Christmas Customs

The first traces of Christmas observance found in ancient history are early in the second century, at least prior to A.D. 138. In some churches, the Epiphany and Christmas were celebrated as one festival.

In the fourth century, after an elaborate investigation, the 25th of December was agreed upon, and has ever since been observed throughout Christendom. There may be still more unbelievers, but the historical and astronomical evidence in favor of this day, amounts to almost a demonstration, if such language can ever be applied to that class of testimony.

We derive our Christmas customs more immediately from old England, where it was a religious, domestic and merry making festival, for every rank and every age.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s African American Newspapers Collection. This enormous collection of African American newspapers contains a wealth of information about cultural life and history during the 1800s and is rich with first-hand reports of the major events and issues of the day.

On Christmas

On Christmas eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas eve the mass was sung;
That only night in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest, the chalice rear.

Then opened wide the Baron’s hall,
To vassal, tenant, serf and all;
Power laid his rod of role aside,
And ceremony doffed his pride.

The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose.
All hailed with uncontrolled delight
And general voice, the happy night

That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down.
England was merry England when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.

‘Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale,
‘Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft would cheer
A poor man’s heart through half the year.

The custom was to deck houses and churches with evergreens, to remain until Candlemas-day (Feb. 21.) An English superstition, alluded to by Shakespeare, declared that on Christmas eve, no evil spirit stirred abroad, no witch or fairy had power to charm on so hallowed a time. And a famous hawthorn in the churchyard of Glastonbury always budded on the 24th, and blossomed on the 25th of December, and refused, on the reformation of the calendar, to change from the old to the new style.

All our standard Christmas hymns, some of them the best in our language, are of English origin. In this country, the New England Puritans made an indiscriminate warfare upon the usages of Christmas good and bad. Its pleasant and sacred institutions, however, were too deeply imbedded in the popular heart to allow them to be set aside by the logic of these cold, stern men. Even the women and children around their own hearthstones would celebrate Christmas in spite of their frowns.

It has become a legal holiday in most of the States, is observed by giving presents, and ushered in by religious service; churches and houses are trimmed with evergreens, and Christmas trees abound in all sections of our country.

Source: The Christian Recorder, December 28, 1861

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