Page 17 - Discover Winter 2023
P. 17

Go anywhere in the United States in                    Given the divide between the early
        mid-December, and the scene is very familiar:          Americans and King George, it’s easy to
        Christmas decorations are everywhere you               understand why the custom was not readily
        look, and people are generally making merry.           adopted on this side of the Atlantic. However,
        There’s a Christmas tree in nearly every window,       there were a fair number of our early citizens
        festooned with twinkling lights and ornaments          who were of German ancestry, so the Christmas
        of all description. Tables are laden with              tree was here, but not widely popular. The
        sumptuous Christmas feasts.                            bottom line is that we had no real widespread
                                                               cultural American Christmas traditions until
               The streets and shopping malls are
                                                               much later. In fact, it wasn’t until 1870 that
        teeming with gift shoppers and seasonal sales.
                                                               President Ulysses S. Grant made Christmas an
        Children’s excitement escalates as the magic
                                                               official Federal holiday, in an attempt to unite
        day approaches. It’s hard to imagine that this
                                                               north and south.
        scenario hasn’t always existed in this country, but
        the truth is that it hasn’t.                                                    The first documented
                                                                                 Christmas tree in the United
               The colonial Puritans and
                                                                                 States was set up by a Harvard
        the Calvinists in Massachusetts
                                                                                 professor in Cambridge,
        and other parts of New England
                                                                                 Massachusetts in the mid-
        took a dim view of making
                                                                                 1830s. Charles Follen was a
        merry at Christmas time. They
                                                                                 political exile from Germany,
        believed that it should be a time
                                                                                 and he brought that tradition
        of fasting and strict rituals. This
                                                                                 here. In 1835, a British writer
        was so dominant a view that in
                                                                                 named Harriet Martineau
        17th century Massachusetts,
                                                                                 wrote of her visit to Follen’s
        people were fined for celebrating
                                                                                 home, complete with details
        the holiday. After it became a
                                                                                 about the tree, a spruce tree
        state, Massachusetts schools and
                                                                                 decorated with candles and
        businesses did not celebrate it at
                                                                                 presents for Follen’s little boy.
                                                                                 The following year, Follen’s
               This was not true in the entirety of the        colleague, Herman Bokum, also a German
        new nation. Many early colonists and citizens          immigrant, wrote a book, “A Stranger’s
        observed Christmas based on the traditions of          Gift”, which featured the first known printed
        their home countries; thus they were anything          illustration of a Christmas tree in this country.
        but uniform. The Christmas tree itself has its
                                                                      Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s
        origins in sixteenth century Germany. Legend
                                                               Christmas tree gained nationwide attention here,
        has it that Martin Luther himself “invented”
                                                               which fueled American newspaper reports about
        the Christmas tree, but it’s only a legend. Prince
                                                               Christmas trees in the 1850s. Of all the various
        Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, is often
                                                               traditions that were brought here, none was more
        credited with the introduction of the festive fir
                                                               universally adopted than the Christmas tree.
        tree to England in 1840, but the earliest known
        example dates back to 1800, when Queen                        This is not to say that antebellum
        Charlotte, the German wife of King George III          Americans did not observe or celebrate
        (remember him?) set up a tree at Queen’s Lodge.        Christmas, only that we were not united with

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