From Banned to Beloved
Christmas and Giving in America
The best way to wish your neighbor well over the holidays may be up for contentious debate, but the modern American tradition of giving generously in December isn’t.
Did you know that America and Christmas actually got off to a rocky start? In fact, the holiday was outright banned once. It’s true; if you lived in Massachusetts in 1659 you would have been greeted by this public notice:
“For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction, by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries, to the great dishonor of God and offence of others, it is therefore ordered by this Court and the authority thereof, that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon such accountants as aforesaid, every person so offending shall pay of every such offence five shillings, as a fine to the county.”
Okay, technically we weren’t even America yet. And honestly, we’re not sure what five shillings would be worth in US currency now. But we do know we’d much rather spend that money on holiday presents than on a government fine. Today, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or some other holiday, December is a time to give.
It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year For Generosity and Service
If you need hard proof that it’s better to give than to receive, look at this study from the Corporation for National and Community Service. People who volunteer are consistently found to be happier and healthier than those who don’t. The catch? Volunteering MUST be done solely with an altruistic spirit. It turns out giving from your heart is actually good for your heart. Helping others and being of service fills our lives with purpose and connection.
Generosity and the spirit of giving are contagious. According to Jewish scholars like Brandeis University professor Jonathan Sarna, gifts weren’t exchanged on Hanukkah until around the 1950s. Until then gifts were traditionally given on Purim, but as the tradition of Christmas grew in America many Jewish families began giving gifts to their children in December, too.
Kwanzaa is celebrated over 7 days, with the last day focused on gift giving. These seventh day celebrations also symbolize and honor creativity and self-worth, so traditionally Kwanzaa gifts are homemade. What better way to show off your creative spirit by making something for someone you love?
The Sugar Plum Roots of St. Nick
How were the roots of our American Christmas planted? Where did this season of generosity first sprout? Well, that story is pure poetry. Literally.
A popular story by Washington Irving first kicked off celebrations in New York; but it was Clement Clark Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” otherwise known as “The Night Before Christmas,” that really solidified the tradition. Aren’t you grateful? We all know how drab and cold winter can be.
Lighting lights, singing songs, and breaking bread with our loved ones helps brighten the darkest time of the year.
The Wise Men Shopped Local
Giving gifts at Christmas goes back to the day when three wise men showed up with gold, frankincense and myrrh. In some countries, it’s still tradition to give exactly three presents to commemorate these first gifts. American tradition doesn’t put any number on how many gifts to expect, but we sure have come to expect A LOT of opportunities to shop. Of course, we are partial to shopping American Made. Gold could pass the requirements, but frankincense and myrrh get ruled out. Those were local to the wise men, but they aren’t found in America. Frankincense is made from the sap of the boswellia tree and myrrh is resin from the commiphora myrrha tree, neither of which are native to the United States. Luckily, there are plenty of other options. Starting with a different tree: your native evergreen Christmas Tree.
How to Plant Your Own Christmas Roots
We love David Muir’s Made in America Christmas. Do you follow the series? Watch it for ideas about where to shop, and tweet him your favorite American made holiday brands. His show is where we learned about the Jonsteen Company out of McKinleyville, CA. For just $8.99, you can get a Grow A Tree kit. You’ll have to wait about three years to string lights and hang ornaments, but you can be sure it’s grown in American soil.
Need a tree for this Christmas? Choose a local farm, or simply ask around about where stores source their product.
There’s Nothing Like a Kid at Christmas
There’s something about seeing Christmas through a child’s eyes that is truly magical. Who doesn’t love buying for the little ones? We were pretty thrilled to find out some of our favorite, classic kids toys are made right here at home.
There are iconic brands like Little Tikes, Slinky and Crayola. We also love the Eco-Kids line from Portland, Maine. These crayons and coloring kits are made from beeswax, mineral pigments, and other natural ingredients.
What’s more of a childhood staple than classic wooden toys? Uncle Goose from Grand Rapids, Michigan makes beautiful, hand-crafted building blocks from replenishable basswood and non-toxic ink. Channel Craft from Ellsworth, Pennsylvania crafts stunning wooden toys, including an heirloom reproduction Hobby Horse.
Real Christmas Spirit Can’t Be Bought
Giving doesn’t have to be limited to “stuff.” The holidays are a great time to get out and volunteer in your community, too. There’s an extra need for help, so there are more opportunities. The saying goes it’s better to give than to receive, but really it’s a win-win. It feels fabulous to be of service. And it’s literally good for your cardiovascular system. Heck, even the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes when he realized it wasn’t just about getting presents.
Whatever way you want to wish it, here’s to deep feelings of connection, love and generosity. Feel it, and then spread that stuff as far and wide as the fruitcake your Auntie makes for everyone every year. And remember, with just a little awareness and effort, you can wrap more Made in USA presents for under your American tree this year.