Monday 24 December 2012

What did my Ancestors do at Christmas?

The children (grown up admittedly) and their partners have gone on to their next Christmas and myself, the OH and my mum are left to recuperate from our busy weekend.  My daughter and I cooked for seven, turkey and all the trimmings and everything seemed to go OK.  It was nice to see all my family around one table - we rarely get everyone together. 

I wonder how our ancestors spent Christmas in days gone by?  They wouldn't have had the long break that we have now, just one day probably (remember poor Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol - he wanted "The whole day off I suppose") unless Christmas happened to be adjacent to a Sunday in which case some people may have been lucky enough to have two days holiday. 

I ran a query on my own and the OH's family trees (you can design your own queries in Family Historian) to see what kind of things our ancestors were up to on the 25th December.
Birth 4
Baptism 38
Marriage 22
Burial 1
Death 1

I need to say that where I only know a rough date, for example within a quarter, from the GRO indices on Ancestry or FreeBMD the events wouldn't have shown up in the query as I specified events on '25 Dec' only.  I know quite a few more actual dates in my OH's tree as since the release of the West Yorkshire Records on Ancestry I have been able to find many actual marriage and baptism records.  Of course earlier events, pre 1837, are quite well covered by Family Search, so I appear to have a good selection of baptisms and marriages over Christmas for both families.

For comparison on Christmas Eve, the 24th December

Birth 9
Baptism 6
Marriage 15
Burial 1
Death 6

And on Boxing Day, the 26th December

Birth 2
Baptism 8
Marriage 16
Burial 3
Death 1

It looks like marriages in particular were quite popular over the Christmas period, with more on the actual day (22) than on Christmas Eve (15) or Boxing Day (16).  I have read that people waited for these special occasions until a holiday like Christmas or Easter so that more of their relatives could attend.  Of course you wouldn't have had as much choice for a baptism (they usually seem to have taken place within a month of a child's birth) but even so it is apparent that our ancestors preferred Christmas Day (38) for these celebrations well over and above the surrounding days (just 6 on 24th and 8 on 26th). 

I would like to look in more detail at these events, are events at Christmas more frequent in poorer families?  In the North or the South?  For later marriages or first marriages?  Are there many multiple baptisms (where the families seem to 'save' up children and have a batch done at once)?

The above isn't anything like a proper sample but it has given me some food for thought. 

Imagine arranging a marriage today at Christmas time - both events have become such huge undertakings and so commercialised that I doubt few people attempt it. 

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