The History Channel brings us some interesting facts on Christmas traditions.
My friend José Siro Muñoz has transcribed the video and generously handed it over for me to post it on this blog.
Watch the video and note down all the years that are mentioned.
Watch the video again. What does each year refer to?
The activity is suitable for intermediate students.
As the 19th century dawned, Christmas would be one holiday that would pull the new nation together. But it wouldn´t be the carnival Christmas of old England, nor would it be particularly religious. America would invent its very own Christmas, and in the process reinvent it for the whole world.
“After 1820-1830 the family was very quickly and perceptibly becoming an agency that was designed to provide the emotional nursery for children so that they could grow up being sensitive, little people who took a lot of pleasure in the family and in the world itself.”
Now there was a holiday where attention could be lavished on children without seeming to spoil them. Americans now knew why they were celebrating Christmas, but they didn't know exactly how to go about it. The old pagan revelry was clearly inappropriate for a Victorian home, but some ancient traditions were perfect for reviving.
The Christmas tree has its roots in Germany where decorated evergreens had always been a part of the winter celebrations. But the tree might´ve stayed there if not for the Royal marriage in 1840 of Victoria the Queen of England to her cousin Prince Albert of Germany. Albert brought his German ways to Windsor Palace, including the annual Christmas tree. In 1848, the London Illustrated News published this engraving of the Royal Family standing by the first Christmas tree most English had ever seen. In just a few years, a decorated fir could be found in nearly every English home at Christmas. Americans embraced the Christmas tree just as quickly as the English had. In fact, its connection to the old world was one of its strongest selling points.
“For a lot of Americans, this is going to be new holiday traditions, not something their parents would do, especially in the case of the more austere Protestants. So they're looking for a reason for what they're doing, and one of the most convenient reasons they can have is they can say, this is the way it's done in Germany, or this is the way it´s done in England"
All of a sudden, Christmas traditions were popping up everywhere.
In 1828 Joel R Poinsett, America´s minister to Mexico, brought back a green and red plant that seemed perfect for the new holiday.
And in 1843, the English firm of JC Horsley printed the first Christmas card. It seemed as though every vestige of the old bacchanalian Christmas was gone, but even the Victorians couldn't clean up Christmas completely.
“Victorians were particularly keen on mistletoe because, of course, you could actually kiss a lady, or a lady could kiss a man, but normally, in the normal course of events, you would not be allowed to kiss.”
By mid-century, Christmas was everywhere in America, in the streets, in the homes, in the marketplace. The one place could you not find Christmas was in church. Most Americans were protestant, and the protestant church had ignored Christmas for years, but protestant Victorians longed for official religion on this sacred day.
“What a number of them do initially is say, " well, if we can't find a Christmas service in our Baptist or Presbyterian church, let's go see what the Catholics are doing," or "let's go see what the Episcopalians are doing, and increasingly that puts pressure on these latter-day puritans to have Christmas services because there's a way in which laypeople began to expect it.”
Church services, mistletoe, and Christmas trees - America’s new holiday now seemed firmly in place.