Inventing Christmas

For Readers, Writers, & 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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Boston Tea Party in Perspective

Modern political activists invoke history… to justify and rationalize their activism- but often lose the real lessons of the events.  The Boston Tea Party was not a simple protest against taxation; it was a complex disagreement over duties, exemptions, tariffs, and trade balance.  Current political rhetoric cheapens the truly historic events of that December in 1773.

Samuel Adams called for action that winter… “Be in readiness in the most resolute manner to assist this town in their efforts for saving this oppressed country…”    Adams and the Sons of Liberty understood what was happening in Boston affected all the colonies- expressing the idea of country three years before it was declared.

The meeting on December 16 was the largest… political meeting to date.  Speakers came and went in a vain attempt to dissuade direct action- the leaders were waiting for a decision from the Royal Governor.  The speakers couldn’t go on all night- Thomas Hutchinson wasn’t going to indulge the Sons of Liberty-  Adams gave the prearranged signal for action.. “This meeting can do nothing more to save this country…”  

Disguises of all sorts were donned by the… Sons of Liberty that night.  Some wore feathers, others just heavy overcoats, their faces blackened with soot.  Whatever the method, the result was nothing short of historic- Samuel’s  cousin John Adams declared… “This destruction of the tea is so bold, so daring, so intrepid, and so inflexible, and it must have so important a consequence that I can’t but consider it an epoch in history.”

Garry Owen!

The Irish Brigade crossed the Rappahannock river at Fredericksburg… a shadow of its former self.  Three months earlier, along the banks of the Antietam Creek, the Irish Brigade marched to glory with more than 2,000 men.  At Fredericksburg, the newly arrived 28th Massachusetts regiment bolstered the ranks to 1,200, but the veteran regiments had been decimated during the campaigns of 1862.


**Don Troiani’s  “Garry Owen”  –   General Meagher salutes his troops crossing the Rapphannock

Four Union brigades were beaten back… in front of the stone wall at Marye’s Heights.  The Irish Brigade was next in the fight and started their advance at 1230pm.  The men were briefly unsettled by a muddy canal ditch in the shadow of a low ridge.  The order was given to reform and after a brief pause, bayonets were fixed.  An officer remembered those harrowing moments: “In a few minutes came the word, ‘Attention!’ and every man was upon his feet again; then ‘Fix bayonets!’ and as this was being done, the clink, clink of the cold steel sounding along the line made one’s blood run cold.”  Officers and men fell rapidly as casualties mounted  across the front of the stone wall.  Despite the harrowing losses, the brigade pushed on toward the wall, battling other Irish immigrants.  Of all the Union troops which assaulted Marye’s Heights on December 13, the Irish Brigade advanced the farthest.


** Don Troiani’s “Clear the Way” –  The Irish Brigade assaults Marye’s Heights

December 6, 1941

“No, young man. I don’t think they’d be such damned fools.” Admiral Husband Kimmel, Dec. 6th 1941.

USA Today

Kimmel granted an interview to the Christian Science Monitor and was incredulous when the young reporter asked about the possibility of Japan starting a war with the United States.

The events of the following day forced Kimmel to retire in disgrace as the US government was quick to place all the blame on him.

Cryptic war “warnings” and casual disregard for military realities in the Pacific could be excused as only the civilian leaders enjoyed the benefit of hindsight.

  • Roosevelt had personally promoted Kimmel to command of the Pacific Fleet, jumping over 50 flag officers.
  • Kimmel’s superior Admiral Stark, chose not to immediately notify Hawaii after the translation of Japan’s war message on the morning of Dec. 7th.
  • It was Kimmel’s decision to keep the aircraft carriers at sea, thus sparing them from destruction on December 7th.

Pearl Harbor Hero

Mess Attendant Third Class, Doris Miller was awarded the Navy Cross Citation for heroism displayed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was the first black sailor to receive the honor.

CITATION: “For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.”

Kelly’s Ford Battlefield in Culpeper County, Virginia

M.A. Kleen

Old friends, torn apart by war, clash in a chivalric contest of sabres and revolvers in one of the Civil War’s best-known cavalry battles.

The Battle of Kelly’s Ford (aka Kellysville) was fought on March 17, 1863 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. William W. Averell and Confederate forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee in Culpeper County, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle, which resulted in 211 total casualties, was a draw but was the first time in the Eastern Theater that Union cavalry held their own against their Southern counterparts.

In a war that produced so many great quotes, the Battle of Kelly’s Ford gave us one of the best. The opposing commanders, William Averell and Fitzhugh Lee, were friends at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before the war. On February 25th, Fitzhugh Lee led a raid across…

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James Madison and the Secret Convention

Presidential History Blog

James Madison has always been designated The Father of the Constitution.

James Madison: A Brief Run-Up

James Madison (1751-1836) was the eldest son of a well-to-do planting family in central Virginia. Slight of stature (between 5’1 and 5’6” depending on your source), he was very large in intellect.

An early image of James Madison

His parents sent him to the College of New Jersey (Princeton), where he not only earned a classical degree, but he continued his education, earning an equivalent of a masters’ degree in today’s political science. Most historians rank him as the best educated of our Founding Fathers.

After serving in local capacities during the Revolutionary War, Madison was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and subsequently named to the Virginia governor’s Council of State where he became acquainted with Thomas Jefferson, a foot taller, and an equal in intellectual excellence. Their friendship was for life…

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Eat Turkey- Be Thankful

Spare us your phony indignation over the Thanksgiving holiday… Stop posting the painfully naive memes about American Indians being killed or robbed by the Pilgrims- cease with the historically ignorant platitudes about rightful ownership and true “Native Americans.”   You are only showing your ignorance of history; but in addition, on full display is your gullibility.  An intellectual capacity so lacking it can be manipulated by a mundane utterance or passing snicker.

Give thanks this holiday… as Abraham Lincoln intended it.  Carve the turkey, pass the stuffing, and enjoy some pumpkin pie.  Instead of watching three meaningless football games, pick up a book and learn something about the first Thanksgiving.  Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower is a good place to start. History is complicated and sometimes rather messy.  If you can accept 140 characters or less as your teacher, your thoughts on any matter are insignificant.

Jefferson on Jackson

Thomas Jefferson saw enough of Andrew Jackson to form this succinct, remarkably accurate description of the “military chief” in 1823.

I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President.  He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place.  He has had very little respect for laws and constitutions, and is, in fact, an able military chief.  His passions are terrible.  When I was President of the Senate, he was Senator; and he could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings.  I have seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage.  His passions are, no doubt, cooler now; he has been much tried since I knew him, but he is a dangerous man.

1823 this was a warning.

We had plenty in 2015 as well.

Finest Two Minutes


Lincoln thought he failed November 19, 1863…  obligatory applause from a damp crowd in Gettysburg offered him little consolation.  Lincoln had just followed a masterful two-hour speech from America’s greatest orator, Edward Everett.  The President sat down in his seat and commented to his friend, Ward Lamon, that the speech wouldn’t “scour” (would fail to clear away.)  He left Gettysburg concerned with the bad press and his message resonating.

The Chicago Times recorded, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”


Edward Everett put the ceremony in the proper perspective:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”