Christmas Celebrations Have Changed A Lot

Reporter in Residence
Monroe Mouse

While in the gift shop perusing some local Civil War journals, I overheard a conversation of a couple who had visited the Mansion for a tour. Here we are in October, and can you believe that they were talking about Christmas? The selection of paper doll costume books had caught their attention. They didn’t have to convince each other that these books would be perfect Christmas gifts for their granddaughters.

This conversation had me reminiscing about Christmases past. The association of Christmas gifts with children did not exist in the English colonies in North America. In fact Christmas did not become the celebration as we know it today until the mid-1800s, especially where children were concerned. It was more a celebration for adults with special meals, the singing of carols, and homes decorated with greens. In the homes of the wealthy, guests were entertained at a Christmas ball.

The Strouds, as Quakers, probably did not celebrate Christmas while adhering to the principle that one day is no more holy than another, as all days are the gift of the most High. Quakers were admonished not join in any public fasts, feasts, so-called “holy-days” or religious festivals.

Children today can thank German immigrants for Christmas celebra-tions that centered on the family and home. In Monroe County, the Pennsylvania Germans introduced the Christmas tree. By the 1820s, the tree in the home at Christmas was becoming more com-mon. Children may have threaded dried apples to hang on the tree. After the holiday season, the apples were eaten as a winter treat. A Putz, complete with hand-carved figures, had a prominent place in churches and later in the home during the Christmas season. It was a way to make children appreciate the Christmas story. The whole family could look forward to hand-made gifts and tasty cookies. In this season of giving, settlers made sure their neighbors had food and gifts for Christmas.

Today’s Santa evolved over many years. The German tradition of Beltznicke (Belsnickel) was a figure to be feared, wearing a hat, wig, and long, heavy coat. In addition to his bag of goodies, he could also carry a switch to "punish" naughty children. Anticipating the Advent season, children dreamt of gifts of nuts, candies, and fruits from Beltznickel who arrived ringing sleigh bells. Parents may have noted a marked improvement in their children’s behavior at this time of year.

All this reminiscing about Christmases past makes me think that I should be selecting gifts from the
MCHA gift shop for my young friends.