Experiences of Christmas are worldwide and the people of Nevada enjoy stories of Christmas as much as anyone else.
There are some stories of Christmas celebrations in early Nevada, but let’s look before that.
FYI, did you know that the Pilgrims banned Christmas?
Dec. 25 in the New World at the time of the Pilgrims was far from the joyous time we experience today.
Most of us think our Pilgrim forefathers were the original ideal Americans, getting along well with everyone and skillfully overcoming every event, every trial they faced.
Sounds highly romanticized doesn’t it? And it is. The age old saying applies quite well here: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In fact, historians and early American scholars note the Pilgrims were a rather cantankerous bunch. A group of Christian believers who had little to no tolerance for those who held different opinions or ideas from their own. Today, the problems range more around political issues and ideology.
The Mayflower Pilgrims in Massachusetts actually banned the celebration of Christmas.
Dec. 25, 1620 was a day spent at hard labor, like any other day, falling trees, cutting firewood, looking after the farm animals, and doing all the other tasks needed “in order to avoid any frivolity on the day sometimes called Christmas.”
Governor William Bradford had to reprimand several colonists who took Christmas day off “to pitch ye barr and play and stool ball and such like sports.”
Pilgrim leaders held to a strict interpretation of the Bible and nothing in the Scriptures said anything about having a good time at Christmas, thus they strongly discouraged any such activity.
In the spring of 1659, the legislature of Massachusetts Bay colony passed a law which made Christmas illegal. The law stated, “Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas… shall pay for every offense five shillings” (about $1.45 American today).
However, this was not the widespread practice in all the other colonies. Some began their holiday celebrations well beforehand and continued until January 6, which is Epiphany on the Eastern Orthodox Catholic calendar.
In other colonies such as Virginia and Dutch New Amsterdam (New York), a different feeling prevailed, that there should be equal parts of religion and revelry during this time.
However, to the fervently Protestant Pilgrims though, Christmas was a promotion of the Roman Catholic Church, and believed it to be nothing more than “a popish frivolity” at its best and the “dreadful work of Satan” in their midst, at its worst.
Historians point out that in the Pilgrim mindset, almost any holiday that had a connection to the Roman Catholic Church was intolerable because it was looked upon as being the work of the devil.
Even the color green was outlawed in early Massachusetts because of its association with pagan festivals of earlier times.
It is noted that Pilgrim preachers went so far as to denounce holly and ivy as “seditious badges” which are always the unmistakable evidence of the devil at work.
Soon however, these all-too-stern prohibitions proved to be extremely unpopular in the Massachusetts colony and caused wide-spread discontent. Lawmakers were then compelled to issue a proclamation every year reminding the people of the ban of having a good time on Christmas. Naughty, naughty. Don’t do it.
It was not until 1681 that Christmas celebrations in Massachusetts were finally allowed without dire consequences.
But old ways and traditions are sometimes hard to part with and the people were not really free from the old laws until 1856. Up until then, children in Massachusetts were required to attend school on Christmas Day, no matter what day of the week it fell on.
Think of any of our famous forefathers in Boston, who growing up as children, were subject to these laws.
After 1856, the law was changed and the observance of Christmas was allowed to be a spirited and happy holiday for young and old.
As it was for those in Nevada’s past, may it be to you as well, a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
(adapted from works by historian Peggy Robbins, American History Illustrated, 1982, and numerous others)