Children today would find it difficult to believe that Colonial families did not make a big thing out of the Christmas holiday. It would seem even stranger to know that American Puritans had even passed a law forbidding the observance of this holiday in any way as it was frivolous. As years passed, this restriction faded and the holidays were celebrated, but not with the kinds of celebrations and gifts that we have today. There was no Santa and fancy lights or many gifts under the tree.
Each group of settlers had their own cultural customs that they brought with them. German’s cut down evergreen trees and brought them inside to cover with candles, popcorn chains and cranberry chains, and even apples. (We can decorate our room with these chains since I don’t have a tree in the room.) Dutch settlers hollowed out eggs and filled the shells with scenes. They also decorated their homes with cookie wreaths (Play dough) and many nuts. English children waited for the first snows of December so that they could find a Yule log—the biggest log, since as long as it burned the Christmas celebration would last. How have we adapted these customs to our time now?
Fruitcakes, mincemeat pies and gingerbread shaped into birds, animals and soldiers were also popular.
Just before Christmas time we will make our own old fashioned gifts called a
used as air fresheners, using fruit, cloves and cinnamon. (Colonial homes did not always smell great so these were piled in bowls and on shelves. This is one reason they made great gifts!) I would also like to finish up all the classroom cooking of the many colonial recipes I have found and plan to use and incorporate into a cookbook. I would also like the other first graders and our fifth grade buddies to try out some of our recipes or to help us with them throughout the unit. I would have to designate one day a week to use all my recipes! (Anyone who needs them will have to come to my classroom to get these recipes as there are many to choose from.) We can feast on just drinks and desserts for a Christmas treat.
There is so much material to cover and so many more years, but with the age level and comprehension skills of first graders, I’m limiting what will be covered and also putting an arbitrary limit of less than fifty years from Plymouth and settlement to our Connecticut unit. Much in this unit will be visual and hands-on activity, with many experience charts. Hopefully field trip money will become available so that they can visit places such as Mystic so that they can truly see these things, not just in pictures. There will not be a lot of research with books, paper and pencils, but rather fun activities outlined in the text and background information.