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The Truth about Vintage Christmas

vintage_christmas_Portsmouth_NHHISTORY MATTERS

Let’s face it, the Puritans hated Christmas. Our vintage holiday comes largely from our Victorian ancestors, the first comspicious comsumers, who cobbled together the trimmings and traditions we know today. They commercialized the busy holiday, but they also knew its meaning – slow down and be thankful. (Read more)


Don’t confuse our cozy Christmas customs with those of our pious Puritan progenitors. The early Puritan settlers hated Christmas and everything it stood for. They did their best to wipe the celebration off the colonial American calendar. The dominant founders of New England would have preferred roasting Catholics over an open fire, rather than chestnuts. They were opposed to Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and to Christian sects besides their own, especially Quakers. They were not a tolerant bunch and their laws came to reflect their beliefs.

We should recall that the Plymouth Separatists separated from England and traveled 3,000 miles to avoid the trimmings and trappings of the Anglican Church. The great wave of Puritans who followed wanted to purify the official Church of England that, they believed, had come to resemble the Roman Catholic Church whose leader they called ‘The Great Whore". They considered Catholicism to be a fraudulent form of Christianity. The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay (who governed Maine, and briefly New Hampshire) were determined to create a new Kingdom of God here in the New World. Freedom of religion, for Puritans, meant freedom for Puritans only.

Although Puritan leaders and landowners like John and Richard Cutts settled in Portsmouth, an equally powerful Anglican pressence evolved in New Hampshire’s only seaport. But just across the river in Maine, according to Tom Hardiman, keeper of the Portsmouth Athenaeum, an early law banned open displays of the winter celebration.

"Anybody who is found observing, by abstinence of labor, feasting, or any other way, any such days as Christmas day, shall pay for every such offense five shillings," a 1659 Maine law declared. The law was repealed in 1681, Hardiman says, but the "stigma" against Christmas with its saints and "popish" displays remained through the American Revolution. Patriots like Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, although not technically "deists", were not avid church-goers and preferred to keep religion and government separate.

John Fairfield, the Congregational minister of Saco, Maine, scarcely mentioned the word Christmas in 1782, Hardiman says. But by 1801 the minister’s views had softened. That year Rev. Fairfield wrote in his diary on December 25: "CHRISTMASS, dind on plumb pudding, boild Pork Beef & Sauce & roast Chicken & minced pie & cheese."


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Tuesday, January 16, 2018 
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