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Meet the major

Meet the Witte Family

Meet the Major


The Major is a carved wooden soldier made in Germany for Mr. Witte as a boy. The major’s uniform is in the style of a Hessian soldier. The Hessians were an elite class of military fighters that the British employed during the American Revolutionary War.

Great Britain maintained a relatively small standing army, so it found itself in great need of troops at the outset of the American Revolution. Several German princes saw an opportunity to earn extra income by hiring out their regular army units for service in America. Approximately 29,875 troops entered the British service, not as individuals but in entire units, with their usual uniforms, flags, equipment, and officers. All Hessian males registered for military service at the age of seven and from age 16 until 30 were required to present themselves annually to an official for possible recruitment. Many princes were closely related to the British House of Hanover and were comfortable drafting their young men to fight under British command.  Most recruits came from Hesse-Kassel; thus, they were called the Hessians.

Hessian military service was notably strict and demanding, emphasizing iron discipline through draconian punishment.  However, morale was generally high, and soldiers were said to take pride in their service. In contrast to most European armies, officers were usually well-educated and were promoted based on merit. Soldiers were paid relatively high wages, and their families were exempt from certain taxes. Although plunder was officially forbidden, it remained common practice (as in most military forces at the time), offering another incentive for service. Overall, Hessian troops were considered superb fighters, even by their opponents.

The Hessian military became a major source of economic strength. Hesse-Kassel manufactured its own weapons and uniforms, and its textile industry was so prosperous from supplying the military that workers could afford to buy meat and wine daily. The revenue from renting the army to the British equaled roughly 13 years' worth of taxes.

It’s hard to believe that the Christmas holiday we hold so dear in America was not common practice until the 1800’s. Hanging decorations in 1700’s Massachusetts got you a fine! Until 1840, Christmas trees were considered pagan symbols that were traced back to the Romans. New England’s first Puritan leaders viewed Christmas celebrations as unholy.

Celebrating Christmas continued to be a penal offense until the German and Irish immigrants arrived in the northeast. Around 1820, the Moravian German communities in Pennsylvania were the first Americans to cut Christmas trees for display.

We can thank Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, for making Christmas the popular celebration we all love today. In 1846, a picture of the royal family admiring their Christmas tree appeared in the Illustrated London News. Thus, the modern Christmas traditions were born—not only in Britain but also in East Coast American Society.

By the 1890s, Christmas tree popularity was so great that ornaments were imported from Germany. Europeans used small trees about four feet high, while Americans liked their Christmas trees to extend from floor to ceiling.

The early American Christmas trees were decorated with homemade ornaments, while many German Americans continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. But in the mid-1850s in Lauscha, Germany the Inge-Glas company started making blown glass Christmas ornaments in mass. The increased demand for mass-produced ornaments led to the establishment of over 1,500 manufacturers in Germany, In 1882, Edward H. Johnson, vice president of the Edison Electric Light Co., debuted the first electric Christmas lights when he hung 80 hand-wired bulbs on a tree in the parlor of his New York City home, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country.

History of Christmas-German customs from Albert



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