We all have our holiday traditions, rooted in family legends and rich in history. Those special ornaments on the tree, that recipe handed down through the generations, and the favorite Christmas carols that lift our spirits.
Did you know? Celebration of Christmas in the United States has an interesting history. For a while it was even illegal to celebrate the holiday in Boston (1659-1681). Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under the country’s new Constitution. In fact, prior to the Civil War the North focused on Thanksgiving even considering celebrating Christmas to be a sin while the South centered the fall and winter holidays on Christmas. It’s no real surprise then that Alabama was the first state to declare Christmas a holiday in 1836 – Louisiana and Arkansas followed suit in 1838 but Christmas was
not declared a federal holiday until an Act of Congress signed by President Ulysses S. Grant on June 26, 1870.
Perhaps your Christmas table has a baked ham, lamb with mint sauce, roast goose or turkey as its centerpiece. In the Lowcountry you’re just as likely to find roasted oysters alongside that turkey and that turkey is just as likely to have been deep fried. And of course, it wouldn’t be a holiday feast without pecan pie for dessert! Every family has its own special way of making this luscious treat which legend has it was developed in Louisiana by French settlers after they were introduced to the native pecan trees that flourished in the area.
Another tasty treat that has long been a Southern tradition is placing oranges in Christmas stockings. There are three possible origins of this tradition. One goes back to the legend of St. Nicholas wherein the saint learned of a poor man unable to provide a dowry for his three daughters. The saint is reputed to have tossed three bags of gold through the poor man’s window and the oranges of today are said to represent this golden gift. Another legend is that oranges were a treat during the Great Depression when they were hard to come by and children especially benefited from the vitamin C they provided. Finally, that in the days before the lavish produce department of today’s grocery stores, oranges were a winter luxury, an extravagant gift, since such a fruit was difficult to come by out of season. Whichever legend you prefer, citrus fruit in stockings and decorations have been a staple of the South for generations.
Do you have a poinsettia in your home for the holidays? Did you know that you have a South Carolina statesman to thank? Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851) served in the South Carolina legislature (1816-1820) before serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and later as the first U.S. Minister to Mexico (1825-1829). It was in this latter capacity that, while in Mexico, this well-known amateur botanist came across an interesting plant with bright red bracts. Known by the Aztecs as cuitlaxochitl, Poinsett brought the plant back to the U.S., introduced it to floriculture where became known as the poinsettia.
Whatever traditions you hold dear, may the warmth and blessings of Christmas be a delight to you and your family.
The Southern Weekend http://thesouthernweekend.com/christmas-traditions-in-the-south/
University of Illinois http://extension.illinois.edu/poinsettia/facts.cfm
The History of Christmas.com http://www.thehistoryofchristmas.com/ch/in_america.htm
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