colonial boston


When Christmas was banned in Boston,

To the Puritans of the 17th century, Christmas was terrible thing.  Christmas was the time to celebrate the birth of Jesus by praying, being humble, and working hard, all with a spirit of self denial.  In the mid 17th century Christmas was banned in Britain by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliament. In America the Puritans wanted something similar.  The Rev. Increase Mather (pictured above), father of Cotton Mather, spearheaded the movement to ban Christmas with this denouncement,

“it is consumed in Compotations, in Interludes, in playing at Cards, in Revellings, in excess of Wine, in Mad Mirth.”

In 1659 the City of Boston banned Christmas, the law stating,

“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 any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”

Boston’s ban on Christmas lasted 22 years.  In 1681 a royal governor named Sir Edmond Andros took control of governance of the colony and rolled back many Puritan laws, including Boston’s ban on Christmas.  However, Christmas was still de facto illegal by many other laws.  Civil servants could be removed from their posts, public school students could be expelled for skipping Christmas Day.  Celebrating Christmas was also highly looked down upon by Bostonians.  When Gov. Andros attended Christmas celebrations in 1686, he had to be guarded by a regiment of soldiers to fend off a mob of angry Puritans.  Christmas celebrations didn’t come back into fashion in Boston until after the American Civil War.

Concert being advertised in the Boston Gazette April 24, 1774. I’m amused that apparently concert goers have always been notorious for showing up late. In case anyone is curious the “Dollar” mentioned as the fee for the concert was the Spanish dollar, which was widely used. It’s more familiar to modern audiences as a piece of eight.

Stamitz’s symphonies are early classical versions and are something like 10-12 minutes long each. They’re lovely little numbers. The German flute is actually a transverse flute (what we think of as a modern flute). In the 18th century instruments like clarinets, oboes, & flutes would have all been called the same thing.

As for the specific pieces played I have no idea what would have gone on. I’m guessing that the harpsichord concerto is likely to have been Handel given his popularity in England. The violin could have been any of the Italian Baroque masters or maybe something from Bach–I don’t know what would have been popular in America (or what would have come over to America with a regiment of soldiers).

I saw this advertisement while researching something else and thought it was interesting. Figured some of you might like it.


Last night’s activity: Viewing of the Elizabeth Bull wedding dress at the Bostonian Society. (And free booze!) The dress was begun by 14 year old Elizabeth Bull in 1731. Clearly the dress was altered several times since as it was passed down through her family, including the addition of the oh so Victorian puff sleeves. 19th century sleeves are so poofy. The dress was donated to the museum in 1910 and displayed for a while, before being put in storage and the current restoration has taken three years.

Fun fact: One of the historians measured the waist and then converted it to a modern dress size. The waist is 21" around and translates to a J. Crew size 000! (It also looks really short even though Elizabeth was 5'3" and I’m 5'4" so feasibly it should fit me length wise, but it looked so much shorter. The model in that first photo must have been so tiny.)
Emerson College: Tell Emerson the Colonial matters!
The Colonial Theatre is the oldest continually operating theater in Boston; it has served as a pre-Broadway testing ground for many of today’s American classics, and for the city of Boston it has served as a beautiful and historic venue to take in a show. Emerson College is known for their role in the reinvigoration of the theatre district, including restorations of both the Paramount and Cutler Majestic theatres. Now, as the College turns the Colonial dark and the future of the building has been left concerningly vague, it’s important for the Emerson Community and City of Boston to speak up before the Colonial is relegated to dining hall or campus center. Sign this petition and tell Emerson why the Colonial matters. This petition is for everyone - Greater Boston community members, patrons and workers in the arts, and Emerson students, alumni, parents, and teachers. However, i f you are a member of the Emerson Community, please let us know!

IMPORTANT: Chances are by now you’ve heard of the news cycling around the unknown future of Boston’s Colonial Theatre. If you haven’t, Emerson College (the owner of the space) is forcing the theatre to go dark while the college weighs out their options. Right now, it seems this magnificent theatre could be converted into a campus center or dining hall.

This is simply unacceptable.

The history of Boston’s Colonial Theatre goes back over 100 years and has been the birthplace of some of our greatest pieces of american theatre.
I ask you to take a moment and sign the petition in the link below to help prevent a college for the arts from destroying one of America’s greatest Theaters.