Saturday, November 3, 2007
A Merry Colonial Christmas
The Christmas season will soon be upon us, so I thought that a posting on this topic would be appropriate. The bright and joyful holiday we celebrate as Christmas, arguably the most popular holiday in all of America, was seen in a very different light by colonial America. Instead of lavishly decorating the town and cheerfully celebrating the holiday spirit, those of America's early years took a very indifferent stance towards Christmas. As historian Nicole Harms put it,
"Christmas in colonial America did not resemble the brightly lit festivities we celebrate today. In fact, many colonial religions banned celebrations of the holiday, claiming that it was tied to pagan traditions. The New England Puritans passed a law in Massachusetts that punished anyone who observed the holiday with a five-shilling fine. The Quakers treated Christmas Day as any other day of the year. The Presbyterians did not have formal Christmas Day services until they noticed that their members were heading to the English church to observe the Christmas services. This sparked the Presbyterian Church to start services of their own."
There can be little argument that many of the festivities we use to commemorate Christmas are deeply rooted in pagan tradition. In today's society this is hardly noticed, but in Colonial America it was a well known fact, which turned many Christians off to the holiday. It wasn't until the mid to late part of the 19th century that Christmas took on a central role in American holidays. For literally centuries, Christmas was a quasi-holiday, often ignored by the masses. Christian churches were less zealous to see it celebrated than they are today. There is no doubt that the spirit of Christmas has evolved right along with our nation.