Friday, 13 December 2013

Christmas Almost Didn't Come

       Christmas is a major holiday in the U.S., celebrated in many different ways. The season begins the day after Thanksgiving and is enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike. But in the beginning, in the early 1600s, there wasn’t any Christmas celebration at all!
The Pilgrims in Massachusetts in the early 17th Century did not originally celebrate Christmas. They were in America to build a new society based on the Bible and they knew there was nothing in the Bible to say  December was  when Christ was born. They knew Christmas had roots in pagan winter solstice festivals like the Roman Saturnalia. They disapproved of the feasting and parties at Christmas.
         The General Court of Massachusetts made celebrating Christmas punishable by law in  1659. The law stated: “Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas, or the like, either by forebearing labor, feasting, or any other way upon such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for each offense five shillings as a fine to the country. "[A fine would be imposed if anyone did not work, or held a feast, or celebrated in any way, Christmas.]
          Even after the law was repealed in 1681, New Englanders were slow to accept Christmas. Giving gifts and parties and even decorations were considered to be pagan customs. As late as 1870, Boston schools held classes on Christmas Day!
          The same wasn’t true in Virginia. Jamestown was settled in 1607, before the Pilgrims, by people who hoped to get rich. They had no principles opposed to Christmas revels. But they didn't do much celebrating. For four years, they starved. There was no Christmas feast; they were lucky if there was food at all.
          Then, in 1611, they started to grow a new tobacco plant. It wasn’t the plant the local Indians grew. It came from a strain grown in the Spanish colonies of Trinidad and South America. How John Rolfe got the seeds he brought to Jamestown is a mystery—there was a death penalty for anyone who sold such seeds to a non-Spaniard! Rolfe crossed his Spanish seeds with the local tobacco and produced a plant well-adapted to local conditions. At the same time, it was more pleasing to European taste and had a higher nicotine content than the native tobacco. The first shipment went to England in 1614. Their new kind of tobacco became their gold.
           With life secure, merriment and Christmas celebration quickly followed. Parties and festivities just like they had enjoyed back in England enlivened the Virginia Christmas season.

U.S. Christmas Tradition

         The Christmas season begins the day after Thanksgiving.
         Some people decorate their houses with lights. Most people put a Christmas wreath on their doors or windows.
Christmas trees, natural and artificial, are decorated in homes across the United States between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (In Maine, many cut their own trees at farms that grow them just for Christmas.)
Colorfully wrapped presents are placed around the tree to be opened on Christmas morning.
In some places, groups go from house to house singing Christmas carols.  This tradition goes back to the early 1800s, in England, and combines holiday visiting with songs to celebrate Christmas. Often singers are given something warm to eat or drink before they go on to the next house.
On Christmas Eve, children hope that Santa Claus will visit their homes. They hang Christmas stockings for him to fill. They may put a plate of cookies and some milk or juice for him to have a snack as a thank you for their presents.
Churches often have Christmas pageants. Kids play the roles in the Christmas story: Mary and Joseph looking for shelter, the angels visiting the shepherds, and the three kings traveling to Bethlehem.
Christians often go to a midnight church service; there are also services on Christmas morning. After church,  presents are opened under the Christmas tree. Families usually gather for a large meal: traditional foods are turkey, ham or roast beef, with mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, cranberries, carrots, fruit salads, and desserts like fruit cake or apple or pecan pie.
There are also traditions unique to regions in the United States. In the Southwest, luminarias guide the Christ child to a person’s home, and Pastorela plays, a combination of reverence and satire, are commonly performed. In Polish communities, people set their dinner table with two extra places for Mary and the Christ Child in case they should knock at the door to ask for shelter. Throughout the country, immigrant customs are added to local tradition for a diverse celebration.
Some people still celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, which begin on Christmas Day. The Christmas tree is decorated on Christmas Eve, and comes down the day after Epiphany (Kings’ Day). This is not widespread, however. For most people in the United States, Christmas Day is the end of the Christmas season.
        Attention then turns to celebration of the New Year, with multiple reviews of the year that is ending.

English Christmas Language

Christmas has its own vocabulary. It is based on the customs people in the United States (and the other English-speaking countries) follow at this time of year. I found another of the Mrs. Haquet interactive books for practice of the language of Christmas. At the back, there are a couple of Christmas songs that may sound familiar to you!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Boston Tea Party: December 1773

On December 16, 1773, a group of American colonists in Boston, Massachusetts gathered to perform an act of civil disobedience. It is now called the Boston Tea Party.

Earlier in that year, the British Parliament, which then governed the English colonies in America, passed a law it thought would stop protests there. Many taxes the colonists did not like had been repealed, but the new law continued a tax on tea. The law gave a monopoly on tea sales in the colonies to the British East India Company. This company was failing. It had a lot of unsold tea. A monopoly would let it sell the tea at a lower price because it would be the only place to buy tea.

The British government thought that the low cost of tea for the Americans would make them forget about the tax. The British East India Company owed money to the British government and could pay the money back. The government would also earn revenues from the tax. Everyone should be happy.

(Today, we would call this a government “bailout” of the privately owned East India Company.)

The colonists didn’t see why they should be happy. The new law would hurt local merchants who would not be able to buy and sell tea. Also, the tax was still being charged, and the colonists had vowed not to allow imports of taxed goods until the tax was repealed. The colonists tried to talk to the Massachusetts colonial governor about this on December 16, 1773. The governor said he would meet them, but when they arrived at the meeting, the governor had gone away to his house in the country!

There were three ships in Boston Harbor loaded with British tea, surrounded by British war ships. The colonists dressed up as Mohawk Indians (although no one was fooled; the disguises were not very good) and went to the harbor that same day. They divided into three groups and boarded each of the ships. They politely asked the captains for the keys to the cargo hold. There was no resistance. They then began tossing boxes of tea overboard into the harbor. When they were done, they left. It was very orderly.

They destroyed over 92,000 pounds of tea (that's around 42,000 kilograms of tea floating in Boston Harbor!). The British responded to this action by the colonists with a law that took away their right to govern themselves. The colonists then formed illegal provincial assemblies. The British sent an invasion force from England to restore order. In 1775, colonists and British fought at the towns of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. The American Revolution had begun.

Some of the words in this article are defined in Quizlet at
The name of the glossary is: )Boston Tea Party.