A Writer's Journey

December 22, 2014

Christmas in Colonial New York

Filed under: off topic — mackenziew @ 12:00 am
Tags: , ,

It’s getting closer. Can you feel it? It’s almost Christmas! Have you finished your Christmas shopping? Have you even started? (Don’t worry if you haven’t). Going to holiday parties? Starting to find the office a bit sparse? Already tired of the same songs playing on the radio? Or are you singing along at the top of your lungs?

It doesn’t matter if you’re being Bob Cratchit or Ebenezer Scrooge, it’s still Christmas. If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you know I’m a big history nerd. How did people of the past celebrate Christmas? How did New Yorkers of the past celebrate Christmas?

Let’s take a look, hmm?

In colonial times, the Christmas season started with the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th. After all, New York was settled by the Dutch. At that time, all businesses would close. They would not reopen until January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany. Yes, a whole month off. Can you imagine? I know I would love that!

Why so much time off? A few reasons, probably. Well, one in my opinion: Because of family. One had to travel a bit to go visiting. So once you got there, you weren’t going anywhere soon. Which was fine. Parties were a common thing at Christmas.

It’s important to note one important difference: Christmas was for adults, not children. Especially with the parties. The children went to bed and the adults celebrated. They feasted, sang songs, danced and played games. Not much has changed, huh?

But it wasn’t all bad for children. They still received presents as did the servants. Adults did not get gifts from them, mostly due to the power imbalance. Children were also often allowed to attend the Twelfth Night parties on January 5th.

These were grand celebrations too. People feasted as they drank wassails—spiced ale. It was also customary to bake a cake that night to be consumed the next day. And people just enjoyed having one last reason to celebrate.

So that was a colonial Christmas. Some things have changed. Some haven’t.

I wish that month off hadn’t changed. It would’ve been really nice.


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