Home Arts and Leisure Old New England Holidays We No Longer Celebrate

Old New England Holidays We No Longer Celebrate

You've got to do something when you've banned Christmas


Early New Englanders, influenced by the Puritans, celebrated holidays with reluctance. Religious festivals, they felt, were un-Christian and pagan. There was no Easter, no Christmas, but plenty of fasting and Thanksgiving.

Yet as the 1600s progressed, New Englanders began incorporating a number of festivals and celebrations into their calendar. Some survived but others, like these five old New England holidays, faded into history.

old new england holidays

Muster Day by Charles Henry Granger (National Gallery of Art)

Training Day

Six times a year the earliest colonists had a training day, a serious occasion for maintaining arms and practicing shooting skills. Over time it evolved into an annual event. Prizes, such as a silver cup or handkerchief, were given for the best shot. Dinners were held in public squares.

Eventually training day gave way to muster day, which retained some military training functions. However, it took on a carnival spirit with much food and drink consumed.

Anniversary Day

This old New England holiday was a special festival for ministers. They would travel to the larger towns of New England for a day-long discussion of spiritual matters. That then extended to political and legal matters. The day ended with a fine dinner.

Forefather’s Day


The Landing of the Pilgrims, by Henry A. Bacon, 1877.

Even the earliest, flinty New Englanders didn’t mind a bit of self-aggrandizement. They held Forefathers’ Day on December 22, the anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth. It featured dinners, prayer and religious ceremonies praising their success in their new land.

Shad Spawning

The arrival of the shad in the local rivers, making their way upstream to spawn, evolved into another traditional festival.

The celebration had no set date. It occurred only when the shad determined the spring river waters had warmed enough for them to come up from the ocean to lay their eggs. But their arrival did cause celebration. American Indians held festivals to mark the event, and the colonists then adopted the idea for themselves. People would travel many miles to harvest the fish.

They also thought the abundant shad, like salmon, were best fit for the poor and working classes.

Windsor, Conn., still celebrates the shad with a festival.

Corn Husking Day

Early New Englanders turned a number of agricultural harvest events into festivals. Sheep shearing, apple peeling, maple-sugar making and timber-rollings all provided reasons to gather and celebrate.

During the ubiquitous corn husking gatherings, people traveled to their neighbor’s farm to help shuck corn to put up for the winter.

*  *  *



Now available in paperback. Click here to order you copy from Amazon.




Thanks to: Customs and Fashions in Old New England by Alice Morse Earle. This story about old New England holidays was updated in 2023.


Cathy October 26, 2017 - 3:03 pm

Wndsor, CT still celebrates the shad, with a festival every year.

Blair Colquhoun November 2, 2017 - 10:15 am

Don’t forget Fast Day here in New Hampshire?

Before Thanksgiving, There Was Forefather’s Day - New England Historical Society November 19, 2018 - 7:59 am

[…] This story was updated in 2018. If you enjoyed reading it, you may also read about colonial holidays we no longer celebrate here.  […]

Comments are closed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!