Christmas in the United States has become a weeks long affair which feels more like a marathon, to many of us, than a celebration.
Many of us “ladies of a certain age” gathered this morning for a neighborhood group meeting and participated in a “re-gifted gift exchange” where we each brought a gift previously given to us which we hadn’t wanted and couldn’t use. We wrapped these in previously used paper and gift bags, and piled them under our community Christmas tree.
We had great fun visiting as we each chose and opened a package. Some of us opened something we liked, and kept it. Everyone had the option to trade for something already opened if they didn’t want the item they had chosen from under the tree.
I, for one, felt much happier and lighter after relieving myself of the burden of a gift given last Christmas by someone I love, which I could not/would not ever use. The friend who opened it was perfectly delighted to receive it, and chatted happily about how much she would enjoy it. Thus goes Christmas 2013, and it’s only December 3.
Everyone I chatted with this morning was talking about their holiday plans and the preparations for them. Many of my friends are deeply involved in preparing for the Holiday Homes Tour this coming weekend. Others are in preparation for the Colonial Williamsburg festivities which bring in visitors from all over. Most were talking about the trees which must be decorated at home, wreathes hung, lights put up, Christmas villages assembled, arrangements made, and the house guests on the way.
And most of my friends already look and sound tired. Did I mention it’s only December 3?
One community organization had a Christmas tree lighting last night to illuminate an outdoor tree on the main street into our neighborhood. Some friends and I are preparing for a Christmas cookie exchange next Sunday, where the children will decorate gingerbread houses to take home. We’ve been working on this event since late summer. We’ll gather on Friday to construct 20 or so houses for the children and grandchildren of friends who will attend the party.
Add in the gift shopping, card writing, package wrapping, parcel posting, special cooking, greens hanging, and tour taking we plan to accomplish in December. And then there are the concerts, parties, productions, and special church services. Holidays here are very complex affairs which require precision planning and complex budgeting to accomplish.
And it hasn’t always been this way. In fact, Christmas has been Christmas as we know it for only a few decades.
One reason our Christmas celebrations are so complex, and so conflicted, is the amalgamation of customs which have all converged on the weeks from late November through early January. It is a very tangled web of tradition, custom, invention, religion, and merchandising genius.
For instance, did you know that Christmas was once outlawed in England and in certain colonies in America?
Did you know that at one time only servants and children received gifts?
Did you know that copious consumption of alcohol has been central to December celebrations for millennia?
I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of our favorite American holiday traditions; how they originated, and how they have changed over the years. As much as I cringe when I see the Christmas decorations show up in the shops in late October, I do still love the Christmas season.
As the days grow colder and shorter, I take comfort in the lights, the music, the special times with friends, and the little remembrances which pass between friends and loved ones during these impossibly hectic weeks of December.
And so I’ll share a little of the history with you over the next few weeks; some photos taken around Williamsburg; and perhaps a recipe or two. Wreathes and roping are going up all over Duke of Gloucester Street and Colonial Williamsburg. Tomorrow I’ll share a little bit about Christmas celebrations here in Jamestown and in Williamsburg during the colonial era.
Most of the action is over for a while out in the garden, and I can watch the squirrels’ acrobatics from the window where I work. They are gorging on berries from the holly trees in the side yard.
So here are a few Tuesday Snapshots from the first week of December. These are all photos taken this week which I haven’t used in other posts, and I hope you enjoy them.
All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013