About a week ago, I time traveled to December 24, 1836. Connor Prairie, an interactive history park in central Indiana, hosts special opportunities for people to relive life in its pioneer village. I have always loved history, and so I was excited when I learned about the Candlelight Christmas event at Connor Prairie, which reenacts the way pioneers celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice. It was such an incredible experience, and made me realize how differently people celebrated Christmas back then compared to how we celebrate it nowadays.
What surprised me the most from my experience was how cold life would have been living in log cabins. I thought the one-room cabins would be warm from the heat of the fireplace, but the lack of insulation on the floor and walls made it chill. I was really only warm if I stood right in front of the fireplace.
Another surprising lesson for me was that Christmas was not observed as a holiday. It was a normal work day for people. Kids went to school from 7:00 a.m. til 4:00 p.m. It wasn’t until 1870 that President Grant made it a national holiday. Those who celebrated Christmas would acknowledge it within their homes, but it was not stretched-out into a holiday season like it is now.
Similarly, I did not realize the origin of gift-giving at Christmastime was from merchants hurting for business during the slow winter months. At least in the pioneer village, few people went to the general store in the winter, and the merchants cleverly thought of a way to increase business by suggesting people buy gifts for their loved ones for Christmas. Before people bought gifts, they maybe ate a little nicer food to mark the occasion or made things for one another. Once it became more common for people to buy gifts, expectations rose to give more than one gift and also to give gifts to more people.
As we draw closer to Christmas Day, I hope to be more mindful of the true meaning of Christmas and to not get sucked into the commercialized holiday with all its stresses and expectations.