With Christmas fast approaching, we will soon be experiencing the delicious aromas of cookies baking and turkey cooking. When I smell cookies baking in the oven, I am transported back in time to the home of my Baba on the farm. It’s interesting how the sense of smell is such an important stimulus for our memory – I can close my eyes and imagine myself in her kitchen as a little girl.
My Baba always wore an apron at home. I remember her using it also to carry vegetables and tomatoes from the garden. My Mom also had several – some frilly and some plain. Are these aprons a fading history? Although I have friends who wear an apron whenever cooking, it’s a custom that I never adopted. But I have heard many speak of the versatility of this “quaint” piece of clothing.
As long as there has been “dirty” work and the need to keep our clothing clean, there has been some form of apron worn by women in the past. The earliest recorded instance of aprons can be found in medieval paintings almost 1,000 years ago. By the 1600s there are pictures of very ornate aprons with embroidery on them. Most aprons though were just worn below the waist. When aprons travelled over to the new world, it became a custom of the Pilgrim women who kept it very simple. By the 1700s “pinner” aprons became popular. This is the style that consisted of the skirt plus the top pinned near their shoulders. This style remained popular into the mid-1800s when shoulder straps were introduced.
By the 1920s and into the mid-1930s flour companies introduced the idea of feed sack or flour sack aprons and other garments. By the 1940s aprons were becoming a fashion statement in their own right. The use of fashionable aprons continued through to the 1960s. But by the 1980s, with more women working outside the home, they spent less time in the kitchen and the custom of wearing an apron has gradually diminished. However, in the last 10-15 years it seems that aprons have experienced a bit of a resurgence with crafters and retro fashion making them attractive again.
When our grandmothers wore an apron, it was a garment with a multitude of uses. Its main purpose was to protect the clothing of the wearer, but over the years it was used for many other purposes. In addition to being used as a “basket” for bringing vegetables into the house from the garden, many used it to carry eggs in from the chicken coop or carry wood in for the stove. It could also be used as a potholder to take a pie out of the oven. Over the years they even made aprons for men who wore it on the patio cooking on the BBQ.
Some more unconventional uses of the simple apron included wiping sweat from your forehead or wrapping it around your arms and shoulders in the cold. It served as a face cloth to wipe children’s dirty faces or tears from their eyes. Often shy children would hide in the apron when strangers entered the house. And above all what this simple garment symbolized was love – Baba’s love for her family shown in her preparations for feeding her family.
Many children today will grow up without seeing an apron used in their home so it may be a disappearing phenomenon. Above all it has always served as a symbol of hospitality. Along with aprons becoming just a faint memory, the smell of baking in the kitchen may also be a fading memory. The convenience and allure of picking up our Christmas baking at Bake Sales or the grocery store is becoming increasingly popular.
It is incumbent on us as parents and grandparents to ensure that we provide something to take the place of the simple “apron” and all it represents. Perhaps we can find that in building a gingerbread house with our grandchildren, playing board games, or making crafts for Christmas. We hope to make new memories with our family members and it’s not important if it’s baking or cooking for our family or some other activity.
May the sparkle and joy of the holidays season warm your heart. I wish you a season filled with happiness, merry-making, and time spent with family and friends ” making memories”.