Chestnuts roasting against a hearth in the Colonial Williamsburg atmosphere. Trees, with the smell of fresh pine, adorned with handcrafted ornaments to guests visiting the lively town that once housed founders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as they fought to hammer out a new nation. Christmas carolers singing together in the cool December Virginia air. All this paints a beautiful picture of a Colonial Christmas Tradition we enjoy, both as a caricature of the pristine upstanding colonists, and as a testament to holiday traditions that have carried on into our homes in the modern era.
But there is a problem.
This wasn’t the way Colonials celebrated the holiday season. In fact it was a vastly different experience and atmosphere for them then the the hypercharged traditions of decorations, music, food, and customs. Here are some Colonial America Christmas facts you may not have known:
Colonial Christmas In Williamsburg
Christmas was a holiday for adults
Christmas was centered around the adults and not the children in Colonial America. The traditions of Christmas being for children came from non English European influences in the decades after Colonial America.
Christmas Trees were not the main symbol of the holiday season
The Christmas tree, more of a pagan or Germanic ritual, did not emerge as a staple of the holiday season until later.
Decorations Were Austere
Yes, the Colonists had decorations during the modern Yule Tide Season. But
they were centered around natural materials of the day, which found themselves in things like the hanging of the Mistletoe and homemade wreaths. Things like ivy, holly, and berries were some of the things used to adorn these simple displays.
New England Colonists Did not Celebrate Christmas
What? New England, the home of the picturesque Thanksgiving feast with joy, peace, and gratitude between the English and Wampanoag Natives did not celebrate Christmas. It was viewed as a Pagan holiday. There were religious traditions but the marriage of Christianity to a hyper commercialized secular pagan ritual was foreign to the early English settlers.
(Oh and by the way what you know about the first Thanksgiving is also wrong, read about it here)
Santa Claus, the jolly caricature of holiday magic and joy, was foreign to the Williamsburg colonists. It would be awhile before he became the centerpiece to happy children waiting for him to bring him presents.
So What Changed?
A lot of different theories here, each with their own merits. The biggest reason is the company expanded and begin to fill with people of other cultures who did celebrate a much different Christmas than the stoic English settlers. Just like our food, our holiday customs begin to incorporate ideas from other cultures, usually migrating from an ocean or more away.
What Really Happened in Williamsburg during…
So what else is different. Well American history is often abridged and reshaped to fit someone’s specific world view of what they WANT things to be. It is not always the accurate truth.
Williamsburg Walking Tours explores the real Williamsburg and Colonial America through different guided offerings, bringing insight to any Americans who partake in it.