Thursday, December 17, 2015

How Did Cavendish’s Settlers Celebrate Christmas?

The first settlers in Cavendish, including the “pioneer” families (squatters), along with the Coffeens, Duttons and Proctors, most likely didn’t celebrate Christmas.

Since the Bible provides no reference as to when Christ was born, early Christians used the winter solstice customs as a way to convert “pagans.“ Many Christmas customs date back to Saturnalia-the Roman festival of light leading to the winter solstice and Sol Invictus, the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun.”

Throughout history, humans have observed solstice and created spiritual and cultural traditions to celebrate the rebirth of sunlight after the darkest period of the year.

While the Catholic Church embraced Christmas, along with the Anglicans, Lutherans and Dutch Reformed, Puritans banned it. The Puritan argued that the selection of the date was an early Christian hijacking of a Roman festival, and to celebrate a December Christmas was to “defile oneself by paying homage to a pagan custom.”

For a while in 17th century New England, Christmas was illegal. Eighteenth century New Englanders viewed Christmas as the representation of “royal officialdom, external interference in local affairs, dissolute behavior, and an impediment to their holy mission.”

Once legal, Christmas celebrations were discouraged. It is unlikely that the early settlers in Cavendish would have openly celebrated Christmas since they were not of the faiths that did-Coffeen and Dutton were Universalists-nor was it “politically correct.”

It wasn’t until about 1840-1850 that celebrating Christmas became more widespread. Though, as late as 1870, classes were scheduled in Boston public schools on Christmas Day and children were punished if they chose to “stay home beneath the Christmas tree.” That same year, December 25, was declared a federal holiday in the US.

Brief timeline

1823 Clement C. Moore wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (known today as “The Night Before Christmas”) for his children. He was an American Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature at the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church. The poem becomes widely circulated and sets many of the ideas about Santa Claus.

1836 Alabama was the first state to legally recognize Christmas

Victorian Christmas
1839 Prince Albert, native of Germany married Victoria ushering in the Victorian age of Christmas customs, including the Christmas tree. 

1840s Irish workers on the railroads brought their families to settle in Cavendish and held services in their homes whenever a priest was available. They would have brought their Christmas traditions with them. It wouldn’t be until 1860 before they had a church-Holy Name of Mary.

1843 John Calcott Horsley illustrated the first Christmas card, which read “A Merry Christmas and a
First printed Christmas card.
Happy New Year.” Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol” in London.

1847 August Imgard, a German immigrant, used candy canes to decorate a Christmas tree in Wooster, Ohio

1870 Christmas becomes a Federal holiday.

1890 All states and US Territories acknowledge Christmas as a legal holiday.

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