In 1809, a clever lad wrote to his grandfather wishing him a “Merry Christmas”. Thomas Jefferson was pleased to receive the letter and most taken with the new phrase popular in the new country, “Merry Christmas”.

Christmas observances in colonial and revolutionary America (1630s-1830s) were very different from our current practices. How one observed Christmas (usually on January 7) depended greatly on where one lived. Why one observed Christmas was the same throughout the colonies. Christmas was a religious day, given to worship and prayer and church attendance.

In New England, the Puritans and the Calvinists frowned upon merriment of any kind. Christmas was spent in church all morning, a break to eat, and continued church service into the late evening.  Families did enjoy community dining with fellowship and reunions.  One group of Puritans even went so far as to outlaw Christmas so that no one would be tempted to make merry. Quakers simply observed the day as just another Sabbath and made no special notice or change in their routine.

In the Middle Colonies, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, the population was more diverse. Germans, Dutch, Scotch, and Irish farmed the fertile lands and soon became the bread basket for all of the colonies. People were of a more lenient Protestant bent and enjoyed the traditions they had known in their home countries. A church service was always the centerpiece, but special foods, singing, dancing and games were popular.

It was the Southern Colonies, however, including Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, that really introduced the joy into Christmas. Anglicans, Moravians and Baptists attended a church service and then got down to the business of good food, celebration through song, and fellowship.

At Mount Vernon (Washington’s home), Monticello (Jefferson’s home), Montpelier (Madison’s home) the 12 Days of Christmas, Advent and the Feast of Epiphany were celebrated. Gifts (for children only) were exchanged. Ladies brought out all their finest recipes displayed in their full glory in beautiful dishes on laden tables.

And what did they eat?

Well…. George Washington loved hoecakes slathered in honey and butter; cherries and beer (his own personal brew).

…Jefferson loved to chow down on bread pudding, macaroni and cheese, and French fried potatoes!

…Madison loved ice cream and John Adams never met a pickle he didn’t like.

…And Franklin….well, old Ben tried being a vegetarian once, but found he simply missed his venison pie and roasted turkey far too much.

Woman preparing Thanksgiving feast at
Colonial Williamsburg, VA by Gail Mooney

Young and old loaded their plates with oysters and clams, fish, duck, goose, venison, turkey and rabbit…

Beans, peas, carrots, turnips, peanuts, pecans, spinach, cabbage, squash, corn

Cranberries, blueberries, cherries, apples, peaches, pears, pineapples, blackberries, apricots

Breads, rolls, cakes, pies

Maple candy, Molasses candy, honey

Ale, beer, tea

Christmas was God, Love, Joy, Thankfulness, Family, Friends, Faith and Hope

Merry Christmas to All from the Staff at Vacation Liberty School of Georgetown

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