Christmas In Early America

December 01, 2017

Christmas In Early America

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Family, friends and the traditions and spirit that bind us are celebrated for an entire month. Often, hearts are softened, memories are cherished and a bit of magic seems to linger near.

Christmas celebrations and traditions in America have significantly changed since the early days of colonies and newly-founded states. The Spirit of Christmas, however, can be found in any century. Read on. 

1659-1681: Christmas was "illegal" in Puritan-founded Boston for over two decades. You were not allowed to exchange gifts, light a candle or sing a Christmas carol. Demonstrating holiday spirit could cost you up to 5 schillings (approximately $.60 - an ample amount at the time). 

1700's: Dutch immigrants brought the legend of Sinter Klaas, an honorable white-bearded, gift-giving man who was kind to children. 

1773: Santa first appeared in media as St. A Claus.

1804: The New York Historical Society was founded with St. Nicholas as its patron saint. Members of the society engaged in the gift-giving practice during Christmastime brought to the country by the Dutch. 

1836-1838: Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas declare Christmas as a state holiday.

1850-1860's: Christmas appeal intensified with Civil War. Sentimental family yearnings of soldiers matched the celebration of family at Christmastime. Yankee symbols and customs (and their region's control of the publishing trade) led the way in shaping American Christmas.

June 26th, 1870: Christmas declared a federal holiday (June 26th).

1870's: Significant increase in imports (from Germany) of ornaments for tree-decorating. Christmas cards become a December staple in U.S. post offices.

1897: The famous editorial in the New York Sun, "Is There a Santa Claus" is published in September. The answer to this query, "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." became part of American Christmas folklore. 

The question of Virginia and response of Francis Church is worth including and should remind us of the true meaning of Christmas:

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.                      (


Shine On.   -Kimberly












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