Christmas in Colonial times

A Colonial Christmas – Hands On History

What was Christmas like in Colonial times?

Close your eyes.
When you picture Christmas in your mind, what do you see?
Jesus as a baby in a stable?  Christmas lights?  Beautiful trees covered with decorations?
Food? Family? Friends?  Santa?  And PRESENTS ?!?!?

What if I told you that there was a time in our country’s history that a child might have answered like this:
A fabulous feast of fish, flesh, and fowl!
In the year 1608, Captain John Smith wrote this, “The next night being lodged at Kecoughtan; six or seaven dayes the extreame winde, rayne, frost and snow caused us to keep Christmas among the Salvages, where we were never more merry, nor fed on more plentie of good Oysters, Fish, Flesh, Wild-foule, and good bread; nor never had better fires in England, then in the dry smoaky houses of Kecoughtan.”    After so much suffering, and starvation the first settlers in Virginia faced, this Christmas meal must have indeed looked like the best of a royal feast!  As time passed, and more and more people came to settle in America’s first colonies, they all brought with them their own Christmas traditions… and some didn’t chose to observe Christmas at all!

Christmas in the early American colonies wasn’t quite like an average American Christmas today.  
To be fair though, there are some parts of the Christmas celebration that we would find very similar.   A Colonial Christmas might  also have included visiting with friends and family, singing carols, going to church, relaxing, dancing, games, and all around having FUN!

So, do you want to learn more about what a Colonial Christmas was like?
Let’s do it the MOST FUN way possible!  

We will taste the colonists’ favorite Christmas foods, craft Colonial Christmas decorations for your house, make homemade gifts for your friends and family, play some Colonial games, sing some traditional Colonial Christmas carols, learn how to dance a minuet, and LOTS more!

*Note:  This post has some Amazon affiliate links!
If you click on the resource and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

How to use this unit:

First,
go read these posts -> Christmas School   or   An American Girl Christmas
You will find the whole idea behind this series, and also how to keep homeschooling through the holidays with NO STRESS!

If you dream of finding a way to cover “school”, but also get all your Christmas cooking, gift making, etc… done, and somehow still make wonderful, warm holiday memories with your kids, this might just be what you’ve been looking for!

Next, scroll through each of the sections in the Colonial Christmas Hands-On History below.
You will find some online reading to introduce each topic, extra books/movie suggestions, and of course LOTS of hands-on projects for each topic of study. I highly recommend keeping Christmas binders (directions for that in the AG Christmas post above).  I still have my children’s binders from years and years ago, and they make wonderful keepsakes to bring out each year!  The printables in the Colonial Christmas Hands-On History Printable Power Pack would be great to include in these binders!
REMEMBER you do NOT have to complete all of these activities.
Choose the ones that spark enthusiasm from your family, and ones that will help you also enjoy checking off your Christmas list!  Make some homemade gifts, send some beautiful calligraphy Christmas cards your children have created, have them craft some sentimental and beautifully simple Christmas ornaments and decorations, and bake some of George Washington’s favorite cookies for your neighbors!   And if you’re feeling extra festive, there are even ideas on how to host a Twelfth Night Christmas party!

NEW!!
If you would like the PRINTABLE PDF VERSION of this, click the image below and pop over to the Book Store!

I also just added the PRINTABLE POWER PACK with over 70 pages of printables made to go along with this unit!  You’ll find a calligraphy practice page, copy work pages, word searches, mazes, coloring pages, a decorate your own Williamsburg wreath activity, a Twelfth Night Christmas party planner, and LOTS MORE!!!

A Colonial Christmas History  

 

This is the FIRST post in a series of Christmas Hands-On Histories!
So, if you enjoy this post and want to get all of the posts in this series, be sure to subscribe to my newsletters for updates, or check back here from time to time!

Coming Soon!
A Colonial Christmas   (Printable Power Pack!)
A Pioneer Christmas
A Civil War Christmas
A Turn of the Century Christmas
A World War II Christmas

An Ancient History of Christmas

If you’re seeing this before the holidays, and want to give it a try with Thanksgiving too, you can check out
The History of Thanks-Giving post  (also FREE!).

History of Thanksgiving for Kids

*A Colonial Christmas-  An Introduction*

Yes, reading is first in each section.  I know I said this was a HANDS-ON Colonial Christmas, and it is!
But you may want to read and listen to some accounts of what a common Christmas in the colonies was like before we jump in!   The Colonial period of American history was quite long, lasting from around 1607 to 1776.  Christmas went from a very meager, but grateful celebration by the first settlers, to a much more elaborate event toward the end of this era.  And there was even one year that Christmas was BANNED!

+Reading-

* The First Christmas of New England  By Harriet Beecher Stowe
*Christmas In the First Colonies
*A historic Colonial Virginia Christmas  (video)
*A Virtual Tour of Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg  (YouTube)
*Christmas at Mt. Vernon
*How Did George Washington Celebrate Christmas ?
*Christmas at Valley Forge
*Christmas in Colonial America
*Christmas in Seventeen Seventy Six
*Take a Christmas tour of Colonial Tryon Palace
(Located in eastern North Carolina- notice the use of oyster shells to the typical fruit decorations!  Also you’ll watch how to make a delicious Twelfth Night cake!)
*The Elves and the Shoemaker


+EXTRAS:

*NOTE: This is the ONLY section that you will not find a Hands-On section!  The Extras sections are mostly links to books, movies, or other resources that introduce the time period in the setting of a Colonial Christmas.

*Felicity’s Surprise
*An Early American Christmas
*Christmas in Colonial America
*American Christmases: First Hand Accounts of Holiday Happenings from the Past to the Present
(This has accounts from as far back as John Smith right up through today.
This book could be used for each of these sections and would make a great coffee table book to boot !)
*Christmas in Williamsburg 
*BIG List of other Colonial America Books/Movies/Resources 

*Felicity: An American Girl Adventure   (DVD)

*Life In Colonial America Coloring Book


*Colonial Christmas Cooking*

We’ve learned that Christmas celebrations were just getting started during the Colonial era of the United States.  The celebrations and decorations were much more simple than today… EXCEPT for the food!   Some of the dishes that have been written about in journals from the 1700’s were incredible feasts that were much like those we read about taking place in the castles of kings during the Middle Ages!!   Like families today, every family (that celebrated Christmas) had their own special recipes for the holiday.  Cooking was much more time consuming than it is now, but that didn’t stop colonists from enjoying the same types of traditional foods-  roast turkeys (or chickens), breads, punches, cakes, cookies, pies, and even some homemade candies were similarly on the menu!

+Reading-
*A Colonial Christmas Dinner Menu
(This article is longish… but be sure to scroll down and read some of the typical celebratory dishes!  Including boiled bacon and pigeons, roasted tongues and udder, and boiled cod’s head!  GULP!  The diary excerpts at the bottom are very fun to read too!)
*Martha Washington’s Christmas
*What kind of food did the colonists usually eat?
*How did the colonists bake?
*Watch how to make a Christmas Mince Pie


+Hands-On!

*George Washington’s Christmas Yorkshire Pie
*Apple Tansey
*Colonial Christmas Cookies
*Gingerbread Cookies
*Cranberry Tarts
*Martha Washington’s Great Cake
*Candied Orange Peels
*Williamsburg Cheshire Pork Pie
*A Traditional Colonial Wassail

*A Peek Into the Pantry
This is a FANTASTIC blog full of wonderful historically inspired recipes featuring the American Girl Dolls.
Here are a few of my favorites below:
*Felicity’s Spiced Cider and Providence Cake
*Felicity’s Colonial Hot Chocolate 
*Felicity’s Brunswick Stew, Spoon Bread, and Apple Pie
*Felicity’s Twelfth Night Cake
*Felicity’s Beefsteak Pie


+EXTRAS:

*Felicity’s Cooking Studio
*Colonial Christmas Cooking
*The Bakers Dozen:  A Colonial Christmas Tale
*English Christmas Tea



*Colonial Christmas Homemade Decorations*

Most of the decorations the colonists used for Christmas were very simple things that came from the type of area where they settled.  For example, you may have noticed that fruit is used in many of the decorations.  The colonists were especially thankful for the abundance of fruit trees that they found (and grew!) in their new home land.
They discovered that these coastal areas were rich in delicious sweet treats too- gooseberries, wild blackberries, and cherries.   And if you look closely at some of the wreaths, you’ll notice oyster shells stuck in between the fruit!  Seafood was easy to come by, and a staple of many of the colonists’ diets.  The pearly insides of the oyster shells must have seemed to be another natural element to add to the cuttings of greenery.

+Reading-

*A Colonial Christmas    (video)
*Decorating at Colonial Williamsburg   (video)
*Colonial Williamsburg Christmas Decorations
*Why Candles in the Windows?
*Decking the Doors
*Pineapples for Christmas?


+Hands-On-

*Note: Most of these homemade decorations/ornaments would also make nice gifts to give !

*Homemade Pomander Balls or make a Pomander Centerpiece
*
Recycled Christmas Card Ball Ornaments
*Cut Paper Ornaments
*Dried Apple Garlands   or  Dried Orange Garlands (or Ornaments)
*Popcorn Garlands  (that will last!)
*Sugared Fruit Centerpiece
*Punched Tin Ornaments 
*How to Make a Colonial Williamsburg Christmas Apple Tree Decoration
6 More Colonial Christmas in Williamsburg Decorations
How to Make a Colonial Williamsburg Wreath
*Tin Punch Ornaments
(You could do the same with tin cans and use them for luminaries!)
*Embroidered Paper “Sampler” Ornaments

*What natural materials do you have where you live that you might be able to use to decorate with?
Go outside and take a Colonial Christmas decoration scavenger hunt!  Do you have magnolia or pine trees?  Boxwood?  Maybe some pinecones or acorns too?
Twig Stars
DIY Pinecone Christmas Decorations 
Colonial Christmas Kissing Ball


+EXTRAS-

*A Colonial Williamsburg Christmas
*Candle Making Kit
*Holiday Candle Sticks
*Colonial Basket Weaving Kit
*Quill Calligraphy Set 
(Practice your calligraphy and write some Christmas cards!)


*Colonial Christmas Holiday Gift Making*

Christmas gift giving was not a big part of the holiday in Colonial days.  Times were quite a bit more lean than before most had come from England.  People might gift each other with a baked good, a piece of candy, or some other token of friendship and holiday joy.  If you were a child in the later part of the Colonial era you might have been given a several wonderful toys under your Christmas tree.  Still, gifts were not the focal point of Christmas at all.  Today, there is a much greater emphasis on all the gifts we give and all the gifts we hope to get!  Instead of buying all your gifts from the store, why not make some extra special ones for your friends and family this year?!  I’ve also included a bit of the history of the Christmas Box (which in some places an entire day is set apart called Boxing Day).  Perhaps you’d like to put together some things to give to someone who would be blessed by it.

+Reading-

*George Washington’s Christmas Gift
*A short history of Christmas Gift Giving
*What Is Boxing Day?
*Why Celebrate Boxing Day?
(Be sure to read why they used to ride horses INSIDE the church on this day!)


+Hands-On!

*Kids Simple Sew- Lavender Sachet Bags
*Felicity Goodie Bags
(Though this is for favor bags for a party, these would make great small homemade gifts !  Since “taking tea” was such a part of Felicity’s story, you could fill the bags with a variety of teas and stick them in a mug for a lovely gift for family or friends !)
*Easy Sew Sachets   or   No Sew Sachets
(These would be so pretty with Christmas fabrics and scents!)

*Simple Jacob’s Ladder Toy
(and a How-To for making one with chocolates !!! What kid wouldn’t love one of these ?)
*Paper Quilling–  would make AMAZING Christmas cards !!
*Silhouette Ornaments
(These would be great decoupaged on a piece of wood as well!)
*DIY Whirlygig Toys
*Friendship Teacup Pincushion
*Christmas Potpourri in a Jar
*Dry Christmas Potpourri


+Extras-

*Felicity’s Craft Book
*Christmas Cross Stitch Sampler Kit

 



*Colonial Christmas Fun*

You’ll find ideas for lots of fun to have gathered together with your friends and family!
Traditional Colonial Christmas carols, dances,  games, and how to host a Twelfth Night party!

+Colonial Christmas Carols

+Reading-
Early Colonial Carols.
You can also find the entire CD, “Glory Shone Around: Early American Carols
*Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Carols      (video)
*The Twelve Days of Christmas
*Auld Lang Syne  and Teaching ‘Auld Lang Syne’ from Making Moments Matter
*Colonial Christmas Carols   (collection to listen to- YouTube)
* We Won’t Go Until We Get Some: Christmas in New England Colonies
(Best for older students…This would be a great discussion starter for you high school age kids!  Also a good starting point for the roots of the celebration of this holiday !)
*An Early American Christmas CD    and  A Colonial Christmas CD
(You can stream through Amazon for free!)


+Hands-On!

*Go Christmas Caroling!
Sadly, this is a Christmas pastime that seems to be just about forgotten.  I grew up in a small town in the south.  Every Christmas, the local youth group (there was only one in our entire town :D) went around to all the sick, or elderly folks who couldn’t get out much and we sang our hearts out.  To this day I can remember the happiness it brought to those people.
You can KEEP IT SIMPLE!  Or you can make it a whole community event!
Drive in your car with the windows down, walk around your block and knock on doors… or just sing, or add in friends and family and go in a trailer!
This makes me think of a quote from the Christmas classic movie Elf-
“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!” 

*Go Caroling
Joy To The World (history)  and  Lyrics/Instrumental to Practice 
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen   (history)  and  Lyrics/Instrumental to Practice
Hark the Herald Angels Sing  (history)  and  Lyrics/Instrumental to Practice
The First Noel  (history)   and    Lyrics/Instrumental to Practice

*Christmas Caroling Treats-
It might be fun to bake one of the yummy Colonial Christmas treats above and hand them out to the people you sing to!
Kids can do the cooking, packaging, and even make a small card for each goodie!  The sky is the limit on their creativity!
*Christmas Caroling With Kids   (ideas and activities)
*Listen to this Christmas Carol Service and SING ALONG!!!


+Colonial Christmas Dancing

+Reading-

*Colonial Williamsburg Dance    (YouTube)
*What kind of dancing did people do in Colonial America?
*Colonial Dancing
(This is a PBS interview-  if you forward to the 4:00 mark you can see the colonial dancing and music!)
*Dance, Dance Revolution
*Just for fun-  watch the Cotillion  and  Hole in the Wall

+Hands-On!
*Very easy instructions on how to dance the minuet!
(YouTube from Notgrass Company)
*Learn a Colonial Dance


+Colonial Games


The colonists loved playing games!  This was a great pastime for the cold harsh winters in the northern colonies especially.   
These games might be played in front of a warm fire by just the children, or with all the friends and family gathered!  Christmas was the perfect time this!  Colonial games that were especially popular were charades, card games, draughts (checkers), and chess.

+Reading-
*Colonial Games to Play at Christmas and all year round!
*The Christmas Pickle
(This is such a fun tradition!  My now grown children & their spouses STILL come in during the holidays and try to find that crazy Christmas pickle!  If someone finds it, I give them a little prize, and hide it again for the next “kid” to find!)

+Hands-On!
*Learn to play the card games  All Fours  and   Boston Whist
(You could print the instructions out, and include them with a pack of playing cards as a small gift !)
*Learn to play Nine Men’s Morris  or  try this Simple DIY Nine Men’s Morris Game  (YouTube)
(A friend once gave a handmade Nine Men’s Morris board game to my son for Christmas.  He LOVED it!)
*Design and fly your own kites
(While not truly a “game”, colonial children often made kites (and gifted them!) for a Christmas activity)

*Colonial Draughts Game  (amazon)
*Beautiful 4-in-1 set of wooden game set 
(Includes checkers, chess, Nine Men’s Morris, and Fast Sling Puck)

 

+Colonial Christmas Entertaining

Have you ever heard the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’?  Have you ever wondered what 12 days and a partridge in a pear tree had to do with Christmas?   The colonists would have been able to tell you!  When we think of the Christmas season, we usually think of it beginning sometime in the month of December and lasting till December 31st, New Years Eve. If you asked a colonist when Christmas was, they’d say December 25th through January 5th (or 6th sometimes).  The 12 Days of Christmas!  The last day is referred to as the Twelfth Night!  The Twelfth Night is the last day of the holiday and the biggest evening of celebration.  This is also referred to as Epiphany or Day of the 3 Kings!

+Reading-
*The Twelve Days of Christmas and Twelfth Night
*Colonial Twelfth Night Cake and the Story Behind It     (video)
*Watch the book ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ read online
*Facts for kids- The Twelve Days of Christmas
*A peak at a Colonial Twelfth Night Celebration might have looked like!   (video)
*Day of the 3 Kings
*What is Epiphany?

+Hands-On!
Hosting a Twelfth Night (for just your family, or for the whole neighborhood!) celebration is the PERFECT way to combine all of the things we’ve been learning about Christmas in the colonies !   Write some invitations with your feather quill and berry ink, put together Caroling books, cook up a Twelfth Night cake and other goodies, dance a minuet, and CELEBRATE Christmas like a Colonist!

*Have a Twelfth Night Party
*Send out proper invitations to your Twelfth Night Party and seal them with these Christmas Wax Stamps
*A fun collection of stories about Epiphany

*If you want to go all out for your party-
Colonial Boy’s finest for a Colonial Christmas Ball
+Colonial Girl’s finest for a Colonial Christmas Ball


*And, if you’d like to learn more about  the Revolutionary War and Colonial America, you can find LOTS more fun, hands-on history learning ideas with these FREE Units.

Colonial America Unit Study

*American Girl Felicity- Colonial America Unit Study

*American Girl Felicity Pinterest Page
*American Girl Felicity Extras Page
*Felicity’s Christmas Pinterest Page

native american Columbus and the revolutionary war free early american history curriculum

FREE Early American History Curriculum

 


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