Fearing Burr’s Christmas

Fearing Burr of Hingham kept a journal from 1840, when he was 25 years old, until his death in 1897. We are fortunate to have all fifteen volumes in our archives.  Burr recorded his day-to-day observations about the weather; town and church affairs; his mercantile pursuits, which included the shop in Centre Hingham which he ran with his brother ; and the horticultural interests for which he is remembered.

In an entry penned on Christmas Eve, 1872, this life-long bachelor wrote about Christmas gift-giving, noting how customs had changed since he was young.  Indeed, these were the years when the Christmas holiday began to take the shape we know today!

Burr wrote:

Was very busy in the sale of gifts for the holidays – it’s an illustration of the great change that has gradually taken place since Peter and I first began to sell goods. We are satisfied that the sale of confectionaries for one week of 1872 was very largely in excess of the gross sales of this article for one year from 1825 to 1830 and after. My brother affirms that some of his young patrons in this line expend one dollar per week. The change in the quantity and costly character of gifts of other descriptions is scarcely less noticeable.  I recall the days of my early boyhood when my holiday gifts were summed up in three or four copper cents – presents which so far from creating any feelings of dissatisfaction were regarded as truly munificent. Today it is by no means rare that a parent who is wholly dependent on his daily labor invests in toys or articles for amusement, from one dollar upwards, for each of the little ones comprising his family.  The change in the general distribution and enjoyment of the more important articles of human comfort and luxury is almost equally great.

Christmas in Hingham, 1857

Christmas 1857.  Francis Henry Lincoln of Hingham was an 11-year old student at Derby Academy.  When school resumed in January, he wrote a composition, entitled “Christmas,” which is preserved in our archives.  Lincoln recounts how he and his older brothers Solomon and Arthur spent their “very merry Christmas.”

Christmas is the day on which the birth of Christ is celebrated.  It is a holiday.  In many parts of the world, the week in which the anniversary occurs, is devoted to amusements.  I had a very pleasant Christmas this year.  I will give you some account of it.  In the morning I awoke as usual and found in my stocking a very handsome present.  In the forenoon I went to Loring Hall to see the committee of arrangements prepare the tables for the party in the evening.  The First Parish usually have a special social gathering on that evening.  At noon I witnessed the firing at a target by two gentlemen in our neighborhood.

After enjoying a Christmas dinner Solomon Arthur & I went into the field in the rear of our house and fired at a target with Solomon’s gun.  I then read a while at home. In the evening I attended the Parish party at Loring Hall. There was dancing until eight o’clock, when there was an intermission; during that time the scholars connected with the Sunday School were collected in the saloon and marched into the Hall. Arthur acted as Marshall.

I had been appointed to present to my cousin Henry E. Hersey, the superintendent of the school, a writing desk in behalf of the scholars.  Mr. Hersey, being introduced, I made a short speech and presented the desk to him.  He made a short speech in reply, expressing his warm thanks to the scholars.  Dancing was then resumed.  Afterwards by an invitation of my Sunday School teacher, I went to his house and received from him a present of a very interesting book.  I then returned to the Hall and spent the remainder of the evening in dancing.  We had refreshments and excellent music.  I went home between twelve and one o’clock having spent a very merry Christmas.