18th Century Holiday Traditions

Modern society holiday traditions are marked by lights, lighted trees, gifts, parties, and fattening up the fourth quarter of retailers bottom lines. Where did it come from? How did it all begin? With so much focus on the birth of Christ the meaning of Christmas lost the real meaning of the Holiday Season. Through the research of this writer, well the mention of the bible wasn’t the only focus of the season. There were other sides to celebrating the holiday’s. Of course Church was a primary focus of how people lived, but celebrating the holiday had other meanings as well. (I’m not  trying to debunk the meaning of Christmas so don’t start blasting me with religious beliefs and I’ve lost my way comments. Each person has their own meaning of the holiday’s, this post is about the HOLIDAY SEASON not Christmas Day. I’m just a curious person who seeks American history traditions)

There are many stories and theories of how the holiday’s marked the mid-winter festive season. When did Santa Claus come about (American Tradition) How did the Christmas tree with a star on top come about? (German, then became widespread around the world from a photo in Windsor Castle in 1848) and why do we display a circle greenery of garland on our door? (Dated back as far as the ancient Romans). Source:(http://www.history.org/almanack/life/christmas/hist_customs.cfm)

The holiday season meant celebration of balls, fox hunts, and festive socializing. Since the mid-winter season is bleak and dreary adding greenery with berries spruced up homes and towns adding joy. Candles placed on town trees and in the windows provided a cheery glow.

In modern society we get the ball rolling early, the day after Thanksgiving let the festivities begin! Well okay now the day before, well no actually doesn’t it start in October now?

In Early America the holiday season began on December 25th, marking the 12 days of Christmas concluding on January 6th. Early America didn’t celebrate New Year’s as we do today. It really comes up as just another day on the calendar, writer Lou Powers commented “these were the days before Times Square and Guy Lombardo wasn’t born yet”… (loved that line). The song The Twelve Days of Christmas it has been said didn’t have anything to do with the holiday’s, the song came about to teach children how to count… (this before Count Dracula and Sesame Street)

One of the holiday traditions that started in Early America and still happens to this day are candles in the window. The candles were lit at 5:00 pm and flickered until 10:00 PM from December 25th until January 6th.


My home in 2010, photo by Teresa Watts

For me, this is the best tradition and gives me the holiday spirit. During my research road trip last fall the discovery of Deborah Sampson putting a lighted candle in every window of her home was how she decorated for Christmas, all 37 of ‘em. On our way back west I started noticing candles in the windows alongside the roads we traveled. I found this fascinating! Putting a lit candle in your window is a fire hazard, hands down no one can argue with that. As modern technology now provides battery and electric candles for your safety. To me this is more decorative and festive for the holidays than blasting your house with strings of lights, not to mention the power bill (eeks).

Gift giving good ‘ole American tradition. Christmas gift were not “exchanged” but servants and children were given a special treat and it was only one sided.

So why was this time of year for celebration? Well harvesting was done, planting seeds were done, the ground was covered with snow so you really couldn’t do anything, maybe it was the time of year that everyone took a break and got together to catch up and rest. Gathering for balls, feast and socializing was the perfect way to end the year. That’s my theory.

The Holiday Season is about being thankful for all that we have; family, good health, good food, and good friends. Enjoy and Good Cheer!!


Teresa L. Watts


About teresalwatts

Fascinated with Women in US History, Lover of Photography, Fashion, Shoes, Chocolate, Drinks Way too much coffee, Mother, Grandmom (to the four legged kind).
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