Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Brief History of Christmas Part 2 -- Christmas in America

After the Protestant Reformation, Christmas celebrations in non-Catholic nations became much more sober and church-based, shedding much of the trappings of the ancient solstice festivals which the early church had absorbed. The Puritans did not celebrate Christmas at all, since there was no biblical basis for a December celebration, and they considered it nothing but Popery (not far from paganism, in their view). To this day, some Protestant sects (notably the Seventh Day Adventists) do not celebrate Christmas.

The New England colonies were largely founded by Puritans, and some had laws on the books in the 17th century forbidding Christmas celebrations. Most colonists, however, followed mainstream English post-reformation Christmas traditions.

The German states did not shed their old Yule traditions, keeping their tannenbaums and hot mulled wine. During the American Revolution, England employed Hessian mercenaries to help subdue the rebellious colonists. General George Washington was an educated man who knew that the Hessians would have a raucous celebration on Christmas Eve. He led his troops across the semi-frozen Delaware River and attacked the Hessians' quarters on Christmas Day, while they were hungover from their traditional Christmas Eve overindulgence. It was a significant victory for the Continental Army.

Although the American states became politically independent from England, we continued to evolve together culturally. When Victoria became Queen of England in 1837, she was courted by (and soon married) her German cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Albert brought German Christmas traditions to the royal court, and it became fashionable for everyone in England (and eventually in the United States as well) to have a Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas to you and your family, no matter how you choose to celebrate it.

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