- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2016

NORWICH, Conn. (AP) - Had the hundreds of people who crowded into the Leffingwell House Museum Sunday to drink cider and eat gingerbread cookies been doing so in the 18th century, they would have been breaking the law.

In fact, anyone celebrating Christmas in many parts of New England could have been fined five shillings following a ban on the holiday in the strictly Calvinist Plymouth and Massachusetts colonies in 1659.

“You couldn’t even go to church,” Greg Farlow, the museum’s board president, said Sunday as visitors filled the 1675 house that was first built by Stephen Backus and later kept as an inn by the Leffingwell family. “Christmas was not a day of celebration.”

The front room of the house was decorated accordingly. Historical reenactors sat in a bare room with none of the decorations or holiday snacks that filled the other rooms in the house. Arthur Mueller, a member of the museum’s Society of the Founders of Norwich, wore traditional dress and told the visitors that, in 1701, Christmas was essentially illegal.

People think of the United States as a haven for religious freedom, he said, “but it wasn’t the religious freedom you’re familiar with.”

Moving from the front room of the inn, where Benedict Arnold’s father is said to have often had a few too many, things got a little more Christmas-y.

In a room decorated with memorabilia commemorating George Washington - who once visited the inn - a few decorations sat by the window. Wreaths of holly and ivy decorated the walls and guests snacked on eggnog and fruitcake.

Further inside the house, a tree stood in the kitchen decorated as it would have been as the Calvinists lost their grip on Connecticut’s social customs. By 1870, Christmas was a legally recognized federal holiday. The inn’s kitchen reflected how Christmas in Norwich would have looked by then, with cookies and gingerbread and cider in celebration of the holiday.

In the parlor, Mohegan storyteller Sister Bette-Jean Coderre was telling tales of eagles, mice and cats, and a fable about the partnership between stories and the truth.

Kevin Titus, reenactor who normally portrays Benedict Arnold, was dressed as William Henry Harrison, the ninth U.S. president who died a month after taking office.

Harrison was planning a trip to New England after he became president and would likely have stopped in Washington’s footsteps at the Leffingwell Inn, Titus said.

“He was supposed to leave in May, and he died in April,” he said.

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Information from: The Day, https://www.theday.com

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