Christmas Traditions in Arkansas

Christmas was first declared a federal holiday in 1870 but Arkansas was one of the first states to declare it a holiday in 1838, just two years after statehood. Many of our Christmas traditions stem from European traditions celebrating Christmas and other winter holidays. When immigrants arrived in Arkansas they brought these traditions with them:

Christmas Tree – The Christmas tree came from Northern Europe originally, but the tradition migrated to Arkansas not long after the state began celebrating Christmas. However, not everyone had a Christmas tree in their homes. Trees were more of a town event and could be found in community gathering places like schools, churches or town squares. In 1871, the Fayetteville Weekly Democrat reported that the home of C.W. Walker had a Christmas tree and many in town attended an event at his home to see the tree, which was laden with gifts. Before 1895 and the invention of electric Christmas tree lights, trees were lit with candles, making them beautiful, but a fire hazard.

Christmas gifts – Arkansas was a much more rural state in the past than today, and money that could be spent on gifts depended largely on how crops did that year. If it had been a good season, families could purchase a little more to celebrate. Some popular gifts in the 1800s included ladies’ shawls, hats and capes, advertised as direct from Paris, baby dolls, baseball bats, small knives and even photo albums.

Christmas Entertainment – Before films and nightly Christmas movies and specials all through December, merry events revolved around social gatherings. Many small towns held dances around or on Christmas Day. The school pageant was one of the most attended events. Children performed and then received a bag of hard candy. For some, this would be their only Christmas gift. Shooting matches were another way to celebrate the season. Along with gunfire, fireworks and even cannon fire were reported on Christmas Day. Roman candles and firecrackers were sold in local stores to help celebrate. The racket reportedly shattered windows in homes in Fayetteville and Little Rock!

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