Christmas: Then and Now

wreath2Christmas in Williamsburg circa 1770s. Christmas in Williamsburg 2014.

How are they different? How are they the same?

The two holiday seasons are the same in many ways. Many of us still gather with family and friends, head to Grandma’s (or our sister’s) house for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day food and fun. We still roast chestnuts (sometimes) and (some) of us still string popcorn around our Christmas tree.

Many of us go to church Christmas Day and open presents before or afterwards, just as Williamsburg’s residents of Colonial times did. We still eat pumpkin pie after stuffing ourselves with turkey or roast beef, yams, bread pudding, bean, etc.

But how was the holiday different in Colonial times?

Gifts. Most children were thrilled to receive candy and perhaps books for Christmas presents. Gifts numbered no more than four or five items. Rather than place gifts under a tree or inside a stocking hung by the fireplace, parents would place the gifts in their children’s shoes. In addition, the children didn’t give gifts to their parents – the gift-giving was done only by parents.

Decorations. Forget about placing a six-foot tall igloo with smiling penguin made out of polyurethane and filled with gas on your front lawn. Not to mention covering the outside of your home with colored lights (and then synching the blinking of the lights to go with recorded carols). Colonists decorated their homes with things nearby: Boughs from fir trees, berries, blossoms, and candles in windows (still a tradition, although they tend to be of the battery-powered kind).

Plan a trip to Williamsburg

Williamsburg continues this decorative style today, covering the city in beautiful fir boughs, wreaths, red berries, and candles in windows. In fact, during the Grand Illumination, Colonial Williamsburg is aglow with candlelight. The Illumination is not to be missed – be sure it’s on your personal bucket list!

Christmas Was “Just” 12 Days Long, and it Started on Christmas Day. Modern holiday celebrations seem to start even before Halloween (your local department decorated with red and green on Oct. 30, anyone?) and many people start shopping in earnest the day after Thanksgiving with massive sales on a day known as Black Friday.

Colonists, however, really didn’t start celebrating until just before Christmas, even as “late” as Christmas Day itself. They then celebrated the “12 days of Christmas” after December 25.

Eating and Drinking. We know you attend a lot of holiday parties, both at work and with your friends and family. The cakes! The cookies! The pies! The cheeses! The wines! And So.Much. More! If you lived in Williamsburg in Colonial times there would have been none of that – at least none until Christmas Day itself. Why? Many residents of Virginia were of the Anglican Church and members fasted at different times until the main Christmas Day meal. Imagine even trying to do that today!

If you’ve never seen Williamsburg during the holiday season, we urge you to consider doing so for Holiday 2012. We’ll put you in a true Holiday Spirit and you and your family members will remember your time with us for decades to come. Book a stay with one of our bed and breakfast inns today!

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