Search billions of records on Ancestry.com
THIS AND THAT GENEALOGY TIPS ON HOLIDAYS
A NATIONAL THANKSGIVING
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness": Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the Beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplication to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, AD 1789
-- George Washington
The Pilgrims and America's First Thanksgiving
The Pilgrims, who celebrated the first thanksgiving in America, were fleeing religious prosecution in their native England. In 1609 a group of Pilgrims left England for the religious freedom in Holland where they lived and prospered. After a few years their children were speaking Dutch and had become attached to the Dutch way of life. This worried the Pilgrims. They considered the Dutch frivolous and their ideas a threat to their children's education and morality. So they decided to leave Holland and travel to the New World. Their trip was financed by a group of English investors, the Merchant Adventurers. It was agreed that the Pilgrims would be given passage and supplies in exchange for their working for their backers for 7 years. On Sept. 6, 1620 the Pilgrims set sail for the New World on a ship called the Mayflower. They sailed from Plymouth, England and aboard were 44 Pilgrims, who called themselves the "Saints", and 66 others, whom the Pilgrims called the "Strangers."
The long trip was cold and damp and took 65 days. Since there was the danger of fire on the wooden ship, the food had to be eaten cold. Many passengers became sick and one person died by the time land was sighted on November 10th. The long trip led to many disagreements between the "Saints" and the "Strangers". After land was sighted a meeting was held and an agreement was worked out, called the Mayflower Compact, which guaranteed equality and unified the two groups. They joined together and named themselves the "Pilgrims."
Although they had first sighted land off Cape Cod they did not settle until they arrived at Plymouth, which had been named by Captain John Smith in 1614. It was there that the Pilgrims decide to settle. Plymouth offered an excellent harbor. A large brook offered a resource for fish. The Pilgrims biggest concern was attack by the local Native American Indians. But the Patuxets were a peaceful group and did not prove to be a threat.
The first winter was devastating to the Pilgrims. The cold, snow and sleet was exceptionally heavy, interfering with the workers as they tried to construct their settlement. March brought warmer weather and the health of the Pilgrims improved, but many had died during the long winter. Of the 110 Pilgrims and crew who left England, less that 50 survived the first winter.
On March 16, 1621 , what was to become an important event took place, an Indian brave walked into the Plymouth settlement. The Pilgrims were frightened until the Indian called out "Welcome" (in English!). His name was Samoset and he was an Abnaki Indian. He had learned English from the captains of fishing boats that had sailed off the coast. After staying the night Samoset left the next day. He soon returned with another Indian named Squanto who spoke better English than Samoset. Squanto told the Pilgrims of his voyages across the ocean and his visits to England and Spain. It was in England where he had learned English.
Squanto's importance to the Pilgrims was enormous and it can be said that they would not have survived without his help. It was Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how to tap the maple trees for sap. He taught them which plants were poisonous and which had medicinal powers. He taught them how to plant the Indian corn by heaping the earth into low mounds with several seeds and fish in each mound. The decaying fish fertilized the corn. He also taught them to plant other crops with the corn.
The harvest in October was very successful and the Pilgrims found themselves with enough food to put away for the winter. There was corn, fruits and vegetables, fish to be packed in salt, and meat to be cured over smoky fires. The Pilgrims had much to celebrate, they had built homes in the wilderness, they had raised enough crops to keep them alive during the long coming winter, they were at peace with their Indian neighbors. They had beaten the odds and it was time to celebrate. The Pilgrim Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to be shared by all the colonists and the neighboring Native Americans. They invited Squanto and the other Indians to join them in their celebration. Their chief, Massasoit, and 90 braves came to the celebration which lasted for 3 days. They played games, ran races, marched and played drums. The Indians demonstrated their skills with the bow and arrow and the Pilgrims demonstrated their musket skills. Exactly when the festival took place is uncertain, but it is believed the celebration took place in mid-October.
The following year the Pilgrims harvest was not as bountiful, as they were still unused to growing the corn. During the year they had also shared their stored food with newcomers and the Pilgrims ran short of food. The 3rd year brought a spring and summer that was hot and dry with the crops dying in the fields. Governor Bradford ordered a day of fasting and prayer, and it was soon thereafter that the rain came. To celebrate - November 29th of that year was proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. This date is believed to be the real true beginning of the present day Thanksgiving Day. >br>
The custom of an annually celebrated thanksgiving, held after the harvest, continued through the years. During the American Revolution (late 1770's) a day of national thanksgiving was suggested by the Continental Congress. In 1817 New York State had adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom. By the middle of the 19th century many other states also celebrated a Thanksgiving Day. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of thanksgiving. Since then each president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, usually designating the fourth Thursday of each November as the holiday.
Few Americans are aware that large groups of colonists objected to Christmas during the 17th and 18th centuries. Christmas came to the American colonies while it was the subject of strenuous controversy in England. For the Church of England, the Feast of Nativity was one of the most important of the year, even though the English puritans condemned it. New England Puritans also shared this hostile attitude toward observing Christmas. Their opposition culminated in an act of Parliament in 1647 which abolished the observance of Christmas and Easter.
This was echoed in 1659 when Puritans of the American colonies enacted a law in the General Court of Massachusetts to punish those who kept Christmas. One of the Puritan doctrinal objections to Christmas was the belief that Church government should not ordain anything contrary to, or not found in the Scriptures, because the Bible did not prescribe special religious feasts. Therefore, the strict Puritans discarded as "devises of men" all feasts, except the Sabbath, the Liturgy with its required prayer and Bible reading, and the use of vestments and ornaments. This view excluded the religious observance of Christmas.
With the adoption of the Constitution in 1791, the separation of church and state was established, and the Puritan and Evangelical churches were less inclined to oppose the celebration of Christmas when it no longer symbolized the religious and political dominance of the Church of England.
HOLLY AS A CHRISTMAS DECORATION
The custom dates back to the time of the ancient Romans who used holly in connection with the celebration of their Saturnalia which occurs about the same time as Christmas. Since the leaves of the holly tree were always green and it was most beautiful at a time of the year when other trees were barren, some believed it to be sacred. It was believed that holly was hateful to witches because of its thorns and was therefore used to keep evil spirits away, and down thru the years it has become one of the leading symbols of well-being at Christmas. In the spiritual sense it has come to represent the crown of thorns worn by Christ when he was crucified.
THE YULE LOG
Burning of the yule log is an ancient Christmas ceremony handed down from the Scandinavians, who used to kindle huge bonfires in honor of their God, Thor. The bringing in and placing of the ponderous log on the hearth of the wide chimney in the baronial hall was the most joyous of the ceremonies observed on Christmas Eve. It was drawn in triumph from it's resting place amid shouts and laughter, every wayfarer doffing his hat as it passed, for he well knew that it was full of good promises, and that its flame would burn out old wrongs and heartburnings. On its entrance into the hall, the minstrels hailed it with song and music or in the absence of minstrels, that each member of the family sat upon it in turn, sang a Yule song and drank to a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year; after they had as part of their feast, Yule dough, or Yule cookies, on which was impressed the figure of the infant Jesus.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE
The Christmas Tree seems to have originated in Germany, and can be traced back to the year 1604. There is a pretty legend in connection with it which makes St. Winfred the inventor of the idea. In the midst of a crowd of converts he hewed down a giant oak tree which had formerly been the object of their Druidic worship. As it fell backward like a tower, groaning as it split asunder in four pieces, there stood behind it, unharmed by the ruin, a young fir tree, pointing a green spire toward the stars. Winfred let the ace drop and turned to speak to the people. "This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace, for your houses are built of the fir. It is the sign of an endless light, for its leaves are evergreen. See how it points upward to heaven! Let this be called the tree of Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood but in your own homes; there it will shelter gifts of love and rites of kindness."
The Christmas tree was introduced into the Court of St. James about 1840 and the custom spread rapidly among the aristocratic families of London, and was almost immediately adopted by all classes throughout England. It was a young German immigrant, August Ingard, a youth of 21, who introduced the Christmas tree to America. He and his family made their home in Wooster, Ohio. They decided to have a Christmas tree, as was their custom in Bavaria. Young August went into the woods outside Wooster and chopped down a spruce tree. From the village tinsmith he obtained a star fashioned of tin. Paper decorations were made and America's first Christmas tree blossomed out in all its glory in the Ingard home December 24, 1847. The tomb of August Ingard stands on Madison Hill in Wooster. This year, as always, a lighted tree will stand at it's door, a tribute to the man who first brought to America the symbol of peace, love and hope that is Christmas.
Sending of Christmas cards seems to be strictly an Anglo-Saxon custom, originated in England about 1844. They were introduced in America by the artist Louis Prang of Boston about 1875.
LEGEND OF THE CHRISTMAS CANDLE
Long ago an old shoemaker lived in a cottage on the edge of a village. Although he was poor and had little to share, each evening he placed a candle in his window as a welcome sign for travelers. War came, yet his light never wavered and somehow, in all the villages only the shoemaker was at peace with the world. "But how can peace come from a candle?" they asked. "The candle is a symbol of peace", he replied, "because light and peace are one". Christmas Eve came and the people, longing more than ever for peace, remembered the shoemaker's candle. Every Villager placed a candle in his window and on Christmas morning, as if by a miracle, a messenger brought new of the war's end. The custom of the bayberry candle originated in North America during the colonial days. It is considered a symbol of good luck for the ensuing year.
It was the custom of the early inhabitants of Mexico at the Christmas season to have in their chapel a manager in which lay an image of the Infant Saviour. We are indebted to Joel R. Poinsett of South Carolina, for the discovery of this colorful Christmas plant. In March, 1825, he was appointed the first American Minister to Mexico. It was he who brought the poinsettia to the United States.
Nicholas, was an authentic historical figure, who served as Bishop of Myra in the Eastern Church during the 4th century. He represented the spirit of sharing, and rewarded the good children with gifts, and brought switches for the bad. Traditionally, he rode upon a white horse, which accounts for the fact that hay was invariably left at the fireplace.
It was Clement Moore, in his famous immortal poem, "The Night Before Christmas" which caused St. Nicholas to lose his Ecclesiastical appearance for the jolly old elf, St. Nick, and to transform the white horse to the immortal eight reindeer.
(Christmas Symbols by Mr. Gertrude H. Hagerty, James Alexander Chapter DAR) Reprinted from Clinton Co., Indiana Roots December 1988)
A GENEALOGIST'S CHRISTMAS EVE -- Author Unknown
' Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house Not a creature was stirring, not even my spouse. The dining room table with clutter was spread With pedigree charts and a letter which said "Too bad 'bout the data for which you once wrote It was lost in a storm on an ill-fated boat." Stacks of old copies of wills and the such, Were proof that my work had become much too much. Our children were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads And I, at my table, was ready to drop >From work on my album with photos to crop. Christmas Eve now was here, and such was my lot, That presents and goodies and toys I'd forgot. Had I not been so busy, with grandparents' wills, I'd not have forgotten to shop for such thrills. While others had bought gifts to bring Christmas cheer, I'd spent time researching those birth dates and years. While I was thus musing about my sad plight, A noise on the lawn gave me such a great fright. Away to the window I flew in a flash, Tore open the drapes and yanked up on the sash. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, But an overstuffed sleight and eight little reindeer. And then in a twinkle, I heard on the roof, The prancing and pawing of thirty-two hoofs. The TV antenna was wrecked by their horns, And we now had a roof with hoof-prints adorned. As I drew in my head and bumped on the sash, Down the cold chimney fell Santa -- CR--RASH! Dear Santa looked like he'd been in a wreck, Tracked soot on the carpet (I could wring his neck!) Spotting my face, good old Santa could see, I'd no Christmas spirit, you'd have to agree. He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, And filled all the stockings (I felt like a jerk). Here Santa had brought us such gladness and joy, When I'd been too busy for even one toy. He spied my research on the table all spread, "Genealogist!" he cried. (My face was red.) "Tonight I've met many like you", Santa grinned, He pulled from his sack a large book he had penned. I gazed with amazement -- the cover it read, GENEALOGY LINES FOR WHICH YOU HAVE PLEAD. "Like you, I'm too, a genealogy bug" He said as he gave me a great Santa hug. "While elves make the sleighful of toys I carry, I do some research in the North Pole Library. A special treat, I am thus able to bring, To the genealogy folks who can't find a thing. Now off you should go to your bed for a rest, I'll clean up the house from this horrendous mess." I climbed up the stairs feeling gladness and glee And looked back at Santa, who'd brought much to me. While settling in bed I heard Santa's clear whistle, To his team which then rose like the down of a thistle. And I heard him exclaim as he flew out of sight, "Family History is Fun! Merry Christmas! Goodnight!"
CUSTOMS OF HALLOWEEN - The custom of Halloween was brought to America in the 1840's by Irish immigrants fleeing their country's potato famine. At that time, the favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates. The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul Cakes" made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggers would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At that time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul's passage to heaven.
"Happy New Year!" That greeting will be said and heard for at least the first couple of weeks as a new year gets under way. But the day celebrated as New Year's Day in modern America was not always January 1.
ANCIENT NEW YEARS
The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. In the years around 2000 BC, the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon (actually the first visible cresent) after the Vernal Equinox (first day of spring).
The beginning of spring is a logical time to start a new year. After all, it is the season of rebirth, of planting new crops, and of blossoming. January 1, on the other hand, has no astronomical nor agricultural significance. It is purely arbitrary. The Babylonian new year celebration lasted for eleven days. Each day had its own particular mode of celebration, but it is safe to say that modern New Year's Eve festivities pale in comparison.
The Romans continued to observe the new year in late March, but their calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors so that the calendar soon became out of synchronization with the sun.
In order to set the calendar right, the Roman senate, in 153 BC, declared January 1 to be the beginning of the new year. But tampering continued until Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, established what has come to be known as the Julian Calendar. It again established January 1 as the new year. But in order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 days.
THE CHURCH'S VIEW OF NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS
Although in the first centuries AD the Romans continued celebrating the new year, the early Catholic Church condemned the festivities as paganism. But as Christianity became more widespread, the early church began having its own religious observances concurrently with many of the pagan celebrations, and New Year's Day was no different. New Years is still observed as the Feast of Christ's Circumcision by some denominations.
During the Middle Ages, the Church remained opposed to celebrating New Years. January 1 has been celebrated as a holiday by Western nations for only about the past 400 years.
NEW YEAR TRADITIONS
Other traditions of the season include the making of New Year's resolutions. That tradition also dates back to the early Babylonians. Popular modern resolutions might include the promise to lose weight or quit smoking. The early Babylonian's most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment.
The Tournament of Roses Parade dates back to 1886. In that year, members of the Valley Hunt Club decorated their carriages with flowers. It celebrated the ripening of the orange crop in California.
Although the Rose Bowl football game was first played as a part of the Tournament of Roses in 1902, it was replaced by Roman chariot races the following year. In 1916, the football game returned as the sports centerpiece of the festival. The tradition of using a baby to signify the new year was begun in Greece around 600 BC. It was their tradition at that time to celebrate their god of wine, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket, representing the annual rebirth of that god as the spirit of fertility. Early Egyptians also used a baby as a symbol of rebirth. Although the early Christians denounced the practice as pagan, the popularity of the baby as a symbol of rebirth forced the Church to reevaluate its position. The Church finally allowed its members to celebrate the new year with a baby, which was to symbolize the birth of the baby Jesus.
The use of an image of a baby with a New Years banner as a symbolic representation of the new year was brought to early America by the Germans. They had used the effigy since the fourteenth century.
FOR LUCK IN THE NEW YEAR
Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason, it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year's Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man. Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes "coming full circle," completing a year's cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year's Day will bring good fortune.
Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the new year by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another "good luck" vegetable that is consumed on New Year's Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year's Day.
AULD LANG SYNE
The song, "Auld Lang Syne," playing in the background, is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the new year. At least partially written by Robert Burns in the 1700's, it was first published in 1796 after Burns' death. Early variations of the song were sung prior to 1700 and inspired Burns to produce the modern rendition. An old Scotch tune, "Auld Lang Syne" literally means "old long ago," or simply, "the good old days." The lyrics can be found
Go back to the index page