Christmas, 1864. If we walked into our ancestors' Christmas it would look like this. As familiar as the scene seems, a lot has changed over 150 years
Feel guilty not posting in the forums I should be working on but a. can't figure out a way to stuff the topic into Ladies Tea and b. Not enough photographs pertaining to this subject. Tons of artwork!
American Christmas breakfast, 1812, trees sure had evolved by the 1860's.
Love seeing decorations go up every year. From restrained, simple white lights 'n wreaths to the full blast of Santa's sleigh on a roof, plastic camels, donkeys and cradle on the yard, blinking, multicolored lights running into the sky and blow-up, 15 feet tall snowmen, love all of it. Swear this is true- 2 yards have Yule unicorns, one sparkling plastic with glowing wings, the other a disembodied pastel striped head and legs spring skyward from the ground. Whatever your taste these are displays of joy. I like that.
Got me thinking, how'd we get here? I mean, which Christmas traditions, customs and symbols have been carried forward into 2019 and what's been left by history's wayside? No intention of going back to Day 1, it's an American Civil War forum. How different was this season 150 years ago? Instantly recognizable by my great great grandparents, what would be confusing if we were given the ability to spend the day with them?
Intended 10, it'll be a few more. No particular order.
1. Newsboys and boot blacks feast, an extension of giving alms to the poor. Newsboys and boot blacks were frequently homeless children, if living in a box makes you homeless. ( it does ). Dickensian England was ours, too. Poor families stuffed in multiple layer misery in basic and attics spilled over- 6 and 8 and 10 year old boys earned scant livings on the streets.You didn't enjoy your own Christmas without first making a alms-giving trek. An annual tradition was this open invitation feast, newsboys and boot blacks only, organized by churches, civic groups or just, plain softies who took this op to feed homeless children.
While we see wonderful efforts to make Christmas , Christmas for those who can't afford it,it's no longer a kind of non-optional part of our day. It was 150 years ago. There's a touch of nobles oblige in this image depicting an even earlier Christmas Day alms giving, still, we DID this as part of our holiday.
2. Creche sets, baby Jesus at midnight, anyone remember? Some churches still set up creche sets, favorite part of the midnight service was bringing baby Jesus in doll form to lay in the cradle. Yes, I understand I'm listing something religiously based but honestly, it's what the word Christmas means- Christ's mass.
Most Christmas-keeping families had a creche set, traditional tiny dolls added Christmas morning. Also something missing 150 years later.Yes, they're still around, not as common or part of traditional celebrations.
3.Wassail- this surprised me. I'd had an idea wassail wasn't around 150 years ago, not as hot-alcohol in a bowl Wassail passed from hand to hand anyway. I can't find where anyone carried it around wassailing with neighbors, as our ancestors' ancestors did- but we made it, passed it and drank it.
My parents made it every year, by then mugs were dipped in a bowl on the stove. Guessing wassail makes an appearance in 2019, a token of Christmas past but it's not a general part of the celebration.
What is was 150 years isn't what it was 500 years before that- what I want to know is who carried that bowl. Tradition has vanished, heck, we don't see carolers much any more, either.
4. Masquerades, mumming. Harper's ran an image indicative of ' Mummers ', i.e. dressing up and participating in a big, joyful parade. It looks like Halloween. Definition of mummers states it was a community celebration beginning in the 18th century, where working class families paraded around their city. It was much, much earlier- pre-Christmas, a pagan celebration and part Saturnalia. Yes, 150 years ago we were still at it.
There's the Philly Mummer's Day parade, beyond that it's been missing from traditional practice for decades. NY Volunteers, mumming in 1864. Frank Leslie's Christmas edition that year.
5. Ringing of the bells- lived in the UK and would do it again just to hear those darn bells. Watch any edition of " A Christmas Carol '. Last scenes always begin with the pealing bells of Christmas morning as a background. Churches duel, RINGringringring, down the scale, RINGringringring. It's THE most marvelous, seriously moving mega experience of the whole day. You still heard it here and there in this country, decades ago. Then some bright, misguided spark invented tinned bells and scratchy carols to play over a loud speaker from church towers. Not the same.
6. Presents ON the tree. We're still bringing trees home, either piney smelling real trees or the ones delivered via Amazon. There's a difference. In ' days of yore ', yore being 150 years ago, the family presents were tied to the tree as decorations. Presents have changed a little too- 150 years a clove-punctured orange was a very nice gift. You used them to scent your underwear drawer all year ' round.Boy am I old. We made these as kids. Still remember how sore your thumb became punching whole cloves through an orange a few hundred times
Getting long, next 5 ( or so ), another post.