HEAR YE!!!
HEAR YE!!!
Next Tea Party Friday March 4th

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In Ye Olden Days: Deck the Halls

It's Tradition!

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:

"Williamsburg shopkeepers of the eighteenth century placed ads noting items appropriate as holiday gifts, but New Year's was as likely a time as December 25 for bestowing gifts."

"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.
 
 photos by Flintlocker and fauxto_digit

7 comments:

  1. Great post! I do think it's funny that even Williamsburg is not very colonial in its Christmas depiction - I guess if they were, no one would come to see it. I love the idea of continuing Christmas festivities and celebrations for 12 days and not trying to cram in all the celebrating before Christmas when you're still trying to do the preparations. So I started a new tradition when my kids were little - we keep the decorations up until at least Jan 6 and try to celebrate Ephiphany with a little party and small gifts.

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  2. We normally do that at our house, too, Kate. Last year was an exception. I just was not in the Christmas mood. This year I hope to refocus on the reason we are celebrating and carrying forward to the Epiphany is a great reminder of that!

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  3. Kate, I think that sounds like a great idea and tradition. Not intentionally, we'll be doing our celebrating all through the week after Christmas too, since that's when I get to see my dad and many other relatives this year. Christmas day will be spent with my husband's mom here at home, as will Christmas Eve, which is my husband's birthday. Maybe we can have a little celebration on the 6th, too (already thinking of that chocolate cake recipe I couldn't squeeze into the Christmas menu....).

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  4. Great post, Lori! We were just talking about this with the boys. My grandpa in Kentucky thought it a fine Christmas indeed when he got some nuts and an orange or some penny candy that day. How far we've come! Or regressed! I so wish we could return to the simplicity of days gone by. In our hearts alone, I guess.

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  5. I enjoyed the post, Lori! Christmas definitely was a lot different back in colonial days than today, and personally I'd like to go back!

    When we moved to the house we have now, I started decorating the house with greens--pine, cedar, holly--at Christmas rather than just having a tree and other decorations. It helped that we have evergreens on the property! It's one of my very favorite traditions--and come to think of it, I need to get out there and cut some tomorrow!

    I also like the idea of leaving decorations up until Epiphany...of course, that may be due to the fact that I HATE taking it all down! lol!

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  6. Joan, so true. It takes such work to decorate, it seems a shame to take it down too quickly. I can remember tramping through the woods across from our house with my mom some Decembers to harvest the running cedar that grew there. Now those woods are gone, replaced by a housing development, but for my entire childhood we had that glorious forest across our street, cut with trails my grandfather blazed. Thanks for reminding me of that Christmas memory.

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  7. Laura, in our hearts for sure. You and I (and the rest of the CQ gang) spend so much time pondering and imagining life in simpler times (at least materially simpler), it's only natural we sometimes long for some of that simplicity... or even the days before internet, tv, and the constant bombardment of advertisers tempting us with Stuff We Just Have To Have Right Now. :) Contentment is the gift I want this year.

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