Christmas Customs of the Shakers

Unlike the Puritans, the Shakers enjoyed the Christmas holiday and celebrated it. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Many fundamentalist groups shun dancing and the Shakers used dancing and singing in their services. When they first began, these forms of worship horrified their neighbors almost as much as their celibacy and pacifism.
But back to the holiday.
Although the Shakers practiced celibacy, they were not monks and men and women were not cloistered from one another. They lived communally, although separated, and met regularly in ‘union meetings’. In these sessions, they sat opposite one another, far enough apart so their knees did not touch, and chatted.
According to several Eldress accounts, during the winters, the Shakers also went sleigh riding and enjoyed other fun pursuits. By 1920, most houses had adopted the Christmas tree and the Shaker communities had as well. They utilized natural ornaments: popcorn strings, nuts, pine cones and so forth.
They also apparently enjoyed what we now call Secret Santa. Everyone selected a name from a bowl, which remained secret, and gave that person a gift.
Food and clothing were offered to the poor at this Season. Again, one of the accounts I read says that everyone was supposed to give something they loved since it was not a true gift if they gave something they no longer used.
I used some of this in my third Will Rees mystery, which is so far called “Cradle to Grave”.


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