1975 and 1976, Raymond and Zora Peterson. They never lived outside of Montpelier during the 41 years they were married.
He also says, “Some of the toughest, kindest, meanest, forgiving and living of God’s human creations roamed those streets [of Montpelier] and I learned from all of them. Their children were my friends, and our fondness grows as time passes.” As you read these stories, you will see what he means.
Each little vignette, beginning with the very first, tells of delivering Christmas Eve goodies to friends and neighbors in the cold and bitter snow and temperatures Bear Lake is known for. Ross’s father would load up the horses and wagon and pile the boys in with the goodies and away they would go, even quite far outside of town to a man named Ed Tweedy who lived in a tent, just to give him Christmas joy.
One particular Christmas day ended in a fire in Montana destroying their cousin’s home and Ross and his brothers and sister learning to give everything they got for Christmas to their cousins because they lost everything. Ross learned the meaning of giving to the needy.
That is the beauty of this book. Each one of the beautifully and simply written stories teaches Ross something about life. From this first story to one called Mrs. Scrooge and the Baseballs where the boys have lost baseballs over the fence into the grumpy neighbor lady’s yard all summer and she has hidden them, he has learned a life lesson. By doing service to her around Christmas time and learning to love her, she gives him and his brother a baseball for Christmas, and he learns she is not such a bad person after all.
Each story teaches him that people are doing the best they can in this life.
He also spends the first part of his childhood in a house without heat and water, using an outhouse, then has the luxury of the family moving to a house with central heat and a bathroom. This teaches him gratitude for small things.
The stories are both precious and meaningful, and one can’t stop reading to find out what the next is about. The final story culminates with him going on his mission and finding out what Christmases are like away from his family, yearning for Christmas like it was at home, and then finally returning.
To add flavor and interest, the book is also packed with pictures drawn by Ross’s brother, Max, who passed away from cancer in 2018. There are also many photographs of Montpelier and other interesting items pertaining to the stories.
The days represented in this book turned Ross into who he is today. A sell sheet for this book states, “Ross Peterson is among the most beloved American History teachers ever to step inside a college classroom. Several generations of students have voted him their favorite instructor, and a fair number became teachers themselves, some with Ross’s photo on an office wall. Christmas in Montpelier offers a beguiling look into Professor Peterson’s early life, where his wry humor, work ethic, and kindness were honed. Twelve Christmases come to life as he grows from a small boy in a hardscrabble farmhouse with no running water inside and a two-hole privy outside, to one of the nation’s most honored educators.”
Ross Peterson received a degree in History from Utah State University in 1965 and a Ph.D. in American Studies from Washington State University in 1968. After three years teaching at the University of Texas at Arlington, he returned to USU in 1971.
With his great passion for teaching, Dr. F. Ross Peterson has served as Professor of History at Utah State University, specializing in Recent American History with an emphasis on Civil Rights Movement and its efforts to achieve an inclusive nation. He moved on to other places to teach and influence, but in 2007, he returned to USU as Vice President for Advancement and helped conduct the university’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign. This position allowed him to reconnect with students and friends from throughout the world.
Dr. Peterson has published numerous books on Western American topics. His great love is teaching, and he has been honored to be the recipient of numerous teaching awards from Utah State University. He was named the Wayne Aspinall Chair in American Western History at Colorado Mesa University, Grant Junction, Colorado in 2015.