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Michigan's Christmas celebration history

Dec 18, 2014

Priscilla Massie making Blueberry Aebelskivers.
Credit Priscilla and Larry Massie

If you're dashing around trying to take care of your holiday to-do list, it might be time to think back and remember a time in Michigan when a bowl of oyster stew was your Christmas dinner and a $1.75 pair of gloves took care of your Christmas gift for the wife!

Michigan historians Priscilla and Larry B. Massie of Allegan joined Stateside today. They co-wrote the book Walnut Pickles and Watermelon Cake: A Century of Michigan Cooking. Larry is the author of 21 books. His latest is Blue Water, Red Metal & Green Gold: The Color of Michigan's Past.

Larry says that in the 19th century, many Michiganders didn’t really celebrate Christmas. One of the reasons Larry thinks this may have been was that many of Michigan’s earliest settlers were from New England, where Christmas wasn’t celebrated due to Puritan tradition.

Larry says that it wasn’t until around the Civil War that Christmas began to be more prominent in the diaries of Michigan residents. He says this was due to the influx of different ethnic groups into Michigan who brought their own Christmas traditions of celebration. It was during this time that troops were coming back from the South, where Christmas was commonly celebrated.

Priscilla mentions during this time period, many Michigan residents were eating oysters for their Christmas dinners. She says that the oysters were prepared in a number of ways, but most commonly were eaten raw on ice. Priscilla says the diet of Michiganders during this time period was consistent with what they could procure on their own, such as wild game.