Historically Speaking: Experience Christmas in the Colonies at the Leffingwell House Museum
On Dec. 4, visitors to the Leffingwell House Museum in Norwich will go on a trip through the centuries in the annual event, “Christmas in the Colonies.”
On this journey, visitors will experience the evolution of Christmas, from being a once outlawed holiday in Puritan New England, to the festive and joyous time of celebration and cheer we know today.
It’s almost unconscionable to think that there was a time many years ago when Christmas was regarded with disdain. The roots of this iconic holiday date back almost 2,000 years ago when Pope Julius I recognized Dec. 25 as Christmas Day in the mid-fourth century.
Passing into the tavern room, visitors will see documents and historical artifacts connected heavily to the absence of Christmas in New England during the 1600s. The holiday, largely connected to Pagan traditions, was shunned and forbidden; legislatures and local governments even passed laws that fined those who didn’t adhere to these strict regulations.
Christmas Day would have come and gone like most any other day in the life of an English settler in 17th century New England; the persistence of these laws would continue well into the 18th and early 19th centuries.
In the Washington Parlor, visitors may even catch a glimpse of General Washington himself, who was known to celebrate Christmas with his own special recipe for eggnog. George and his wife Martha also shared special Yorkshire Pies and libations to mark the occasion, though arguably Washington’s most notable Christmas was his famous crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Day 1776, scoring a surprise and notable victory over British and Hessian Forces at the Battle of Trenton. The victory cemented the resiliency of Washington’s Continental Army.
Traveling through the colonial keeping room and west parlor, visitors will begin to see the decorations and trimmings you’d expect to see in a proper American Christmas setting. Throughout the 19th century, traditions such as the Christmas tree and the story of Santa Claus made their debut in American households. An ornament or two may catch your eye as you listen to traditional and popular holiday songs throughout history played live on piano in the museum’s west parlor.
Visitors who wish to experience Christmas in the Colonies must register on the 2022 “Christmas in the Colonies” event online on eventbrite.com. The event will take place Sunday Dec. 4, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors can register on half-hour timeslots at a cost of $5 per person on Eventbrite.
From all of us at the Leffingwell House Museum, we thank you for your support, and we look forward to toasting with you all to the end of another productive season.
Dayne Rugh is director of Slater Memorial Museum and president of the Society of the Founders of Norwich.