Did you know that many early settlers did not put up Christmas trees? As a matter of fact, Christmas was not declared a Federal holiday until June 26, 1870. Prior to the Civil War, those in the North mostly saw celebrating Christmas as a sin. In the early 1800s a Christmas riot broke out in New York City. It was thought of as a pagan holiday. Oddly enough, the Southern states embraced the holiday. The first three states to declare Christmas a legal holiday were Alabama in 1836; Louisiana and Arkansas in 1838. Still celebrations did not resemble those of today.
A story familiar to me is one about a school teacher who realized that many of her students had never seen a Christmas Tree. She rode horseback to the nearest town and using what few coins she had saved from her meager salary, bought material for decorations as well as a tiny gift for each student. She then asked some of the older boys to go into the woods and cut down a likely cedar tree. They brought it back to the one-room log school and the children made decorations of paper chains, strung popcorn and berries from the woods. Families were invited to join in the festivities by bringing food and the gifts were presented to the children by Santa. For some, this was the first time they had seen a decorated tree or met Santa. The date? Christmas, 1920 in the Ozarks.
It wouldn’t be until after the Civil War that the celebration began to take on the connotations we see today. Decorations, caroling and shopping began to grow in popularity. Even so, those who headed West rarely carried with them a need to celebrate Christmas. The religious celebrations centered around churches and schools, but rarely moved into the small settlements that sprung up in the West during the great Westward Movement.
So, when you read western historical romances, you might think about their way of life and how very different it was from the way we live today.
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For a history of how Christmas celebrations began in America.