Colonial Christmases



[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 a
d 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.