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Colonial Christmases
ALICE MORSE EARLE [From Customs and Fashions in Old ...

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A Christmas Letter From Australia
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Hymn For The Nativity
EDWARD THRING Happy night and happy silence ...





Colonial Christmases






ALICE MORSE EARLE

[From Customs and Fashions in Old New England.]

The first century of colonial life saw few set times and days for
pleasure. The holy days of the English Church were as a stench to the
Puritan nostrils, and their public celebration was at once rigidly
forbidden by the laws of New England. New holidays were not quickly
evolved, and the sober gatherings for matters of Church and State for a
time took their place. The hatred of wanton Bacchanallian Christmasses
spent throughout England, as Cotton said, in revelling, dicing,
carding, masking, mumming, consumed in compotations, in interludes, in
excess of wine, in mad mirth, was the natural reaction of intelligent
and thoughtful minds against the excesses of a festival which had ceased
to be a Christian holiday, but was dominated by a lord of misrule who
did not hesitate to invade the churches in time of service, in his noisy
revels and sports. English Churchmen long ago revolted also against such
Christmas observance.

Of the first Pilgrim Christmas we know but little, save that it was
spent, as was many a later one, in work....

By 1659 the Puritans had grown to hate Christmas more and more; it was,
to use Shakespeare's words, the bug that feared them all. The very
name smacked to them of incense, stole, and monkish jargon; any person
who observed it as a holiday by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any
other way was to pay five shillings fine, so desirous were they to
beate down every sprout of Episcopacie. Judge Sewall watched jealously
the feeling of the people with regard to Christmas, and noted with
pleasure on each succeeding year the continuance of common traffic
throughout the day. Such entries as this show his attitude: Dec. 25,
1685. Carts come to town and shops open as usual. Some somehow observe
the day, but are vexed I believe that the Body of people profane it, and
blessed be God no authority yet to compel them to keep it. When the
Church of England established Christmas services in Boston a few years
later, we find the Judge waging hopeless war against Governor Belcher
over it, and hear him praising his son for not going with other boy
friends to hear the novel and attractive services. He says: I dehort
mine from Christmas keeping and charge them to forbear.

Christmas could not be regarded till this century as a New England
holiday, though in certain localities, such as old Narragansett--an
opulent community which was settled by Episcopalians--two weeks of
Christmas visiting and feasting were entered into with zest by both
planters and slaves for many years previous to the revolution.





Next: The Angels

Previous: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night



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