As most people who enjoy learning about the past, I am intrigued by past Christmas traditions. The Christmases of our ancestors were varied depending on the culture they came from. In book one of my Ellis Island series, Grace McCaffery, a recent immigrant from Ireland, must learn to prepare Christmas dinner for her American employees. Here is a excerpt from the book:
Grace muttered under her breath later in the day as she polished crystal glasses and placed them back in the dining room sideboard. Christmas Eve and she was expected to create such fancy dishes as she’d never seen before. “Spiced chutney and turtle soup and butter crème pie. How am I supposed to make those things? And why would anyone want to eat them?”
Thomson, Cindy (2013-05-17). Grace’s Pictures (Ellis Island Book 1) (p. 165). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Grace grew up in a poor house in Ireland. Her experience with Christmas traditions was limited.
“…We didn’t much celebrate Christmas in Ireland.” She stretched the truth a bit. Some Irish folks would expect visits from Father Christmas, but Grace held few memories of holiday traditions herself. Even before the workhouse, they’d had no time for it. They went to church and roasted whatever portion of lamb their neighbors could spare. Nothing more.
Thomson, Cindy (2013-05-17). Grace’s Pictures (Ellis Island Book 1) (p. 204). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
“Nothing more.” Observing Christmas was simpler in the olden days.
Is Christmas Different Today?
Christmas is certainly commercialized today, but even back in the early 1900s, people complained. They thought too much emphasis was put on toys, too many of them in store windows. Too many? Still to come was the Christmas catalogue and lines to sit on Santa’s lap and give him our wish list. But even so, those complaints seemed to sense what was to come. It’s easy to romanticize the past, but despite how different our versions of Christmas might be, people are not all that different. We still want peace–on earth and in our homes. All the rest is just glitter and wrapping.
Families still gather together. People go to church for candlelight services. Most people who don’t work in service essential jobs like fire fighting or nursing still have the day off because it is a special day, a sacred day. That was true back in the early 1900s. It is still true today.
Grace, like the characters that follow in the next books of the series, learns that although people are different in their customs, their economic status, and social interactions, everyone wants the same thing: to be loved. As the Grinch learned in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, perhaps Christmas is about something more–something more than we tend to think it is. Perhaps, after all, it is about love.