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It seems hard to believe that Christmas as we know it today in America has not persisted since the first colonists set foot upon our own shores. But, in fact, Christmas was banned by our stern Puritan ancestors, who, reacting strongly to anything that reminded them of "relics of Popery," expressed a transplanted antagonism based upon a centuries-old conflict between the Catholic and Protestant faiths, and later the high-Anglican and low-Protestant sects. Over eighty percent of the earliest settlers to this New World were indeed Protestants, most hailing from England or Germany, and so, for a time, the Puritan ethic prevailed. But many settlers, especially those who came somewhat later to live in the southern colonies, condoned a convivial celebration, one of merriment and cheer and good food and companionship, as an antidote to the almost unendurable winters they experienced in this rugged new nation. As the settlers pressed westward, establishing homesteads along the frontier, they carried their traditions -- both European-born and American-bred -- with them, creating, slowly but surely, a new and truly all-American holiday. At first the celebrations comprised little more than a better meal, a single, simple homemade gift for each member of the family, a remembered song or carol. But as America grew and prospered, so did this holiday -- into the Christmas we know and cherish today.
Excerpted from Country Living Country Christmas. Copyright 1990 by The Hearst Corporation.