These are Abby’s last entries for the year 1867.
Wednesday December 18: Since last writing E.W.D. has been up 3 or four times. Been to ride with him once. Bob Means came up to invite me to a dancing school party at No. Andover Friday night. E.W. Donald came up to night to make a call with me but I had a cold and did not feel able to go out.
Friday 20: A large wagon carried all the Andover people to No A. It came for me at ¼ to 8. I wore my white tucked muslin, coral jewelry, scarlet sash and fan, and scarlet heels and bows on my white slippers. I had Louise’s white opera cape and lace handkerchief and looked as well as possible. Had a splendid time. Got home at ½ past 3.
Wednesday 25: Willie Donald came up in the afternoon (how nice he is) and took tea. Mother did not get us presents. She says she will New Year’s.
Friday December 27: Spent the evening at Mrs. Morse’s. Had a nice time. Mary M rode down with me. Crowley came for me at ¼ past 10. Was introduced to Mr. Tennis.
In the years immediately following the Civil War, Andover residents celebrated the Holiday Season – which stretched, as it does now, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day – in ways that were sometimes faithful to old New England traditions but also increasingly resembled the commercialism of the “Gilded Age” that was to follow.
The dance that Abby attended on December 20th was probably one of a series of holiday galas hosted by the Master Machinists of the Davis & Furber Company at Stevens Hall in North Andover. The Lawrence American described the hall as “nearly filled with gaily dressed ladies and gents” and “tastefully” decorated with “some forty streamers [diverging] from the ceiling and ‘the flag’ displayed from numerous points in the room. The venue, with music provided by various “Quadrille Bands” from the area, allowed as many as 75 couples to stand up for twenty dances each evening.
Christmas itself would not be designated a federal holiday by Congress and President Ulysses Grant until 1870. In Andover, many people (like Abby’s mother, apparently) still favored New Year’s Day as the more significant observance. But new traditions like Christmas trees and the use of Santa Claus as a secular symbol of gift-giving were becoming ingrained.
Local merchants placed advertisements in December 1867 suggesting their merchandise – books, toys, and various “fancy goods” — as suitable for Christmas and New Year’s gifts. One shop explained that “so universal has become the custom of giving to and receiving from our friends some token of remembrance during the Holidays, that all expect something. “ Another emphasized its superior customer service with the assurance that “the great annoyance and loss of time generally experienced in the selection of suitable articles for presents at moderate prices will be entirely obviated,” and further explained that all purchases were fully exchangeable.
Some Andover churches (Baptist, Christ Episcopal, and South Parish) had a Christmas tree hung with gifts for the children of their congregations on Christmas Eve. Others (Frye Village Sunday School, Free Church, West Parish,) held their “Holiday Festivals” on New Year’s Day, complete with a Christmas Tree, and in one case (the North Andover Unitarians) a visit from “Old Santa Claus” himself.
Santa himself was starting to behave in the manner to which we are now accustomed. The Andover Advertiser reported that “after the children had retired. . . the stocking operation commenced. Santa Claus, as usual, visited their abodes regardless of bolts and locks and dispensed favors. It is strongly suspected that some of the little urchins borrowed for the occasion, stockings of such prodigious dimensions that they could not possibly wear them unless they got into them altogether. They were nonetheless well filled, and the stock of the visitor was not entirely exhausted. “