Our Ancestor's Less Recognizable Christmas, Who Knew?

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
tree frank snip 1864.jpg

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!

christms 1812 american tree.jpg

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.
book olden alms crop.jpg



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.

wassail bowl pic.jpg

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.

mummers.jpg


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
toys tree family.jpg




Getting long, next 5 ( or so ), another post.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
7. Yule logs. While there doesn't seem to have been the half-an-oak tree procession and celebration common in days of yore-yore ( a long time ago ) , this tradition of keeping a log burning at least through Christmas Day hadn't gone away by the 1860's. It depended on whether you had access to a tree plus a fireplace- we still tried. Saw one the other day- an eggless cake rolled up with brown icing. Pretty sure no one will know what it is in another 10 Christmases.
ten yule2.jpg


8. Games! We loved games. One in particular was played and delighted in, THE traditional Christmas game. " Snapdragon ". You set fire to a bowl of confection- raisins, currents, brown sugar etc. While hot, children tested themselves by snatching hot, dried fruit from the bowl.
yule snapdragon.JPG

And sang a song!
yule snapdragon 2.JPG
 

Mrs. V

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 5, 2017
View attachment 338866
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!

View attachment 338872
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.
View attachment 338871


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.

View attachment 338868
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.

View attachment 338870

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
View attachment 338873



Getting long, next 5 ( or so ), another post.
I had the great pleasure of caroling this year, and will do it again next year if I am able. It’s so fun. I need to get a group together...
 

diane

Retired User
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
We used to have some strings of 'lights', probably dating around the CW, from my dad's grandmother - she was from Virginia. They were little tin cups. You strung them around and put candles in the little cups. On Christmas Eve, the candles were lit and people sang carols around the tree. :eek: Our ancestors were daring - that star the shepherds saw shining in the east might have been the family Christmas tree!
 
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Location
central NC
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.

Wonderful thread Annie!!! Church bells ringing always affect me. I love to hear them.
 

Mrs. V

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 5, 2017
We used to have some strings of 'lights', probably dating around the CW, from my dad's grandmother - she was from Virginia. They were little tin cups. You strung them around and put candles in the little cups. On Christmas Eve, the candles were lit and people sang carols around the tree. :eek: Our ancestors were daring - that star the shepherds saw shining in the east might have been the family Christmas tree!
My Mom talks about the candles on the christmas tree. I have two of those Victorian candle holders on my tree..unlit of course. I put birthday cake candles in them. Very pretty. To have a whole tree lit that way? Fabulous!
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Wonderful thread Annie!!! Church bells ringing always affect me. I love to hear them.


Do they still do them down your way? I'd give a lot ( a LOT ) to hear that again. In the UK they rang those things in peals for major events, too and they always get to you. OK, so this dates me. They did it when when Charles and Di were married, again when Prince William was born. The deep history of the whole thing just flattens you.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
My Mom talks about the candles on the christmas tree. I have two of those Victorian candle holders on my tree..unlit of course. I put birthday cake candles in them. Very pretty. To have a whole tree lit that way? Fabulous!


I'd be so jumpy, candles right on the tree! Could you imagine? Do yours have those metal guards behind them? Even with those it had to be risky!
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
We used to have some strings of 'lights', probably dating around the CW, from my dad's grandmother - she was from Virginia. They were little tin cups. You strung them around and put candles in the little cups. On Christmas Eve, the candles were lit and people sang carols around the tree. :eek: Our ancestors were daring - that star the shepherds saw shining in the east might have been the family Christmas tree!


Right? I've always, always wondered if our ancestors worried the entire day instead of enjoying it. Good grief. In our house, 2 massive dogs, a cat and a lot of action 24/7, last around 10 minutes.

I had the great pleasure of caroling this year, and will do it again next year if I am able. It’s so fun. I need to get a group together...


Love to see the tradition revived! I've seen groups dressed in Victorian garb making the rounds but in the past 10 years no say, church group or neighborhood. Bet it'd catch on again.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
8. Cutting the greens. This was a ' thing ' although cutting the mistletoe sounds Southern? We'd go out to cut boughs of pine, ravage holly trees, get some laurel and bring it home. I remember homes where greenery was the chief decoration, on mantles, wrapped around stair rails, a bunch hung on your front door with a ribbon. I make our wreaths but can do it because we live smack in the middle of the woods. Tougher now, between private property and so many homes in various developements, not to mention cities. Public parks object to the idea....

mistletoe cutting crop.jpg
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
9. Midnight service, apologies to those who still go. It's just not practiced to the degree it was in the past. 150 years ago, it was Christmas Eve. Service began before midnight, ended after midnight with ' Joy to the World '. We had a husband/wife pair of ministers from NC who recreated this every year. Most striking service I've ever seen. Candlelight- 150 years later it was called ' candlelight service ', our ancestors had no choice.

sleigh moon.JPG
 
Joined
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Location
PA
7. Yule logs. While there doesn't seem to have been the half-an-oak tree procession and celebration common in days of yore-yore ( a long time ago ) , this tradition of keeping a log burning at least through Christmas Day hadn't gone away by the 1860's. It depended on whether you had access to a tree plus a fireplace- we still tried. Saw one the other day- an eggless cake rolled up with brown icing. Pretty sure no one will know what it is in another 10 Christmases.
View attachment 338877

8. Games! We loved games. One in particular was played and delighted in, THE traditional Christmas game. " Snapdragon ". You set fire to a bowl of confection- raisins, currents, brown sugar etc. While hot, children tested themselves by snatching hot, dried fruit from the bowl.
View attachment 338882
And sang a song!
View attachment 338883
What a great post! Thank you so much. Merry Christmas.
 

James N.

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… 8. Games! We loved games. One in particular was played and delighted in, THE traditional Christmas game. " Snapdragon ". You set fire to a bowl of confection- raisins, currents, brown sugar etc. While hot, children tested themselves by snatching hot, dried fruit from the bowl.
We used to have some strings of 'lights', probably dating around the CW, from my dad's grandmother - she was from Virginia. They were little tin cups. You strung them around and put candles in the little cups. On Christmas Eve, the candles were lit and people sang carols around the tree. :eek: Our ancestors were daring - that star the shepherds saw shining in the east might have been the family Christmas tree!
I'd be so jumpy, candles right on the tree! Could you imagine? Do yours have those metal guards behind them? Even with those it had to be risky!
Wouldn't OSHA have LOVED that! Aren't we lucky that we live in a time where our Government "protects" us from such obvious hazards!
 

Mrs. V

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Joined
May 5, 2017
I'd be so jumpy, candles right on the tree! Could you imagine? Do yours have those metal guards behind them? Even with those it had to be risky!
No they are just little tin holders with a clip on the bottom. At one time they were colored, but most of the color has faded. When you think about it, the trees would have been fresh, so much less likely to be dry and nasty. And I bet they were not in the house for very long either.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Wouldn't OSHA have LOVED that! Aren't we lucky that we live in a time where our Government "protects" us from such obvious hazards!


I know this is off thread- I think OSHA's teeth have been filed. Remember when they were the terror of the seas, as it were. OH NO, they're comingggggg. Had them show up at our barn? Ate cookies. That was so weird, in the old days it was raw meat.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
No they are just little tin holders with a clip on the bottom. At one time they were colored, but most of the color has faded. When you think about it, the trees would have been fresh, so much less likely to be dry and nasty. And I bet they were not in the house for very long either.


That makes sense. Yes, we get our tree fresh, cut from the lot. It's always very fresh, probably would be unlikely to whoosh into flame. Which is another item on the list- why ours can so gosh darn fragile anyway.

9. When the tree went up- Christmas trees went up Christmas Eve. When I was a kid no one put on up before say, Dec. 20th or so, either. This day-after-Thanksgiving thing is fairly new. Trees also stayed up ( or were supposed to ) until Jan 6 ( I think? )

This was just post-war, Santa bringing the tree. Another Nast.

tree harpers.JPG
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
What a great post! Thank you so much. Merry Christmas.


Thank you! Merry Christmas back from another Pennsylvania-er. Is that a word? Let me guess, yet another western PA member? Husband's Pittsburgh- it sounds like kids there are nearly born immersed in history. I thought my teachers did an awesome job getting this stuff into our heads, what he was given makes them look like slackers. ( really long time ago..... )
 

robreuss

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Oct 12, 2012
Location
Berkeley, CA
I love all the dogs! I'm fascinated by the difference in how dogs were regarded over time. I think so many dogs at that time were working dogs, often kept outside in a barn (a pretty good life I suspect). But it's lovely to see in these images canines included in domestic life, and a key celebration.
 

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