Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Victorians Invented Christmas

The earliest observance of Christmas in the New World was in 1607 at the Virginia colony of John Smith – complete with Yule logs, carols, evergreen decorated churches and a sumptuous feast on Christmas day to which the Indians were invited. Throughout the next few decades in the rest of the colonies, however, it was very different. In Puritan New England, Christmas celebrations were viewed as wanton excesses brought on by the suggestions of Satan. It would be well into the nineteenth century before New Englanders could feel comfortable enough to begin observance of Christmas openly.

In stark contrast to their New England neighbors were New York’s Dutch settlers who not only celebrated Christmas but made it a gala finale to an entire month of merrymaking. During December, normal business would grind to a halt except for the confectioners, bakers and toyshops. Dutch homemakers cleaned, roasted fowl and baked for weeks in anticipation of large house parties.

By the mid 1800s, Christmas was being celebrated as a holiday throughout most of America, largely because immigrant settlers brought their favorite holiday customs with them to enjoy in their new homes with their American neighbors. The Dutch brought their beloved gift bearer, St. Nicholas, who visited good children on December 6th; the English, their love of Christmas carols and decorating homes and churches with evergreens, mistletoe and holly; and the Germans brought their Christmas tree.

In the late 1830s, German immigrants settling in Pennsylvania, introduced the custom of bringing a freshly cut evergreen tree indoors to help with the celebration of Christmas. They would decorate the tree with brightly colored paper cornucopias filled with nuts, crystallized fruit, candy, gilded and colored eggshells and wax candles.

During the 1840s, England’s Queen Victoria and her German born husband, Prince Albert, introduced the Christmas tree as the centerpiece of the royal family’s holiday celebration. The scene was immortalized in both the Illustrated London News and Godey’s Lady’s Book in America, capturing the fancy of Victorian women. Very rapidly the “pretty German toy”, as the Christmas tree was frequently called, passed from interesting folk custom to tradition.

Stay tuned for another episode next time.

Excerpts from Mrs. Sharp's Traditions by Sarah Ban Breathnach

I've been very neglectful for the past month in posting for you and I apologize. I've been a bit "under the weather", but feeling much better and will be with you more often. Please check back for two more readings on this subject. You won't be sorry.


vickie said...

Oh Bertie! I love your stories, so glad you are feeling better! Stay warm and cozy!

Sharon said...

Bertie I wish we could all get back to the time when Christmas wasn't so commercial and all about "Just Having to Buy Something" and more about sharing love.

Stephanie said...

Love this post, Bertie! You are educating us in some wonderful old traditions. I absolutely adore the graphics you used ~ where did you find these? Can't wait to read more.

Big Hugs,
Angelic Accents

LaurieAnna's Vintage Home said...

Having restored two of these old Victorian homes, I love to read about all the traditions, particularly the Christmas traditions! Love this post and all the vintage postcards!

Merry Christmas!