Thursday, December 22, 2016

From the State Library of Massachusetts

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Puritan “Christmas”

What we would describe as the familiar and quintessential “New England Christmas” celebrated today in the 21st century with decorated evergreen trees, light displays, caroling, gift-giving, and gatherings of family and friends bears no resemblance to the first Christmases spent in the “New World” of Massachusetts by the Puritans.

The Puritans held a special contempt for Christmas and the choice of December 25 being “co-opted” by early Christians as the birth date of Jesus Christ due to its supposed “pagan” origins marking that particular date as the winter solstice on the Roman Calendar during the popular feast of Saturnalia held in honor of the Roman god Saturn. In the ironically titled Puritans at Play, the author relates how the Puritans called December 25 “Foolstide” and that the particular date “aroused their special ire for a variety of reasons.” The main reason being that they believed that no holy days were sanctioned by the Scriptures and also because it was a popular holiday in England which allowed for the sanctioning of “excessive behavior” that was abhorrent and an abomination to them.

In the State Library’s most treasured possession, William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation (a.k.a. the Bradford Manuscript) he chronicles the first two Christmases in the Plymouth Settlement. In 1620, The Mayflower dropped anchor in Plymouth Harbor on December 16 and on the first Christmas Day, Bradford relates that they “begane to erecte ye first house for comone use.” It was definitely not a day of celebration but of hard, grueling work in the harsh New England winter weather.  Bradford relates a story of “mirth, rather than weight” of newly arrived non-Puritan immigrants to the Plymouth colony attempting to observe the Christmas Day “holiday” the following year on December 25, 1621. When he finds them “playing” he goes to them and takes away “their implements and [tells] them that was against his conscience, that they should play and others work.” From that year on, Bradford reported that “nothing hath been attempted that way, at least openly” on future Christmas Days, or “December 25” as the Puritans would just call it.

This “informal” condemnation of the observance of Christmas Day would evolve into an actual legal ban on Christmas in 1647 with a fine of five shillings for “whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by for-bearing of labor, feasting, or any other way” (Colonial Laws of Massachusetts). Five shillings was a pretty hefty fine in the day--a chicken, by contrast, cost but one shilling. Even though the law was repealed 22 years later in 1681, Christmas would not become a Massachusetts state holiday until much later in 1856 (Chap. 113, Acts of 1856) and a federal holiday on June 26, 1870 when the disapproving Puritan view of the past started to lose its hold on the celebration of Christmas Day as the festive and cheerful holiday that it would later become.

Judy Carlstrom
Technical Services

Monday, December 12, 2016

Massachusetts Interactive Mapping & Geographical Data Tools

Geographical mapping technology has gone a long way in just a short 30 years.  Many interactive tools have been or are being developed and data can now be updated quickly—sometimes even through live raw data feeds.  Data can also be manipulated and shared openly with users through web viewers and downloadable formats (shapefiles, Keyhole Markup Language (KML), etc.) so that it can be integrated into other projects.

Massachusetts state agencies, such as the Office of Geographic Information (MassGIS) and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), have developed interactive mapping tools that are available for use by the public.  There’s a little bit of a learning curve when first attempting to use them, however just exploring their different functionalities is a lot of fun and often produces interesting results.  In addition to the tools linked below, use the search bar to find mapping tools other agencies provide (keywords such as “geographic information” and “GIS tool” are great starting points.)

Massachusetts' bedrock lithology as detailed through data layer
group B, using MassGIS' Oliver Online Map Maker.

Office of Geographic Information (MassGIS) tools:
  • Oliver: The MassGIS Online Map Maker:  Allows users to “interactively display and query nearly all of MassGIS’ data” and download up-to-date shapefiles from the database.
  • ArcGIS Online Web Mapping Platform:  “A statewide database of geospatial information.”  Interactive tools include Google Ortho Imagery and Index, MassUtilities, Surficial Geology, and property maps.
  • MassGIS Datalayers:  Datalayer descriptions with metadata and links to free downloadable data.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation tools:

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, December 5, 2016

December Author Talk: James C. O’Connell

Dining Out in Boston: A Culinary History, by James C. O’Connell 
Tuesday, December 13, 2016—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

Do you consider yourself to be a “foodie”? Do you enjoy dining out in Boston’s many varied restaurants? Do you like to eat? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then our next Author Talk is for you! On Tuesday, December 13, local author James C. O’Connell will speak at the State Library about his new book, Dining Out in Boston: A Culinary History, just published in November of this year.

Dining Out in Boston explores the fascinating history of restaurants in Boston, including those that have long since closed their doors, such as Julien’s Restorator (Boston’s first restaurant), as well as contemporary restaurants, such as the Parker House, Durgin-Park, and Union Oyster House. Included in this comprehensive book are many historic menus and photos, which illustrate the city’s ever evolving culinary traditions, from elaborate hotel dining in Boston’s early days to the trendy eateries of today.

In addition to Dining Out in Boston, Dr. O’Connell has written several other books and articles on New England history and contemporary planning and development. As a Community Planner at the Boston Office of the Northeast Region of the National Park Service, Dr. O’Connell specializes in planning for historic sites, and he also teaches part-time in Boston University’s City Planning and Urban Affairs Program. To learn more about Dr. O’Connell and his latest book, visit his website at

At the conclusion of Dr. O’Connell’s talk, copies of Dining Out in Boston will be available for purchase and signing. We invite you to register online and join us on December 13 at the State Library.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Friday, December 2, 2016