Christmas in Massachusetts

By Richard P. Howe Jr.

The early English residents of Massachusetts disliked Christmas.  They even made it illegal.  In 1659 the legislature passed a law that required anyone caught celebrating Christmas to pay a fine.  Why were the early English residents opposed to Christmas?  They wanted Christmas to be a strict religious day but saw that many people treated it as a celebration that involved too much eating, drinking and game playing which were all things God disapproved of, they believed.

Attitudes in Massachusetts were slow to change.  Until the 1870s, most schools and businesses were open on Christmas day.  Things changed after that and Christmas soon became the most important holiday of the year for many people.

Christians recognize Christmas as the day Jesus was born so many attend church services, often at midnight on Christmas Eve.  According to the bible, Jesus was born in a stable surrounded by farm animals, so it is common for people to have a display of small figures of Jesus and others who were present at his birth (including cows and sheep) in their homes.

Christmas is much more than a religious holiday.  For children, it is the day that Santa Claus visits and leaves behind presents that are placed underneath the Christmas tree.  The practice of giving gifts at a certain time of the year is found in many cultures as are stories of mysterious figures who appear in the night and leave gifts for children.  These are examples of how practices that are common in one culture often are adopted and changed by others.

For businesses, Christmas is a critical time of the year.  With so many gifts being given, much money is spent so retailers especially depend on the Christmas season to make profits.  During the Great Depression of the 1930s when money was very scarce, banks set up special accounts they called Christmas Clubs.  Each week during the year, customers would deposit a small amount of money in a separate account, then just before Christmas the money would be paid back to the customer , just in time to spent it in the stores.

But Christmas is not only about religion or shopping, it is a time for family and friends to spend time together or at least to send each other colorful Christmas cards.  It is also a time when people are at their most generous with donations to those in need.