Colonial Christmas Customs

How far back does your family tree go? It is possible that you may have identified ancestors who lived in the thirteen colonies. The way your ancestors celebrated Christmas is likely different than how your family celebrates it today.

In eighteenth century colonial Virginia, people celebrated Christmas by going to church. Later, they had a great dinner and then attended a party where there would be music and dancing. At the time, Christmas was not considered to be a holiday for children. Children were not invited to the balls or other entertainments.

Decorations in people’s homes were minimal, and may have consisted of nothing more than a piece of holly affixed to the windowpane. Mistletoe was always featured.

Churches, however were decorated with many garlands of holly, ivy, mountain laurel, and mistletoe. The custom was called “sticking of the Church”. The green garlands were hung from the church roof, the walls, and the church pillars and galleries. The pews, pulpit and alter were decorated with garlands. Lavender, rose petals, and pungent herbs were scattered through the church (in place of incense).

The Christmas season lasted longer than most Americans celebrate it today. It was a 40-day cycle that began on December 25, when people celebrated the Nativity of Jesus.

There were several other holy days celebrated including January 1 (The Circumcision of Jesus), January 6 (The Epiphany of Jesus), and February 2, (The Purification of the Virgin). In addition, some saint’s days were celebrated, and Holy Innocents Day (December 28). As such, it makes sense that people would want the church to be decorative and pleasant smelling.

Not all colonists celebrated Christmas. The Puritans banned celebrating Christmas in the colonies, and it was not legalized again until 1681. After legalization, Puritans did not decorate or give gifts. They kept their businesses and public schools open on Christmas Day.

Related Articles at

* Colonial Early Church Records

* Hometown Traditions at Christmas Time

* Cultural Christmas Customs

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