Americans celebrate Christmas today as a timeless blend of tradition and emotion that transcends the limits of history. The familiar mix of carols. presents. trees. multiplicities of Santa. and holiday neuroses that have come to define December 25th in America are only a hundred years old.
The idea of Christmas as a national holiday was not something Americans even considered until the middle century. This included a time when there were both sectional conflict and civil warfare, and the disturbing processes of urbanization. The new meanings and customs that the holiday brought helped the nation make sense of the times and create a feeling of peace and unity, even if it was only for a few years.
English Christmas Traditions With Americans
Americans of various sects and nationalities kept the holiday in colonial times. Puritans tried to ignore Christmas, while the Bible was silent about the subject. Virginia planters used the occasion to feast and dance, gamble, hunt, and visit. They believed that the English Christmas traditions were still being maintained in English manors. Many Americans, whether they were northerners or southerners and churched or not, barely noticed the holiday until the late nineteenth century.
New conditions began to undermine local customs by mid-century and created the need for visible celebrations. The rise of communication and transportation revolutions made it possible for once isolated areas of the country to be more aware of one another. As with many such “inventions of traditions”, the creation of the American Christmas was an answer to personal and social needs. Americans discovered Christmas at this crossroads of progress, nostalgia and modernity as a sale for holiday that met their needs.
The American colonization of America was markedly influenced by immigration. The Union’s nature was challenged by the rise of moral, political, and economic tensions between the east, west, and south. Science challenged religion. New wealth and bigger markets outperformed the old. The population grew. The pace of life increased.
Many people long for a simpler time. One in which old and positive values still sway in peaceful and cohesive communities. They also had to rethink the concept of “community” on a larger scale. However, it was based on the idea of a family gathering around the hearth. All the Christmases across the country began to merge into one unique and well-respected home holiday.
The ‘revived Christmas for our time’ Offered a respite from the dreadful realities of modern life and was cast in modern terms. Americans reinterpreted old themes and added new symbols to the fabric to make something unique. The American holiday encompassed both the contradictory tendencies of commercialism, artisanship, and nostalgia that characterized late nineteenth-century culture. Ironically, Christmas emerged as an ecumenical event in a country of pluralism because of its relative lack of Biblical or theological authority. It was a moment of national self-definition.
Effective And Impactful For Christmas
It is not surprising that the areas most affected by the technological, social and economic revolutions of the antebellum period provided the greatest impetus for such holidays. Particularly in northern cities, where village culture and town culture were most severely challenged by the city and factory, there was a strong need for explicit symbols of shared purpose and share responsibility. The past was the first to grow. Many writers saw holidays as a way to achieve these ends, and to create a national culture. While New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July had their merits, and there were partisans, Christmas was the most effective and impactful. It had already captured the Northern imagination by the 1850s and was beginning to make inroads in South.
The Civil War heightened Christmas’ appeal. Its celebration of family and the longings of soldiers as well as those who were left behind match its sentimental appeal. Its message of peace, goodwill and reconciliation spoke directly to the heart of every American. The popularity and form of America’s Christmas was determined by the northern victory in 1865, as well as the war situation. The American Christmas was now unchallenge in national myth-making and the publishing trade. Customs and symbols of Yankee origin and preference were adopte to represent the American Christmas.
Only in retrospect can we see this as a unified and broad development. It is more interesting to see how details of the holiday were create by accident or personal genius. Each tradition had its own history and was only merge with others over time to become a national holiday.
Harriet Martineau identified the symbol that would be the American Christmas in 1832. She was certain that the Christmas tree would be a thriving exotic in New England. Many Americans fell in love with the German tradition by the 1850s. Some people had first seen Christmas trees in Germany during a trip to Germany. They then recreated the German Christmas celebrations at home for their friends. Some others saw them in person at the homes of German Americans. The custom was further promoted by the media, inspiring Americans across the country to adopt it as their own.