Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Few Quick Thoughts on the Holidays in 18th Century Mill Creek Hundred

As the title suggests, this is more of a collection of thoughts that just occurred to me than a well thought out post. Why it just occurred to me today, you'll see towards the end of the post. Perhaps some future research could more fully flesh out these ideas, but for now here's some things to think about as we move through what for us today is the back end of the Holiday Season.

I don't believe that I've ever come across any firsthand accounts of holiday celebrations in MCH in the 1700's, but I think we can make some fair assumptions. As we've seen, there were three major cultural/religious groups in MCH in the 18th Century. Yes, there were still some Swedes, Danes, and their descendants, but primarily the area was populated by English Episcopalians, English Quakers, and Scots-Irish Presbyterians. In thinking about this, I realized that these three groups celebrated the holidays in very different fashions from each other.

Of the three groups, the "proper" English settlers who still held to the Church of England (the Episcopal Church, in America) celebrated the season in the way that would look the most familiar to us today. The Christmas Season was a religious holiday first, but was also a time of family, decorations, and celebration. A good account of an 18th Century English Christmas can be found here. One interesting note is that for them, Christmas was the beginning of the holiday season, not the end. MCH Episcopalians would have gathered at St. James Church near Stanton to celebrate all of the holy days falling in the 40 day season of Christmas.

Their English brethren who belonged to the Society of Friends, however, took a much different view of the season. Quakers at the time, like the similarly-minded Puritans of New England, did not celebrate Christmas at all. They were more likely to be at work on December 25 than at the Meeting House. This disdain for celebrating Christmas is a reaction to what the holiday had become during the Middle Ages, which was more of a wild, Mardi Gras type atmosphere than what we see today. The Puritans and Quakers saw the celebrations as far too pagan and wild, so they decided to ignore it altogether. In some places in New England, laws against celebrating Christmas were in place well into the 19th Century.

This all leads us to the third, and probably most influential, group in 18th Century MCH -- the Scots-Irish Presbyterians. I've not seen any accounts of their holiday festivities, but I have a good guess to make, and it has to do with today. In the 1600's, the same "purifying" religious forces that attempted to squash the Christmas celebration in England also took hold in Scotland. While Christmas was only "outlawed" for a few decades in England in the mid-17th Century, celebrating the holiday was forbidden in Scotland for far longer. In fact, some laws were on the books until the 1960's, and even today the holiday is not as big there as it is elsewhere.

So, hundreds of thousands of Scotsmen and women were forbidden from celebrating Christmas. But, you see, the thing about Scotsmen is that trying to stop them from celebrating is like trying to stop a baby from crying -- you might succeed for a little while, but eventually you're going to lose. What the Scots did was to shift their Christmas celebrating to New Years, and thus Hogmanay was born.

The roots of Hogmanay go back centuries, borrowing from Celtic, Norse, and other traditions. Basically it's a big New Year's Eve celebration that involves, in true Scottish fashion, revelry, food, and drink. It's still a major celebration in Scotland today, and not only is January 1 a holiday, but so is the 2nd. A true Scotsman needs a couple days to recover from a good celebration.

Although some of the Scot-Irish immigrants in MCH might have spent a generation or so in Ireland prior to coming to the New World, they were still Scottish. I think that if you could go back 275 years or so, you would have caught a good Hogmanay celebration in the hills of Mill Creek Hundred.


  1. Right off of Skyline Dr. is Fairway Dr, the entrance to Fairway Falls. As you pull into the neighborhood the entrance road goes to the right and the exit road goes around to the left of a circle with an old stone foundation in the middle. I have driven by it tons of times and never really realized this old structure. I looked on the old maps and it dates back as far as what's available, and it looks like Skyline Dr. used to more so cut through where the neighborhood is across the street, rather than follow along what (is/was) the golf course and came to the intersection of Old Linden Hill Road, where that house is up on the hill. Do you know if there is any significance to this old structure? Or was it just something that remained and not much is known about it. Thank you!

    1. I know exactly where you are, and I only became aware of the foundations there a few years ago. It's almost certainly the remains of the barn on the farm owned by John Kinsey Whiteman, of the Whiteman family touched on several times before on the blog. I haven't looked into this particular property (yet), but judging by the maps it looks like he owned this farm first (by the 1849 map), then also purchased one of the houses down by the corner at Linden Hill Road. From what I can tell from the old aerial photos, the structures may have still been up as late as 1968. Maybe some one a little more life experience than myself remembers it? I have a couple things in the pipeline, but this is definitely a site worth looking at sometime.