Yes, you read that title correctly. While researching Christmas traditions for my 1783 book, I came across information I may have heard before but obviously never paid attention to. 😉 Back in the day, in New England, celebrating Christmas was strictly forbidden. Why? Because English traditions for the holiday led to excessive drink and revelry, and that was a big no-no in Puritan society. So . . . sorry, folks. No mistletoe, no evergreens, no wassailing.
Luckily, my story takes place in good ol’ Anglican Annapolis and Williamsburg, where the Yuletide season was still full of merry making. Whew! So I got to have a jolly good time exploring the traditions of Christmas that were around back in that particular day.
Christmas trees hadn’t made it across the pond yet, but there would have been mistletoe hanging, evergreen and holly boughs used for decoration, and food and drink aplenty. In the days before Christmas, the poor would have gone wassailing–going door to door with punch that the rich were pretty much obligated to buy. Mostly, this was a chance for the poor to come into the homes of the rich and get a few treats. Holiday parties were also expected to be public for a while, but eventually people stopped publishing their parties in the newspaper to avoid the drunken crowds mobbing them.
What, you wonder, would a typical Christmas look like in 1783 or so? Well, it would start with church. After that, the family would exchange a few gifts of toys or treats or books or the like, then have a feast of local delicacies. In Maryland and Virginia, this would have included oysters, crab dishes, ham, chicken, fruit in wine jelly, biscuits, minced pies, pound cakes, cordials, syllabub, eggnog, and more.
Now, folks back then really knew how to keep a celebration going–the Christmas season extended through New Years and into January. Traditionally it would have ended on the Epiphany (January 6), but folks had so much fun that the parties often extended through the end of the month.
So raise a glass to the good ol’ days, sing a merry tune, and deck the halls with boughs of holly!