Because my parents live in Williamsburg, VA, I have the great good fortune each year to be able to spend Christmas there. Colonial Williamsburg is the biggest, bestest restoration/recreation of 18th century colonial America in the country, and Christmas is their biggest, bestest season for visitors. The houses and buildings are all beautifully decorated, candles are in every window, restaurants and taverns have the proverbial groaning board, there are re-enacted balls and fireworks and fiddlers and a fife and drum corps thundering out 18th century tunes –– it’s all quite wonderful.
It’s also a wonderful trial for CW’s historians. Yes, the beautiful decorations draw in the tourists, but they’re not, well, accurate. Not at all. For 17th and 18th century Englishmen (which is what the Virginians still were), Christmas was a religious holiday, and little more. Even over in London, the Court in 1774 is celebrating with George III and Queen Charlotte taking the sacrament in the Chapel-Royal from the Lord Bishop of London, and that’s about it.
The scholarly historians know this, of course, and dutifully write about the more accurate, somber Christmases past, but it’s the Grand Illumination that pays the bills. And, to be honest, fireworks over the Governor’s Palace and wreathes decorated with pineapples and cinnamon sticks are what I like, too, so each year I cheerfully pack away my Hat of Outraged Historical Indignation for the holidays, and just have fun.
I’ll also offer to you all the same good wishes from the Virginia Amanack for the Year of our Lord God 1771, which manage to remain entirely appropriate for 2006 as well:
We wish you health, and good fires; victuals, drink, and good stomachs; innocent diversions, and good company; honest trading, and good successes; loving courtship, and good wives & husbands; and lastly, a merry CHRISTMAS and a happy NEW YEAR.