The traditional Christmas celebrations of today are unlike the ones from the colonial period. Today we have millions of presents mixed with countless parties and parades. The shopping season begins in the fall and continues right up to Christmas Eve. People travel thousands of miles to be with their families on Christmas morn. 2021 is quite a difference from 1751.
To identify colonial Christmas traditions, one must separate each colony from the other. The British colonies are unique, just as we are as individuals. To say that Pennsylvania is the same as Maryland would be false. Each province depends on its citizens for wealth, growth, and sustainability. The different personalities as a whole create an atmosphere filled with social traditions. Society continuously blends the key ingredients forming daily customs. One of these is Christmas.
For the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Puritans ruled the population. All new arrivals agreed to strict morals and working habits. This agreement and acceptance allowed them to become neighbors and future peers in the community. In 1659, all Christmas celebrations were banned and fined up to 5 shillings per violation. Twenty-two years later, the removal of the ban somewhat restored Christmas. The 1680 decade witnessed many changes for the colony, but the ban lift in 1681 resulted from two major deciding factors. First, steadfast opinionated views of the new arrivals were no match against the decreasing older generation. Second, the new arrivals were quickly becoming the majority in the colony. Christmas won the battle, but the war raged on.
Separate from the Puritans, Christmas varied depending on the individual’s customs and traditions. For the families living in the less settled areas of North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia, Christmas was a quiet holiday. Many of these families attended church services on Christmas Eve, followed by a feast. Old Christmas, January 6th, was popular among those families who did not care to follow the new Gregorian calendar beginning in 1752 for the British colonies. The time focused on the birth of Jesus Christ. The Moravians, Quakers, Baptists, Catholics, and Methodists responded with festive Christmas Eve services.
The northern colonies and coastal towns spanning along the Atlantic coast began viewing Christmas differently during the mid-18th-century. More parties emerged, and wassailing was common. Christmastide began in Virginia, and mischievous acts would become a local tradition. Christmas trees would appear decorated outside in Pennsylvania. But, for the frontier families, Christmas meant peace, love, worship, and prayers for the future.