Christmas Past & Present
I know that it is just about Thanksgiving, but the momentum has already begun toward Christmas. Thanksgiving in America lights the Christmas Season fuse. While shopping is surely dampened due to the sour economy, communities are celebrating. I thought you might like to see what Williamsburg and Jamestown Virginia have scheduled. For those who have never visited, Jamestown is America's first settlement, and Williamsburg is the nation's first capital, just a few miles inland.
"By Ashley Gayle
Monday, November 23, 2009 2:00 PM EST
Former Colonial Williamsburg historian Harold Gill documents early settlers celebrating Christmas, quoting John Smith in 1609, who wrote “Christmas amongst the Salvages: where wee were never more merrie, nor fedde on more plentie of good oysters, fish, flesh, wild fowle, and good bread, nor better fires in England then in the drie warme smokie houses of Kecoughtan.”
Christmas was celebrated in early days of Williamsburg, but to what extent and how have colonial customs changed or with time?
For modern families the Christmas celebration usually last two days, with most celebrating on the 24th and 25th of December. Although decorations are placed prior to these dates and the holiday parties begin weeks in advance, the actual date recognized by today’s Christians is December 25.
In 1609, when John Smith recorded details concerning his Christmas celebration, the date was actually much later.
According to historian Denis Montgomery, “Christmas began December 25 and lasted through Twelfth Night, or January 6. The New Style calendar, which we employ, as at the time did continental Europe, ran ten days in advance of Smith's. So, by our reckoning, his party with the Kecoughtans began January 10, 1610.”
History buffs know that Christmas of 1609 was not the first celebrated in Virginia, since the settlers arrived two years prior in 1607. John Smith’s recording happens to be one of the first documentations describing the holiday in colonial times. History often begins when something is written down, not necessarily signifying a historical beginning.
Despite confusion over the exact time or place of Smith’s Christmas in Virginia, the message he conveys is surprisingly similar to how many people of today would describe their holiday celebrations. Friends gathered in a warm and comforting space to share good food, drink and be merry.
Gill writes of comments visitors to the area made of Christmas in Virginia in the 18th century stating, “It seems Virginians observed the occasion with balls, parties, visits, and good food. Thomas Jefferson wrote December 25, 1762, that Christmas was a ‘day of greatest mirth and jollity.’”
Human wants have changed over the years, but human needs have remained the same.
As material culture has evolved, so has the gift giving season, but the fundamental elements of Christmas that remain apart of the celebration today, such as good food, family and friends, and religious reflection remain an integral part of the holiday."