The first Christmas in New England was celebrated by some people who tried as hard as they could not to celebrate it at all. But looking back on that year 1620, the first year when Christmas was celebrated in New England, I cannot find that anybody got up a better fete than did these Lincolnshire weavers and ploughmen who had got a little taste of Dutch firmness, and resolved on that particular day, that, whatever else happened to them, they would not celebrate Christmas at all.
Here is the story as William Bradford tells it:
“Ye 16. day ye winde came faire, and they arrived safe in this harbor. And after wards tooke better view of ye place, and resolved wher to pitch their dwelling; and ye 25. day begane to erecte ye first house for comone use to receive them and their goods.”
You see, dear reader, that when on any 21st or 22d of December you give the children parched corn, and let them pull candy and swim candles in nut-shells in honor of the “landing of the Forefathers”–if by good luck you be of Yankee blood, and do either of these praiseworthy things–you are not celebrating the anniversary of the day when the women and children landed, wrapped up in water-proofs, with the dog and John Carver in headpiece, and morion, as you have seen in many pictures. That all came afterward. Be cool and self-possessed, and I will guide you through the whole chronology safely–Old Style and New Style, first landing and second landing, Sabbaths and Sundays, Carver’s landing and Mary Chilton’s landing, so that you shall know as much as if you had fifteen ancestors, a cradle, a tankard, and an oak chest in the Mayflower, and you shall come out safely and happily at the first Christmas day.
Know then, that when the poor Mayflower at last got across the Atlantic, Massachusetts stretched out her right arm to welcome her, and she came to anchor as early as the 11th of November in Provincetown Harbor. This was the day when the compact of the cabin of the Mayflower was signed, when the fiction of the “social compact” was first made real. Here they fitted their shallop, and in this shallop, on the sixth of December, ten of the Pilgrims and six of the ship’s crew sailed on their exploration. They came into Plymouth harbor on the tenth, rested on Watson’s island on the eleventh,–which was Sunday,–and on Monday, the twelfth, landed on the mainland, stepping on Plymouth rock and marching inland to explore the country. Add now nine days to this date for the difference then existing between Old Style and New Style, and you come upon the twenty-first of December, which is the day you ought to celebrate as Forefathers’ Day. On that day give the children parched corn in token of the new provant, the English walnut in token of the old, and send them to bed with Elder Brewster’s name, Mary Chilton’s, Edward Winslow’s, and John Billington’s, to dream upon. Observe still that only these ten men have landed. All the women and children and the other men are over in Provincetown harbor. These ten, liking the country well enough, go across the bay to Provincetown where they find poor Bradford’s wife drowned in their absence, and bring the ship across into Plymouth harbor on the sixteenth. Now you will say of course that they were so glad to get here that they began to build at once; but you are entirely mistaken, for they did not do any such thing. There was a little of the John Bull about them and a little of the Dutchman. The seventeenth was Sunday. Of course they could not build a city on Sunday. Monday they explored, and Tuesday they explored more. Wednesday,