By David Wright
This is the time of year when we’re bathed in movies about Christmas being delayed, Santa not arriving on time, Christmas being canceled, a year without Christmas, and so on. But what about a movie where Christmas has never been celebrated, but is suddenly revived? That’s the situation in which we found Stratford in the year 1723.
The Puritans had banned the celebration of Christmas from the founding of New England, due to the frivolity that prevailed on Christmas day in England. As was reported in The Hartford Times in 1844, “In former times it was otherwise, especially in England. The day was then celebrated in that country by a great variety of merry customs. It was common, in those days, for persons called mummers to promenade the streets, dressed up in masks, and representing fantastic characters. A group of these jesters would sometimes go about, representing Old Father Christmas, with a long beard, white shoes, high-crowned hat, with scarfs and garters tied around it, and a drum beating before him.
He was attended by a numerous family of children, among whom Roast-beef and Plum-pudding were conspicuous. There was another character in this group, called Misrule, who was a great rowdy, and made a vast deal of sport on these occasions. He was a great fat fellow, with an enormous hat, and he strutted forward, playing on a musical instrument. These makers went from place to place during Christmas, exciting a great deal of mirth and amusement wherever they went.”
When Samuel Johnson brought the Church of England to Stratford in 1723, he revived the observance of Christmas. Christmas was observed by Johnson and his parish in Christ Episcopal Church, December of 1724. It was the first Christmas observance, ever, in Connecticut.
The Bridgeport Evening Post of December 26, 1894, notes, “…That Christmas service, of nearly two centuries ago, derives its great interest from the fact that it was the first celebration of the festival of the Nativity in a church in Connecticut. There was a time in England when there was great opposition to the observance of this festival, and in some parts of New England it was made, by law, an offense to celebrate the day.…While, then, to the founders of this parish was granted the privilege of reviving the celebration of Christmas in Connecticut, let us remember that they revived it as a day of religious character, and it is for us, and for all churchmen, to aim to preserve it as a day of sacred associations; and may the method of keeping Christmas in this town be always such as may serve as an example to those about us, and be an honor to its people and reveal a spirit of worship to God, and of peace and good will to men.
As you go about your holiday preparations and festivities, bear in mind that it was a Stratford minister who revived Christmas in Connecticut. Once more, Stratford was a leader in our State, and, as is so often the case with Stratford’s amazing history, who even knows? That’s why these are the stories we tell!