The Yuletide season was an unquiet time throughout the nation on the brink of the Civil War ”“ and not just among black Americans. Judging from period newspapers, Christmas 150 years ago was just as politicized as it is now, if not more so. With the nation splitting in half (South Carolina had seceded on Dec. 20), each side of the Mason-Dixon Line tried to claim the holiday as its own.
In the South, the Augusta Chronicle accused the Yankee Puritans of being joyless Christmas-haters: “Our broad Union is divided between the descendant of the Norman Cavalier reverencing Christmas, and the descendant of the Saxon Puritan repudiating it ”¦ Let us hear no more of a “Cotton Confederation” but let us have instead (what may sound like a jest, but which has something of seriousness in it) a Confederation of the Christmas States.”
Meanwhile, several hundred miles closer to the North Pole, the same day’s Philadelphia Inquirer called Christmas a “good old Yankee custom” and added: “If Charleston growls and, playing the Scrooge, would curse our Christmas carol, let us hope that the Marley’s Ghost of her old patriotism will soften her by and by.”