Donna Winters began penning novels in 1982 while working full time. She resigned from her job in 1984 following a contract offer for her first book. Since then, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Zondervan Publishing House, Guideposts, and Bigwater Publishing have published her novels. Donna has written fifteen historical for her Great Lakes Romances® series. Recently, she turned her attention to her hometown on the Erie Canal. Bluebird of Brockport, A Novel of the Erie Canal, released as a paperback in June. For December 14, and 15, you can download if from Kindle for FREE. But this offer ends at midnight, December 15th, 2012.
Today, Donna writes about Early American Christmas Traditions
With the approach of Christmas, I wondered how the characters in my latest release, Bluebird of Brockport, A Novel of the Erie Canal, would have celebrated in Brockport, New York, in 1830. After researching the setting and the religious traditions of their faith, I sadly concluded that my characters very well might not have celebrated at all.
The hero’s family, Congregationalists from New England, came from a long Puritanical tradition of banning Christmas celebrations. This sounds odd to our modern ears but the fact is that early celebrations were often noisy, drunken events. The Puritans ignored such frivolity and treated Christmas like any other workday.
Moving away from the Puritanical influence of the northeast, more southerly areas of Early America celebrated Christmas with feasts, balls, and gifts, traditions that did not focus on children in the years prior to the 19th century.
In Virginia, the observation of Christmas tended towards good fellowship and good eating. The Virginia Almanac for 1772 carried these sentiments on a December page:
This Month much Meat will be roasted in rich Mens Kitchens, the Cooks sweating in making of minced Pies and other Christmas Cheer, and whole Rivers of Punch, Toddy, Wine, Beer, and Cider consumed with drinking. Cards and Dice will be greatly used, to drive away the Tediousness of the long cold Nights; and much Money will be lost at Whist Cribbage and All fours.
In Williamsburg, Virginia, Philip Vickers Fithian’s December 18, 1773, diary entry about exciting holiday events mentions: “the Balls, the Fox-hunts, the fine entertainments. . .” While southern Americans of British heritage seemed to focus on the revelry of the season, the immigrants of the Netherlands and Germany residing in Pennsylvania centered Christmas in the home and within the family circle. 
As for gift-giving, Williamsburg shopkeepers of the eighteenth century placed ads noting items appropriate as holiday gifts, but New Year’s was as likely a time as December 25 for bestowing gifts. Cash tips, little books, and sweets in small quantities were given by masters or parents to dependents such as slaves, servants, apprentices, or children. Early on, gifts were not “exchanged” (with children giving to their parents or servants giving to their masters). That tradition developed at a much later time.
The Christmas tree, though originating in Strasbourg in the 17th century, did not catch on in England until a print of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s very domestic circle around a decorated tree at Windsor Castle appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1848.  Two years later, the same illustration appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book and spurred the tradition this side of the pond.
No early Virginia sources tell us how, or even if, colonists decorated their homes for the holidays, so we must rely on eighteenth-century English prints. The hanging of greens stretches back before written history. Folktales come down to us of Norsemen pinning evergreen boughs over doorways to ward off evil. The greens were also taken indoors to freshen stale air and to brighten spirits during the long winter months.
The Colonial Williamsburg Interpreter, vol. 16, no. 4, winter 1995-96.
How do you celebrate or decorate for Christmas? Do you hang greens, mistletoe, holly? Attend or host dinners or parties? Please share your favorite way of celebrating in a comment. Merry Christmas!
About Donna’s book, Bluebird of Brockport, A Novel of the Erie Canal
Dreams of floating on the Erie Canal have flowed through Lucina Willcox’s mind since childhood. Yet once her family has purchased its boat and begins the journey, the family meets one challenge after another. An encounter with a towpath rattlesnake threatens her brother’s life. A thief attempts to break in and steal precious cargo. Heavy rain causes a breach and drains the canal of water. Lucina comforts herself with thoughts of Ezra Lockwood, her handsome childhood friend, and discovers a longing to be with him that she just can’t ignore. Can she have a future with Ezra and still hold onto her canalling dream?
Ezra Lockwood’s one goal in life is to build and captain his own canal boat, but two years into the construction of his freight hauler, funds run short. With his goal temporarily stalled, and Lucina back in his life, his priorities begin to change. Can he have both his dreams — his own boat, and Lucina as his bride?
Here’s the Amazon link: http://amzn.to/Z4y9AY
Connect with Donna at the following link: http://greatlakesromances.blogspot.com