Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Christmas Lore--Day 6
When did Christmas become a legal holiday?
Alabama was the first state to declare Christmas a legal holiday in 1836. Virginia followed suit in 1849. The first Christmas tree was set up at the White House in 1856 by President Franklin Pierce, but The United States Congress waited until June 26, 1870, to declare it a federal holiday. Once states legally recognized Christmas as an official holiday, it helped to standardize the date it was celebrated (December 25). Previously, celebrations took place at varying times like December 6 which was St. Nicholas' Day or on January 6, Epiphany. Hmmm . . . that could have been nice because you could have celebrated multiple times! I have read several 19th century historical accounts describing how people would start celebrating in early December and continue through mid-January. Basically, all work would stop except for what just had to be done to survive. For example, caring for the farm animals and cooking food.
While Virginia waited until 1849 to make it legal, it was celebrate here long before that date.
According to Peterson's Magazine December 1858:
"But in the middle states it [Christmas] has been kept, from the era of the first settlement at Jamestown, with more unanimity, perhaps than anywhere in the United States." (Christmas was frowned upon in some of the northern colonies for religious reasons.)