Posts tagged " traditions "

valentine's day williamsburg virginia

Valentine’s Day In Colonial Williamsburg

February 6th, 2017 Posted by colonial history, colonial traditions, valentine's day, williamsburg No Comment yet

colonial williamsburg dating traditionsOf all the topics looking at daily life in Williamsburg, courtship and dating don’t jump out as particularly engaging topics. Yes, all cultures have courtship or dating rituals. This being the month of Valentines Day I felt it appropriate to at least try and promulgate the way this aspect of socialization and life was for the English settler and colonist in Williamsburg, Virginia.

But from the outset I had trepidation about doing it. Not because I am afraid I will discover stories that are too torrid for The Williamsburg Walking Tour blog, but fear that the subject may be too stoic and boring. In fact, when I look at the fashions of the 18th century, I am not exactly seeing the club scene.

Corsets, firm religious values, head to toe clothing, manual labor, and the rigors of modern life do not immediately lead me to believe that eros love was really on the mind of the colonist in York County or Williamsburg. But this is not totally true. As always things are not historically the way we think they should be, but follow a different somewhat less predictable route.

Survival First: Love & Life in the Jamestown Settlement

“Love” in the colonies does start out that way. In fact some of the sources I found portrayed life in the Jamestown Settlement to be focused on word “survival”. Not a lot of courting when life is a daily struggle to eat and survive. Thus, marriage was as much about keeping the population going as satisfying the need to be together. But as time went on this started to change.

Valentine’s Day In The Colonies: Fact or Fiction

The historical record of Jamestown did not surprise me, but what did was the role of Valentine’s Day in the 18th Century. I was almost sure that Valentine’s Day was a commercialized rip off of the exploits of the valiant St. Valentine, who was killed because he married people when marriage was outlawed. I just assumed the holiday was puffed up in the 1920s,1940s, or 1950s into the card and candy creation we celebrate today. I was certain that stoic Williamsburg Settlers had no interest in a fluff holiday like Valentine’s Day. But again, this was not so…

The Colonists Did Do SOME of the things we do today as part of the Valentine’s holiday shindig. According to an article I saw on the History Channel website here are some unexpected facts about the Valentine’s traditions in America.

  1. Colonists did exchange handwritten notes expressing love and feelings
  2. Americans started exchanging them as early as 1700s
  3. Members of all social classes did this

What? Weren’t arranged marriages the way of the world in these times. There is no sending Valentines when you are betrothed to a partner you haven’t even seen until the day you walked down the aisle. But as I researched further I found a statistic which kind of summed up how arranged marriages did not affect every Colonist, or even a majority. In fact this statistic kind of shocks me. It stated:

“30 to 40 percent of American brides were pregnant at their weddings.”

This has be a misprint, but it is not. Apparently love finds a way, even in an era of arranged marriages. In fact I would call this the age of musket weddings(instead of shotgun weddings) since I cannot see any Dad, in ANY era, not pressuring the beau to walk down aisle with his paramour when his grandchild is in utero.

And as I thought about it I am not as surprised as I was at first. I mean we are a rebellious unruly people. We rebelled against a King and the most powerful empire of the day over taxes and our right to be represented. If we would do that, rebelling against Dad and Mom about who you are going to date is probably not that big a deal.

And as I continued to research (I am not even going to touch Bundling bags), there is more and more evidence of a dating independence starting as the Colonies expanded in a new world with no caste and completely malleable social order. I guess this is just another case where we as Americans do things our way. And by our way we follow our passions, on the battlefield, in the state houses, and…the bedroom.

 


Bibliography

Cooper, R. (2013) 5 courtship rituals from colonial America. Available at: http://theweek.com/articles/462497/5-courtship-rituals-from-colonial-america (Accessed: 1 February 2017).
History.com (2009) ‘History of Valentine’s day’, history.com, .

 

Citations, Quotes & Annotations

Cooper, R. (2013) 5 courtship rituals from colonial America. Available at: http://theweek.com/articles/462497/5-courtship-rituals-from-colonial-america (Accessed: 1 February 2017).

(Cooper, 2013)

“30 to 40 percent of American brides were pregnant at their weddings.” (Cooper, 2013)

Note: from article about out of wed lock marriage

History.com (2009) ‘History of Valentine’s day’, history.com, .
(History.com, 2009)

Williamsburg Christmas Traditions

December 14th, 2016 Posted by Christmas, traditions, williamsburg No Comment yet

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 Who?

Santa Claus, the jolly caricature of holiday magic and joy, was foreign to the christmas-1887306__340Williamsburg 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.

clifton_mill_christmas_2005What 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.

Come Take the Tour!

References