Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 30, 2010

The Beginnings Of Modern Christmas

Compiled and Edited By Sharla Rae

Writers such as Washington Irving, and Charles Dickens are often cited as inventors of the modern Christmas. Credit must also be given to the industrial revolution which was in full swing at the time. The growth of the railway made for faster postage and easy mobility. Mobility was important for those who wished to visit relatives during the holidays.

In early America, colonial settlers brought a strong Puritan influence with them. English Puritans set a definite code for work on Christmas day, banning the keeping of Christmas. Even after Charles II demanded that Massachusetts rescind its anti-Christmas law, Puritan militants protested. In the end with immigrants from other religions and the need for social harmony, celebrating Christmas was encouraged. Still, not until 1856 did Massachusetts proclaim Christmas Day a legal holiday.

The Dutch settlers, however, were different. They had always held a festive Christmas.   

 The Southern Colonies were unhampered by Quakers and Puritans. Southerners mimicked England in models of dress, manner and social behavior. Their Christmases were a time of leisure rather than a set of rituals. During the season, Virginians, Carolinians and Marylanders enjoyed dancing, card games, cock fighting, nine-pins and horse racing. Anglicanism was the established religion in most of the planting colonies, and it did not pressure its members into observing sacred rituals.

While Southerners aspired to recreate the English Christmas, they fell short of authenticity. This was partly due to the boar’s heads, wassail bowls, mummers etc. being on the wane since Cromwell’s Parliament in England. Many Southern families did, however, incorporate the Yule Log into their celebrations. There was good wine, dancing and entertainments but that’s as close as they came to the English Christmas. However, by the middle of the eighteenth century, tales of the Virginia Christmas had spread back to England. The South became known for its hospitality, and the Southern states were among the first to legalize the holiday in the 1830s.

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