Our English ancestors’ Christmases involved bringing in a Yule log, as in the illustration above, (by Alan Wright and Vernon Stokes). The Yule log is one of the traditions that appear not to have survived in this country, though many English traditions were observed for some time in both New England and the Southern colonies.
The New England colonies, of course, did not observe Christmas for some time, starting in the 17th century, because the Puritans objected to the ‘worldliness’ of many of the Christmas customs, and wanted to keep Christmas as more of a religious observance.
I’ve written on my first blog about the lavishness of the Southern Christmas observance, at least in, say, Colonial, antebellum days. I’m referring to the aristocracy, but I would think that even the less prosperous could get plenty to eat because of a hospitable climate and the plentiful game that was available. But many of the English customs were observed in the array of foods that were served. Some favored Southern Christmas dishes may not have been customarily eaten at Christmas, such as oysters, for example. Not all the traditional English foods were available in the New World, nor did the people in England eat some of the foods that originated here, due to lack of availability, or the (then) unfamiliarity with some of the foods that were native to this continent.
In the old South, the Christmas observance went on until January 6, which was the original date of Christmas before the change from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar. Southrons tended to see the change as a pretext for simply lengthening the Christmas festivities. There are traditional Southron tunes titled ‘Old Christmas’ and ‘Breaking Up Christmas’, which commemorate the former practices of celebrating during the days between the Gregorian calendar Christmas day and ‘old’ Christmas. ‘Breaking up Christmas’ parties, which involved music and good food, were mostly an Appalachian custom.
For another slant on Christmas, English vs. American, this BBC writer seems to find more differences than commonalities. I don’t know how much time he spends, or has spent in this country but I think he underestimates many Americans’ familiarity with British or English customs. More and more people travel widely today than in the past; more people watch British TV and movies, and more British or English expats live here. The world, (sadly, in most ways) has become smaller, and we’re all somewhat less insular, though in a way, the poorer for it. Why make insularity a bad word, anyway? Let’s each keep our customs intact. We would be foolish to discard customs that are centuries old, the things that tie us to our fathers — for what? To feel more cosmopolitan? We shouldn’t sell our birthright for a mess of multicultural pottage.