Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Maine Minutiae: Christmas - It Almost Didn't Happen in Maine

The Sacred Heart of Jesus
Did you know that Christmas, as we know it, as a holiday celebrating the birth of Christ and the giving and receiving of gifts, was almost not a holiday at all in Maine and other parts of New England? I was floored when I found that out while looking for material for this post. Ironically, one of the reasons Christmas was almost doomed as a holiday in Maine, was because it was the celebration of Christ's birth. Confused? I was too, until I read the following short essay.

Early History of Christmas in Maine/Massachusetts
The earliest historical mention of Christmas we can find was 16 years before the Mayflower landed in North America. In 1604 French settlers on St. Croix Island, off the Maine coast, held religious services and spent most of the day playing "games".
The Puritans of New England found no biblical precedent for celebrating Christ’s birthday on December 25th, or any other day, and they felt that too much secular feasting and mirth accompanied a day that, if marked at all, should be a religious observance only. Christmas was not the only holiday dispensed with in Puritan New England. Easter, May Day and a host of other popular English celebrations were deliberately left behind as well.

But by the 1870s, more and more New Englanders, and their descendents across the country, were observing Christmas. The strict Protestantism of early New England gradually relaxed through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and so did the prohibition on Christmas celebrations. New, attractive, and largely secular aspects of the holiday, like Santa Claus, stockings hung by the chimney, and Christmas trees took hold in the popular imagination. Elsewhere in the country, Episcopalians and Catholics had observed Christmas continuously, and European immigrants from countries like Germany, that had strong Christmas traditions, had kept the holiday flourishing. New Englanders were drawn in slowly, and by the nineteenth century’s end, most Christians observed some form of the Christmas holiday, complete with a dinner menu remarkably similar to Thanksgiving’s.

So Christmas was almost 86'ed by the very people leaving England to pursue freedom of religion. Odd, that. It also struck me that Christmas wasn't a big deal in Maine and the rest of New England until the 1870's. Since I am Catholic, it never entered my mind that some other Christian religions would not have celebrated Christmas like we did. I am certainly glad that we all, Catholics and Protestants, eventually came together to celebrate the singular most important event in the history of mankind, the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Texas Tidbits: A White Christmas.....In South Texas!

Christmas Day 2004, Port Aransas, Texas
We finally got our first good snowfall of the season yesterda y, last night and into this morning. Total snowfall? About 6 inches, so it wasn't too bad. The schools were even open. This type of weather is the norm up here in New England at this time of year. I have spent many a Christmas in locations that you'd expect to at least see snow on the ground on Christmas Day - Maine, Ohio and the mountains of Colorado. But I have never seen it snow on Christmas Day. What if I had stayed in Texas? Snow? In Texas? On Christmas Day? Not. Gonna. Happen. Right? Wrong you are blizzard breath.

I left Texas for Colorado in early November, 2004. Wanna guess what happened about six weeks later? You got it. It snowed on Christmas Day! In Port Aransas and points south! Many of the cities in that area of Texas had not recorded snowfall in over one hundred years. Much less on Christmas Day. Ever! Yup, parts of South Texas experienced the first white Christmas in recorded history. I am officially jealous now. I looked forward to having some snowfall on Christmas Day at 8600 feet above sea level high in the Rockies. Christmas arrived and nothing. Nada. Bupkis. However, back home, in deepest South Texas they saw it snow on Christmas Day for the first time in history. Here's photographic proof.  I could cry. But I'll man up and .....no I won't. I am gonna cry! I might as well pour more salt into my white-less Christmas wounds. Thefreelibrary.com does the salt-pouring when they so cruelly remind me of "records being established. 24-hour snowfall records were set in Victoria with 12.5 inches and Corpus Christi with 4.4 inches, both of which had previously dated back to 1895. For Corpus Christi this was their first measurable snowfall since 1973 and only their second White Christmas in recorded history. Victoria observed their first measurable snowfall since 1985 and their first ever known White Christmas in recorded history. For Brownsville 1.5 inches of snow fell, their first measurable snowfall since 1895 as well as their first ever White Christmas in recorded history. On Galveston Island 4 inches of snow fell, second behind 1895 when 15 inches fell. This was also Galveston's first ever White Christmas. In addition, extreme northeast Mexico received between 1 and 3 inches of snowfall, which was likely the first ever White Christmas experienced in this part of Mexico during recorded history."

I am happy for my fellow Texans to have witnessed something so rare that it may not happen again for thousands of years. I'll have to live vicariously through y'all at least until I see it snow on Christmas Day. However, it'll be my luck that some Christmas in the future will see a blizzard of epic proportions and I'll die on Christmas Eve. Bummer.

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All Original Material © Toby Shoemaker