Christmas on the Frontier
In 1831, Louisiana became one of two states to decree Christmas a legal holiday; the other was Arkansas. The soldiers at Ft. Jesup, of many different ethnic origins, likely combined their own distinct cultural traditions in celebration of this important religious and secular holiday. The Germans quietly introduced the Christmas tree, decorations and the advent wreath to America. The Irish welcomed family, friends and strangers with a lighted candle in the window. The English contributed the tradition of fruitcake and wassail; the Old English term for “your health.” Europeans shared the custom of burning the Yule Log, sometimes as long as twelve days, warming not only the house but those who resided within. The poem Silent Night or “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht” was written in 1816 in Austria and the melody composed for guitar accompaniment in 1818. The carol was performed for the first time in America in 1839. Adeste Fideles was translated into the English O Come All Ye Faithful in 1841.
For the soldiers at Ft. Jesup work ceased on this day and was celebrated with a special evening meal, and perhaps songs, wassail, and games. In the 1840’s, most American families did not have a Christmas tree but a tree was decorated by and for the community. Stringing popcorn is a distinctly American tradition. We will have a period Christmas tree adorned with strings of popcorn, apples, gilded and natural nuts and fruit, and homemade paper decorations.
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