Sunday, December 23, 2012

When celebrating Christmas was illegal in America ...

The History Insider offered this item before Christmas a year ago, but thought it worth mentioning again for those who missed it or those find it interesting enough to want to be reminded.

Were America’s early English settlements home to widespread mirth and joy during the Christmas season? Did many of America’s English settlers – especially the most pious groups, such as the Puritans -- have a strong affinity to Christmas celebrations and what they represent? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is no. In fact, some of those first people to successfully settle in the New England had a strong aversion to Christmas celebrations, notes historian Stephen Nissenbaum in his book The Battle for Christmas.

“In New England, for the first two centuries of white settlement most people did not celebrate Christmas,” writes Nissenbaum. “In fact, the holiday was systematically suppressed by Puritans during the colonial period and largely ignored by their descendants. … It was actually illegal to celebrate Christmas in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681 (the fine was five shillings) …Puritans were fond of saying that if God had intended for the anniversary of the Nativity to be observed, He would surely have given some indication as to when that anniversary occurred.” Indeed, many scholars report that there is no biblical reference to December 25 as the date of Jesus Christ’s birth.
Nissenbaum also notes, among other interesting details, that Puritans had other reasons for opposing Christmas celebrations, too, based largely on what they had witnessed of those events – “… rowdy public displays of excessive eating and drinking, the mockery of established authority, aggressive begging (often involving the threat of doing harm), and even the invasion of wealthy homes.”

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Russian diplomats ... and American bread

Arkady N. Shevchenko – who in 1978 became the highest ranking official of the Soviet Union to defect to the United States – traveled to New York from Russia for the first time in 1958, on a three-month assignment as part of a Soviet delegation to the United Nations General Assembly.

In his 1985 book Breaking with Moscow, Shevchenko wrote of meals he took as he lived with his countrymen in a compound owned by his government in this first visit:  

“The cook was from Russia, but the food didn’t taste Russian – milk and eggs, among other foods, had different flavors. But it was the bread that gave us our biggest shock:  packaged white bread from a supermarket had the flavor and texture of glue. We couldn’t get over the idea that Americans really bought it and seemed to like it. If the bread was disappointing, however, there was nothing better than Coca-Cola; we drank it by the gallon during the warm autumn days.”

By the time Shervchenko defected 20 years after this initial visit to America, he had risen through the Soviet and United Nations systems to become the U. N.’s Undersecretary General, the No. 2 person in that body, behind only the Secretary General.

Shevchenko died at 67 in Maryland in 1998. He is buried in Washington, D.C.