In keeping with my hope of writing fiction set in the 18th century for a long while to come, I wanted to research and blog about what an 18th century Christmas might have looked like. I came away with one overriding impression: simplicity.
According to Emma Powers in her Christmas Customs article (Colonial Williamsburg website): "Eighteenth-century [Christmas] customs don't take long to recount: church, dinner, dancing, some evergreens, visiting--and more and better of these very same for those who could afford more."
Here are a few more interesting facts about 18th Century Christmas, quoted from the same article mentioned above, which is well worth a full read:
"No early Virginia sources tell us how, or even if, colonists decorated their homes for the holidays, so we must rely on eighteenth-century English prints.... that show interior Christmas decorations [such as] a large cluster of mistletoe...."
"Then as now, beef, goose, ham, and turkey counted as holiday favorites; some households also insisted on fish, oysters, mincemeat pies, and brandied peaches."
"The twelve days of Christmas lasted until January 6, also called Twelfth Day or Epiphany. Colonial Virginians thought Twelfth Night a good occasion for balls, parties, and weddings."
I'll note that a wedding does take place on Jan 6th in one of my 18th century novels... but I won't say whose!
Looking for more information on early Christmas customs and traditions? Check out these sites:
Christmas Food History: http://www.foodtimeline.org/christmasfood.html
Another Look At Christmas in the Eighteenth Century, by David DeSimone: http://www.history.org/almanack/life/christmas/hist_anotherlook.cfm
Recipes for a Twelfth Night Celebration: http://www.history.org/almanack/life/food/ginger.cfm
Do you have Christmas traditions in your family that date back more than a generation or two? The only one I can recall from my childhood was finding an orange in the foot of our stockings on Christmas morning, which to me always seemed a little strange since there were oranges in the fruit bowl in the kitchen. At some point I came to realize that it harkened back to the days of my grandfather's childhood, when an orange at Christmas was a treat, because they didn't have them or couldn't afford them for the rest of the year.