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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Ah, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! The Christmas season has officially ushered itself in—Christmas wreathes of lush green pine and red bows hang from the front doors of neighbors’ houses, frenzied crowds of parents vie to pick up that last coveted toy on the Christmas list, and families, in excited anticipation, eagerly await the happy reunion of sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

Yes, Christmas is on the horizon and it brings with it the age-old and beloved traditions of tree decorating, caroling, and hanging a stocking for Santa. But just how age-old are our Christmas traditions in America? And how were many of them influenced and preserved by both American and European women?

Christmas, as we now know it in America, did not always exist. Our Puritan foremothers and fathers associated it with the merriment of royal courts in which Christmas meant ten days of feasting and drinking. (Think “Ten Lords A Leaping” and “Don We Now Our Gay Apparel.”) They saw it as such drunken revelry that the General Court of Massachusetts issued a 1659 edict rendering any observance of Christmas (other than churchgoing) as a punishable offense. People in the Southern colonies, which were more secular, were merrier, but New Englanders could be fined for hanging decorations.

Things lightened up a bit in the 1700s, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that this austere attitude towards Christmas was replaced with a more festive one. Victoria became monarch of the British Empire in 1837 and reigned until 1901, and during that time, she had much influence on America’s domestic scene. Her popularization of Christmas began in 1846, when she and her husband, Prince Albert, were sketched with their children standing around a large decorated Christmas tree in the Illustrated London News.

Albert was German, and Christmas tree decorating was a German tradition, perhaps dating back to the Protestant Revolution and Martin Luther in the 1600s. Queen Victoria adored her husband and exported his Christmas tree to the English-speaking world. The famous illustration of “Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle” became an instant phenomenon, and tree decorating became increasingly popular in the late 1800s.

Most decorations were homemade, and it was women who were largely responsible for making them. Chains of colorful paper were popular, as well as strings of popcorn and cranberries. From handcrafting ornaments and sewing Christmas stockings to making fresh eggnog and warm Christmas cookies, women were the ones who preserved traditions and brought joy to Christmas.

Celebrations gained more popularity because of the Civil War in the 1860s, especially in the North. The Christmas depicted in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, for example, showed the emotional strength of a mother who created a happy day for her children, despite worry over a husband gone to war.

Much more than our forefathers, it was our foremothers who created the fond memories that live on in American hearts and minds. Let this Christmas be one in which we pause to reflect on the many women who, throughout our country’s history and our own personal histories, have preserved the generous and peaceful spirit of the holiday.

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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