Inventing Christmas

History Imagined: For Readers, Writers, and Lovers of Historical Fiction

Before the 19th century, Americans had no unified vision of how Christmas should be celebrated or even if it should be celebrated at all. Communities may or may not have had their own ideas about what should occur on December 25 depending upon the heritage of the citizens. For those of German extraction, there may have been the tradition of a decorated tree and for the descendants of Dutch colonists, a December 5 (St. Nicholas Day) visit from Sinterklaas who left gifts may have been anticipated, but there was no one concept of an American Christmas. That began to change in the early 1800’s. Penne Restad, writing for History Today, cites several reasons for the shift to what we today think of as an American Christmas. Among those were the rapid changes brought about by industrialization, growing urbanization, advances in communication and transportation, immigration, and the trauma of the…

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