Way Back When ... 1870
Christmas was not regularly celebrated in Fairfield’s early years. Across Puritan New England, Christmas feasting and revelry was outlawed until 1681, and frowned upon even after that.
Dec. 25 remained a regular working day throughout most of the 18th century: in 1749 Fairfield held its town meeting on Christmas Day, and in 1776 the Continental Congress conducted business on Christmas as well.
By the 1850s, Christmas had become a popular holiday, and Fairfield people noted having festive meals and admiring decorations in the churches that were “dressed for Christmas” with candles and greenery. Around this time, many Americans started to adopt the German tradition of decorating an evergreen tree in their homes for Christmas. Decorations started out homemade, with strings of popcorn, nuts, beads, and fruit, but became more elaborate over time.
At the Southport Congregational Church in 1868, the minister invited children to pluck fruit from a trimmed tree and receive gifts. He composed a poem for that day about the Christmas tree and the meaning of the holiday, explaining this relatively new Christmas tradition.
In December 1870, the Southport Chronicle took note of the “splendid Christmas tree at the Town House, magnificently decorated with loads of presents,” provided by the Unquowa Club for children in town. That same year, President Ulysses Grant — searching for ways to unite the country following the Civil War — first declared Christmas Day to be a federal holiday.
The year Christmas Day was decalred a federal holiday.
In 1921, the Eunice Dennie Burr chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution planted a tree on the Town Green in memory of Mary B. Kippen, the chapter’s second regent. Local patroness Annie B. Jennings provided the fixtures to light the tree, which soon came to be known “for the splendor of the myriad of electric bulbs and the large illuminated star of Bethlehem on it,” according to the Bridgeport Telegram.
The tradition of lighting a Christmas tree on the Town Green continues today. View the tree and then visit the Holiday Express Train Show at the Fairfield Museum. For all of the holiday and vacation week hours, visit Fairfieldhistory.org/programs-events/holiday-express-train-show/.
About the Fairfield Museum & History Center
The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, located at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10am-4pm. Members of the Museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For more information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org.