I recently read of a woman looking for information on how people lived in the good old days. It reminded me of how often I’ve heard people say they’d love to experience an old-fashioned Christmas. Come to think of it, on occasion I’ve expressed that same thought myself.
I can only guess at the age of the woman making the inquiry. There was no picture; but, based on her seeming innocence of such matters, I would guess her to be relatively young… relative as compared to the age of me, and dirt.
For most of us, “old-fashioned” can be defined as, “When I was a child and my parents and grandparents took care of all the details.” Thus, what constitutes an “old-fashioned” Christmas is directly proportionate to one’s age.
For me, such a Christmas would have occurred shortly after World War II when our country was experiencing a renewed era of prosperity. That should not be taken to mean my parents were becoming wealthy. It simply means my father, a maintenance worker at a meat packing plant, had steady employment and there was at least one store-bought present for my brother and me.
Our older brothers and sisters were born just before the Great Depression. I’m sure our parents did what they could to make Christmas special for our older siblings, but their means at that time were much more limited.
These thoughts on old-fashioned Christmases come at a time when I have been reading one historical document after another. Being able to trace one’s family back to the time when somebody named Stradivarius was fiddling around with musical instruments in Italy provides a totally different perspective on this issue. Let’s consider a Colonial Christmas celebration in the late 1600’s.
We’ll start with the Thanksgiving Day parades in New York City and Philadelphia. Yes, those towns did exist, but there was no Macy’s and no Mummers. Thus, there were no parades, and no initial visit from Santa Claus. Come to think of it, Thanksgiving Day had not yet been invented.
Most likely, there were no signs indicating the number of shopping days left before Christmas. Some religions may have used Advent Wreaths in their services so that people could prepare for the coming birth of our Savior, but that may have been the total extent of Christmas greenery.
In towns such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Providence, shopkeepers might have hung greenery in the windows to provide a holiday atmosphere, but it’s very unlikely. The use of Christmas trees and hanging of greens didn’t become popular until the 1800’s.
By the way, there was a time in the 1600’s when church leaders in England decided that Christmas had become too much of a pagan holiday and outlawed it. Christians in England and in the English colonies were forbidden to observe the day as the birthday of Jesus. One has to wonder what those same church leaders would think of the way Christmas is celebrated in the 21st century!
In the outlying colonial settlements, there was less thought given to the Yuletide season. The people living on the frontier were more concerned about trapping or shooting their next meal. They’d also be busy chopping wood, carrying water from a nearby stream, and trying to keep whatever produce they saved from the prior harvest from rotting. They had neither indoor plumbing, nor electricity. Had Christmas trees come into vogue, they wouldn’t have had any place to put them. Besides, there were no ornaments, lights, or tinsel.
In fact, what sort of Christmas would it be without watching Scrooge change his miserly ways after being visited by three ghosts (Dickens would not write “A Christmas Carol” for another hundred and fifty years), no roast turkey (unless the hunters got lucky), no Christmas cards to hang around the fireplace, and no Santa Claus (St. Nicholas was not yet recognized in the American colonies). Worst of all, there was no football!
I’m sure some people would consider the absence of indoor plumbing worse than the lack of football games on television, but we’re all entitled to our own opinions.
In short, it would appear that an “Old-fashioned” Christmas in the 1600’s would not be an ideal setting for any sort of celebration. However, let’s go ahead and try to find some positive aspects of the time.
First, to attend a Christmas church service, we’d probably have to hitch “old Dobbin” to the sleigh. There were very few church buildings in America in the 1600s, so we’d most likely attend a “meeting” at somebody’s home. The only warmth in the building would come from a fireplace, and the bodies of the faithful. The only light, besides the light from the fire, would be from candles.
After everyone had arrived, the host would read the Christmas Story from the Gospel in the King James Version of the Bible. The group would then sing a few Psalms or other hymns, as most Christmas carols had not yet been written. Finally, the group would join hands in prayer thanking God for the wonderful gift of his son – the Light of the World.
After heartfelt wishes for health and prosperity, we’d all go our separate ways – returning to our own humble abodes. Our family might exchange hand-made treasures – carefully crafted with love. Then we’d each lend a hand in preparing the “feast.” Chores would include chopping wood for the fireplace, fetching water, plucking feathers from the chicken, milking the cow, and gathering eggs. With such fresh ingredients, a batch of eggnog would make an extra special treat.
After dinner, we’d gather by the fireplace and share the warmth of each others love. We’d thank God for our many blessings and pray that our family would continue to find happiness in a land where freedom of religion was held so sacred.
There would be no television, radio, video games, or any other distractions. We’d simply enjoy spending time together as a family.
Come to think of it, I’d like nothing better than an “old-fashioned” Christmas this year.