"The colonial American Christmas differed significantly from contemporary American Christmas
celebrations. Many religious people completely ignored the day. Even after the founding of the
United States, no state recognized Christmas as a legal holiday. Those people who celebrated it anyway did so without Santa Claus, Christmas cards, Christmas trees and elaborate 
Christmas morning gift exchanges. Instead, the most common ways to observe the holiday featured feasting, drinking, dancing, playing games and engaging in various forms of public 
revelry. Although the colonies attracted people from many different countries, English, Ger-
man and Dutch settlers exercised the strongest influence on early American Christmas
celebrations.
 
"Of course, Pennsylvania attracted significant numbers of Dutch and German immigrants. De-
nominational differences divided many of these immigrants on the subject of Christmas. In 
general, the Mennonites, Brethren and Amish rejected Christmas. The Lutherans, Reformed
and Moravians cherished the holiday and honored it with church services and  folk
celebrations. Like their English counterparts in the South, the pro-Christmas communities in 
Pennsylvania ate and drank their way through the Christmas holiday. In addition, both the 
Dutch and the Germans brought a rich tradition of Christmas baking to this country, including 
the making of special Christmas cookies like gingerbread. In fact, the American English word
"cookie" comes from the Dutch word koek, meaning "cake." This in turn gave rise to the term
"koekje, meaning "cookie" or "little cake." 

"German immigrants brought other Christmas customs with them, as well. As early as the mid-
18th century, Moravian communities in Pennsylvania were celebrating the day with Christmas
pyramids. Other early German communities imported the beliefs and customs surrounding the
German folk figures Christkindel and Knecht Ruprecht, whose gift-giving activities delighted 
children. Although the Germans probably also introduced the Christmas tree, no records of 
this custom can be found until the 19th century. 

"In addition to its large German population, Pennsylvania became home to many Scotch-Irish
and Quakers. Both the Scotch-Irish, most of whom were Presbyterians, and the Quakers dis-
approved of Christmas celebrations in general. The Quakers adamantly opposed all raucous 
street revels, including those of German belsnickelers, mummers and masqueraders of all 
kinds. In the 19th century, when Quakers dominated Philadelphia and Pennsylvania state 
governments, they passed laws to prevent noisy merrymaking in the streets at Christmas. 
 
The German Christmas blended lively folk customs with devout religious observances. This 
combination eventually became typical of American Christmas celebrations. At least one re-
searcher has concluded that increased immigration from the German-speaking countries in
the second half of the 18th century profoundly influenced the American Christmas. The increasing number of Germans permitted their balanced approach to Christmas to spead
among the wider population, and so encouraged the festival to flourish in the United States." 
 
 

Contributor:  Carol Moore

Source:  "Christmas in Colonial America"  htttp://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/America,+Christmas+in+Colonial

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The Museum of the American Revolution, which is under construction in Old City, recom-

mends this book by Ron Chernow: Washington: A Life (New York: Penguin Press, 2010).

 

"The Continental Army endured incredible hardships at their winter encampment in Valley Forge from 1777-1778, while 20 miles away the British reveled in their occupation of Philadelphia. George Washington had struggled with the baffling question of where to house his vagabond, threadbare army during the frigid months ahead. The specter of a harsh winter was alarming: four thousand men lacked a single blanket.

 

If Washington withdrew further into Pennsylvania's interior, his army might be secure, but the area already teemed with patriotic refugees from Philadelphia. Such a move would also allow Howe's men to scavenge the countryside outside Philadelphia and batten freely off local

farms. Further complicating his decision was that he had to ensure the safety of two homeless legislatures, now stranded in exile: the Continental Congress in York and the Pennsylvania legislature in Lancaster.

 

""Washington opted for a spot that was fated to become hallowed ground: Valley Forge, a windswept plateau that he would depict as 'a dreary kind of place and uncomfortably provided.' 

 

"Even before Washington arrived there, the Pennsylvania legislature had the cheek to criticize him for taking his men into winter camp, as if he were retiring into plush quarters. But already

on the icy road to Valley Forge, Washington had spotted streaks of blood from his barefoot men, portending things to come.

 

"'I can assure those gentlemen,' Washington wrote testily, 'that it is a much easier and less distressing thing to draw remonstrances in a comfortable room by a good fireside than to occupy a cold bleak hill and sleep under frost and snow without clothes or blankets. However, although they seem to have little feeling for the naked, distressed soldiers, I feel superabundantly for them and from my soul pity those miseries which it is neither in my power to relieve or prevent.' This was a new voice for Washington, reflecting a profound solidarity with his men that went beyond Revolutionary ideology and arose from the special camaraderie of shared suffering."

 

 

 

 

 
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