New Hampshire’s Old Time Christmas Traditions and Decorations

Santa Claus vintage cardIn New Hampshire’s early days, Christmas was celebrated in a much quieter and sedate manner.  The early New England immigrants were stern opponents of what we consider today to be our usual Christmas pastimes. Even up until the 1870s Christmas celebrations were only a focus of the Episcopalians and Catholics. Gift giving didn’t occur until New Year’s Day, and even then it was of simpler items.  Whether by intent or accident, many of the more celebratory of England’s Christmas traditions were not re-adopted in the American colonies until the latter part of the 19th century.  Some examples are shown below.

Santa in woods********************

Wednesday, December 23, 1885; New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene NH), page 1

“I am coming to dread the holidays,” said one a day or two ago, who was, I knew, the soul of generosity and dearly loves her friends.

“Why so?” I asked. “It always seems to me as if that should be the brightest, gayest time of the year, because it brings so many pleasant thoughts of those one cares for. Christmas-present giving has come to be just as it is in the case of weddings. Now to remember and to be remembered by one’s friends by some pretty little gift, conceit or odd fancy is delightful, but the day of small things is passing, and presents are growing more and more costly, so that the custom is becoming an absolute burden.”

“There is something wrong,” I answered, “and it is just here. We haven’t any of us independent enough to do just what we ought, but try to fulfill what we imagine are other people’s expectations. If each of us would show our Christmas thought of those we love by some simple gifts, which, in the aggregate, would be no burden, there could be no dreading of the beautiful holiday time by anybody. And then if one did not feel able to afford even a little thing, there are always pleasant words and warm wishes to offer.”

“I know it,” she said with a sigh, and then with a bright look she added, “but I want to do something more, and I’m going to if I live on bread and water for four weeks afterward. The bother is, though, that Fred don’t take to the bread and water diet kindly. Men never do, you know. Sentiment don’t count beside a good dinner.”

It seems to me that there is something very beautiful in the custom of putting heart thoughts in some little gift, that all over the land each one is trying to give pleasure to others, to make life a little brighter by these tokens of a friendly regard. Even if it has been done at a little self-sacrifice, it is well, for the very effort has driven self in the background, and made the world a brighter place for somebody to live in. There is one thing, however, to keep in mind, and in a forgetfulness of this lies the trouble. It is not the value of what is given that is to be considered. It is the friendly thought which counts. Never, therefore be betrayed into the folly of giving what you cannot afford, because you may think it is expected, or you imagine the recipient has so much that a simple thing will be uncared for.

Give, for it is a pleasant thing to do, but give justly. Lay aside what you can spend without embarrassment to yourself, and then do the best you can with it. If you can spare no money, and have no leisure to make pretty and inexpensive things, give pleasant words and wishes. Have faith enough in your friends to believe they will understand you. Peace and good will! This is what the season means.

Thursday, December 22, 1881: New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord NH) Page 1

It is an old custom and a pleasant one, that of decorating the interior of houses at Christmas time with evergreens. It makes them appear more cheerful, and the money expended for the purpose need not be much. The custom of decorating, it is said, originated with the Romans, who year commemorated the feast of Saturn. It is a symbol of our faith in the renewing power of the sun, that as the seasons return the earth will once more be clothed with green, and the trees laden with fruit. In decorating remember the one object to be attained is uniformity. Do not place in your sitting room or sleeping apartments a heavy display of greens but reserve the same for the halls, dining rooms, and parlors. If the walls of the halls are bare a lattice work of laurel leaves has a wonderful effect. Exact measurements should first be taken, and the foundation made in tape or strips of calico, about half an inch wide, the diamonds forming such lattice work being all of one size. They must then be covered with laurel leaves, each sewn on separately, a task which will furnish a few pleasant evenings’ work to the younger members of the family. Should the walls be too large to cover entirely, a band of the same lattice work just below the ceiling and above the wainscoting, will be found very ornamental. Facing the doorway, or in as conspicuous a place as possible, there should be a motto either of welcome or one appropriate to the season, such as “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,” “A Happy Christmas,” “Christmas Greetings.” These and other mottoes can be carried out in various ways. We will enumerate a few. A slight wood framework covered with Turkey red, either paper or calico; a bordering of holly or laurel leaves round; the lettering laid on in green leaves or white paper, or imitation ivory, produced by cutting the letters in cardboard, which cover with gum tragacanth, and then sprinkle with raw rice or tapioca. The grains must lie quite close together, placed in successive layers, allowing each to dry before another added, half an inch being about the necessary depth. If varnished over with red sealing wax dissolved in spirits of wine, this has the effect of coral, and should be put on a white ground. Letters in white cotton wool have a very snow-like effect, which is enhanced if they are slightly dampened with starch water and then sprinkled with frosting powder. Be careful in cutting the wool to have the smooth side uppermost, using it the reverse way. Instead of a bordering of leaves round the framework, icicles may be substituted, made of cotton wool pulled into form and sprinkled in the same manner; a blue background being substituted for red, if preferred. Letters in berries on a white ground are Christmas like, and peas dropped in a solution of red sealing wax are admirable substitutes for berries, when they run short. Letters made of brown paper, rolled and flattened into the form required, then gummed and covered with tin foil, are a novelty; if this is well crumpled first, it resembled frosted silver. Cardboard, straw or zinc letters, some of the latter perforated so that anything can be sewn to them, may be purchased ready for use and considerably lighten the labors of decorating. Garlands round pillars, up staircases, and suspended from each corner of a room or hall to the center will repay the trouble of making. For entwining, flat wreaths are best, and these should be made by sewing the leaves in pairs or trios on a strip of green calico, with holly berries down the center if preferred. Feather Mottoes have a good effect in boudoirs and drawing rooms–none more beautiful than the soft marabout feathers found beneath the wing of the white turkey. These on a blue ground form an exquisite symbol of snow, conveying Christmas greetings. Industrious fingers have a wide field of usefulness, and letters worked in point lace united by twisted threads, or crocheted in white wool with a bright background, would be by no means the least attractive of house decorations at Christmas time.

joyous christmas********************
Thursday, November 18, 1875, New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene NH), page 4
Christmas pie has succeeded Christmas tree. The pie is a jolly English custom, and very amusing when there is a large company of intimate friends. It is made of sawdust, stuffed with gifts and favors for the German that is to follow, and baked in an enormous wooden tub, decorated with holly berries, gold foil and gay pictures. It stands in the centre of the drawing-room on a piece of canvas to protect the carpet, and each guest is allowed to take three spoonfuls. If he gets a present with his name on it, there is a shout of applause; but if he fishes out some one else’s, back it has to go, and the pie is stirred up again, and that person takes his or her turn.

child in stocking********************

Thursday, January 1, 1880; New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord NH) Page 3
“At Christmas play, and make good cheer,
For Christmas comes but once a year.”

The Christmas season of ’79 is now a thing of the past, but it will linger long in the memories of most of our people to whom it brought happiness and pleasure. The custom of making it a seasons of enjoyment for the children, seems to have been introduced more generally into our churches and especially into the homes of private individuals than for several years past. This year, there was scarcely a society that did not provide some entertainment and amusement for the Sunday schools, while the sociables at private residences were almost without number.

sliding kids********************

THE CHRISTMAS CAROLERS, who last year introduced the English custom of singing in our streets on the morning of Christmas, again visited many of our citizens last Wednesday morning with their early songs, which rang out on the stillness with a most pleasing effect. As Christmas becomes more and more generally noticed, many of the customs which attend it abroad will be very acceptably adopted.

Saturday, December 28, 1867, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth NH) page 2

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