December 05, 2009

The Pilgrim's First Christmas Was a Dud (the Second Wasn't Too Great Either)



I can't believe it's December already! Christmas looms on the horizon.

When most people think of Christmas in New England, I'm sure images of sleigh rides, snowy town commons and greenery bedecked houses come to mind.

Maybe that's how things were in the 19th century, but the first Christmas celebrated here was a real downer. The second was pretty bad as well.

The Puritans and Pilgrims, as I wrote last year, did not approve of Christmas. To them, it had no basis in the Bible and was disruptive. December 25 was to be treated like any other other work day. To make sure everyone felt the same way they did, they made Christmas illegal in Massachusetts from 1659 - 1681.

So, the first Christmas in New England went completely uncelebrated. It wasn't until 1621 that some citizens of Plymouth (new arrivals who were not Puritans) tried to enjoy Christmas. Things didn't go well. A chronicle from that time, with many archaic spellings, notes:

"One the day called Chrismasday, the Governor caled them out to worke ... but the most of this new-company excused them selves and said it wente against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor tould them that if they made it mater of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he led-away the rest and left them; but when they came home at noone from their worke, he found them in the streete at play, openly; some pitching the bar; & some at stoole-ball, and shuch like sports. So he went to them, and tooke away their implements ... Since which time nothing has been attempted that way, at least openly."

(The quote is from Christmas in New England by Amy Whorf McGuiggan.)

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