|My wife, Lisa, and me at Stockbridge|
Caroling, which included dancing, was popular and pantomime plays that often included comic cross-dressing were staged. Holly was an iconic decoration because the sharp points on its leaves were reminiscent of the crown of thorns and because its white berries, which turned red, symbolized Christ's blood.
The Puritans objected to Christmas celebrations because they considered them to be unbiblical. They felt the Catholic Church had superimposed the event onto the pagan winter solstice festival and adopted its customs. Consequently, they believed celebrating the holiday jeopardized their own salvation.
Partly to escape this, the Puritans fled to America and brought their animus against Christmas celebrations with them. This was serious business: celebrating the birth of Jesus was actually banned in Boston. Until the late 19th century most New Englanders were descended from the Puritans, inherited the beliefs and kept Christmas mundane.
In the 1800's America was rapidly industrializing and the family became a place of refuge from the outside world. Christmas was seen as a way to bring families together and the exchange of presents among family members became common. The holiday evolved to include festive meals, Christmas trees, decorations, gift giving and....fruitcake! Christmas has been an official national holday since 1870 and is even celebrated in Boston.
Immigrants brought their old country traditions over and the changes continued. The Christmas tree was introduced by Germans and became popularized by Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, who occupied the British throne but were of German descent. Other nationalities enriched the mix with their own practices.
Norman Rockwell painted America as we see it in our hearts. One of his pieces is "Main Street at Christmas" and it depicts downtown Stockbridge, MA. My wife and I visited the town's annual re-creation of the scene. Vintage cars lined the street, a Christmas tree was displayed in Rockwell's old studio, a 1955 Mercury Montclair with a newly cut tree on its roof sat in front of the stately Red Lion Inn. A crowd packed tiny Saint Paul's Church to hear high schoolers perform and Santa Claus arrived on a firetruck. The Londontown Carolers, dressed in 19th century garb, sang traditional songs. Everyone was in good cheer.