by Denise Weimer
As we approach Christmas, we might venture to say that most Americans, certainly those with a Christian heritage, eagerly anticipate the celebration of the holiday. However, in the early days, those of different denominational backgrounds were much more sharply divided about whether to celebrate Christmas or not.
Many early Puritans and later Protestants saw Christmas as a holiday created by the Catholic pope. Plus, the celebration led to unseemly revelry. The Scottish Presbyterians were among the skeptical, although over the years, they began to allow some religious observations after seeing other denominations celebrate. They might sing some hymns by Isaac Watts, even though he was Congregationalist.
Revelers traveled in noisy groups on Christmas, Second Christmas (the day after), and New Year’s Eve morning. Sometimes these groups were called “fantasticals” or New Year’s Wishers, and they might wear costumes, carry noisemakers, and fire guns. At times, they would set out at midnight on New Year’s Eve and stop outside the windows of neighbors, asking to grant the family a wish. After the spokesman offered a blessing and they group fired guns, they might go inside for brandy, rum punch, wassail, mince pies, or cakes. Twelfth Night, January fifth, was an occasion for many fancy balls and weddings.
Shortly before Christmas, a room of the house would be closed to children while the adults prepared the putz, a display of moss, evergreen, laurel, and a grotto with a manger scene including the magi and a star.
On Christmas Eve, Moravians held a “love feast,” primarily a song service opened in prayer. Sometimes there would be two, the earlier one for children with a simple lesson and the hymn “Morning Star.” The evening service could include an address by the minister and singing of “Silent Night.” Then coffee or tea was passed in mugs from the aisle, followed by a slightly sweetened bun. Men distributed the mugs, women the baskets of bread. Children would sing verses they memorized, then be presented a gift. Finally, cream-colored candles tied with red ribbons were lit and taken home. Christmas Day heralded another morning service in which string or brass bands might provide music.
Read more about the Moravians in my marriage of convenience romance, The Witness Tree, https://www.amazon.com/Witness-Tree-Denise-Weimer/dp/1645260623/ .
Denise Weimer writes historical and contemporary romance from her home in North Georgia and also serves as a freelance editor and the Acquisitions & Editorial Liaison for Wild Heart Books. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses.
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