It’s the week after Christmas. Perhaps you have family or friends visiting from out of town. If you have children, they’re home from school. How to keep them entertained? If you lived near New York City in 1864, you were in luck. Barnum’s American Museum was ready with spectacular and unique holiday exhibits for the whole family, all for the low, low, price of 25 cents for adults, 15 cents for children under age ten!
Barnum’s American Museum. Christmas and New Year holiday bill, 1864. [New York: Wynkoop, Hallenbeck & Thomas, Book and Job Printers, 113 Fulton St. N.Y], Library of Congress. Click to see larger, easier to read, image.
Tonight is Christmas Eve, and I thought you might enjoy an expanded reprise of our 1867 Santa Claus story, originally posted December 25 and 30, 2017. This year I have combined the two original posts and incorporated some new illustrations and a few revisions of the text. Here it is again, for your holiday enjoyment. Ho! Ho! Ho!
Christmas in early America
For many years now, Christmas has been celebrated by Americans as an important religious and (increasingly secular) community holiday. Christians gather to worship and commemorate the birth of Jesus, and they and other Americans enjoy a break from work to gather with family and friends to feast and exchange gifts. But it was not always this way.
In many of the American colonies, Christmas was not observed as a religious or secular holiday. The seventeenth-century Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony considered Christmas to be non-biblical and pagan influenced. In Boston and other parts of New England any observance of Christmas was prohibited and, for a few years, actually illegal:
Penalty for Keeping Christmas, 1659
Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England. Printed by order of the Legislature, edited by Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, M.D., Vol. IV, Part I, 1650-1660, online at mass.gov (accessed 21 Dec. 2021). Click to open larger image in new window.
Transcription: For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction, by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries, to the great dishonor of God and offence of others, it is therefore ordered by this Court and the authority thereof, that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon such accounts as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shillings, as a fine to the country.
Christmas was not generally accepted as a holiday in many parts of the United States until after the federal government made December 25 a national holiday in 1870.
On the other hand…
The Massachusetts Puritans may not have approved of “observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way,” but Christmas was “kept in other countries” and increasing numbers of immigrants from those countries to the United States—particularly from Victorian England, Catholic Europe, and the German Lands—celebrated the day in their new American homes with many of their accustomed religious observances and national traditions.
Christmas is coming, and to get in the holiday mood, how about a seasonal Turck family anecdote, “a true story,” as related in the pages of Correct English magazine, written, edited and published by Peter Turck’s granddaughter—and Mary (Turck) Clark’s niece—Josephine Turck Baker, and later collected with other similar tales and published as a book, Correct English in the Home, Chicago, 1909.
In the foreword to her book, the author explains:
When I was a little girl, like most children, I was very fond of listening to stories; but unlike most children, I did not care for fairy tales, my first question invariably being, ” IS IT A TRUE STORY?” I don’t want a “once upon a time” story. This is a true story. The children, their names, the incidents narrated, are all true. Beatrice, Roschen, and the “Boitie,” are my children […] For those who like really true stories of really true people with really true names, this little book is written. That it may instruct and entertain all readers, both little and big, young and grown up, is the earnest wish of Yours for Correct English, Josephine Turck Baker
Photo credits and dates: see notes below. Click gallery for larger images
Time flies. After over a year of regular, thrice-weekly blog entries, it’s been a month since I’ve posted anything new here. So let’s catch up a bit…
Bad driving: not just a modern invention
If you recall, our previous post began with “I’m still preoccupied with non-Clark House matters, and new posts continue to be delayed.” The reason for the delay? Two words: bad driving.
Unidentified artist, A Crack Team at a Smashing Gait, hand-colored lithograph, 1869, Smithsonian American Art Museum, transfer from the National Museum of American History, Division of Graphic Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Public domain, CC0 license. Click to open larger image in a new window.