by Cynthia Hickey
Christmas traditions have been around since almost forever, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that celebrations began to resemble how we celebrate today. Since most of my historicals take place in the nineteenth century, I thought I’d share some of the traditions of that era.
Preparations often started early. Mothers started the mincemeat for pies three months in advance in order for it to mature. Younger family members strung traditional red and green around the house. Green for the continuance of Jesus’ life, and red for the blood shed at His Crucifixion.
In the 1840s, the sending and receiving of Christmas cards became something to look forward to. A week before Christmas, the family searched for the perfect Christmas tree, often a fir, and dragged it home to decorate.
The Christmas tree first gained popularity in British and American society thanks to the husband of Queen Victoria, the German-born Prince Albert. He installed a decorated Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in 1841, and woodcuts of the Royal Family’s tree appeared in London magazines in 1848. Such illustrations, published in America a year later, created the fashionable impression of the Christmas tree in upper class homes.
The night before Christmas was normally spent at church. When the family arrived home, the children hung stockings in hope Father Christmas would leave a treat. In return, they left Mom’s mincemeat pie which she had prepared weeks ago.
The Civil War brought about the biggest change in how Christmas was celebrated. As with slavery, the North and the South were divided on the issue of Christmas. Many Northerners saw sin in the celebration of Christmas, choosing to put most of their emphasis on Thanksgiving. But the South embraced Christmas as an important part of the social season. The first three states to make Christmas a legal holiday were Alabama in 1836, followed by Louisiana and Arkansas in 1838.
After the War, traditions spread like wild fire. Children’s books played an important role in spreading the customs, especially of trimming trees and gifts delivered by Santa Claus. Sunday school classes encouraged the celebration. Women’s magazines suggested ways to decorate.
By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Americans decorated with abandon, caroled, baked, and shopped. Since then materialism has rocketed. The traditions we celebrate today came from these earlier times.
In my family, one tradition we started when the children were young and continue now that they’re grown is hanging a stocking for Jesus. Before we can get into our stockings, our gifts, or even breakfast, we write on a slip of paper something only we can give Him. We slip this into His stocking. The gifts stay in year after year, until Jesus’ stocking is too full to hold the gifts we’ve given Him.
In my Christmas story, Taming the Sheriff, the main character Charlotte is trying to start the tradition of a Christmas pageant in order to stop a year’s old feud between two families. The holidays are full of tradition. To me, these very traditions are what make the holidays so special.
Multi-published author Cynthia Hickey had three cozy mysteries published through Barbour Publishing, with a novella releasing in March 2013. Her first mystery, Fudge-Laced Felonies, won first place in the inspirational category of the Great Expectations contest in 2007. Her third cozy, Chocolate-Covered Crime, received a four-star review from Romantic Times. All three cozies have been re-released as ebooks through the MacGregor Literary Agency, along with a new cozy series. She has several historical romances releasing in 2013 and 2014 through Harlequin’s Heartsong Presents, and a novella in Barbour’s large Christmas anthology. She is active on FB, twitter, and Goodreads. She lives in Arizona with her husband, one of their seven children, two dogs and two cats. She has five grandchildren who keep her busy and tell everyone they know that “Nana is a writer”. Visit her website at www.cynthiahickey.com