Monthly Archives: December 2013

Driving in a winter wonderland…

As this holiday season wraps up, we can consider ourselves rather lucky – the North of Boston region wasn’t hit by any huge winter storms.  Aside from a few extremely cold patches and a little bit of snow, which resulted in black ice, there weren’t many holiday travel hurdles.  It was rather safe.  However, since our worst month, weather-wise, tends to be January/February, we can expect and prepare for driving in dangerous weather and conditions.

We found these great tips from AAA and The Weather Channel on how to safely drive in winter and are now passing them onto you:

…and may all your Christmases be…banned?

Every week, we do a “Fun Fact Friday” on our Facebook (while you’re reading this, take a moment to pull up a new tab and follow us: We post great pictures, events going on in the region, fun facts, and much, much more. We’ll wait while you log in.).  On this Friday, our fun fact was about when Christmas was banned in Massachusetts…

Today, it’s common to hear people lament the loss of the “true” meaning of Christmas.  We hear (not-so) faint whispers of “commercialism,” “materialistic,” “gluttonous intake of three times the number of calories any human ought to consume in one day,” etc.  Strange as it may seem, people had similar complaints 350 years ago.


Note the lack of snow, and mistletoe, and presents ‘neath the tree.

In 1659, Puritans were pretty much fed up with Christmas.  Their minor complaints dealt with the holiday being a reminder of the religious English customs they had come to the New World to escape.  Besides, they thought, December 25th was selected as Jesus’ birth day centuries after he had died.  Like Elizabeth Taylor’s random declaration that Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, it just sort of stuck.

But the thing that angered the Puritans most was the way people celebrated Christmas.  The work-focused, no-nonsense Puritans disliked the games, drinking, and feasting Christmas celebrations.   William Bradford, Plymouth County governor, wrote:

“ON the day called Christmas-day, the Governor called them out to work, (as was used) but the most of this new company excused themselves, and said it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them that if they made it matter of conscience, he would spare them, till they were better informed; so he led away the rest and left them; but when they came home at noon, from their work, he found them in the street at play openly; some pitching the bar, and some at stool-ball, and such like sports. So he went to them, and took away their implements, and told them, that was against his conscience, that they should play, and others work; if they made the keeping of it matter of devotion, let them keep their houses, but there should be no gaming, or revelling in the streets.”

On May 11, 1659, Christmas was officially banned in Massachusetts.  Anyone found celebrating the holiday was fined five shillings.  This ban, however, only lasted for 22 years.  In 1681, a newly-appointed governor lifted the ban and Christmas was celebrated again.


Salem Historic House tour (2013). Photo by Jeff Folger

But what about those 22 years of no Christmas?  They were pretty uneventful.  Christmas was not really a big to-do until it became vogue in the 19th century.  In 1856, nearly 200 years after it was banned, Christmas became an official state holiday in Massachusetts.  In 1870, it became a national holiday.  During the Victorian Era, Christmas cards and trees became popular and the foundation was laid for the sort of Christmas that blossomed in the 20th century and we celebrate today.

And that’s the story of when Christmas was banned in Massachusetts.

And yes, that is how Michael Jackson came to be known as the King of Pop – because Elizabeth Taylor said so.  And, you have now learned two fun facts today.


‘Tis the season… be completely and utterly stumped when it comes to buying holiday gifts for friends and family.  You want to get them the perfect gift that they will love, use, and not re-gift to a vague acquaintance who unexpectedly hands them a gift.  Well, fret no more: we’re here to help you find the perfect holiday gifts for your loved ones.  From farmstands and local wines to museum shops and chocolate, the North of Boston region has something for everyone this holiday season!

2677Newburyport Gift Card
The Newburyport gift card is redeemable at a myriad of local businesses, including retail shops, restaurants, salons, inns, toy stores, and so much more!  The gift card can be purchased at the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry or over the phone (your card will be mailed to you) at (978) 462-6680.


Peabody Essex Museum gift shop
The Peabody Essex Museum offers, both online and within the museum gift shop, a wide variety of jewelry, home décor, apparel, toys, books and more.  They have something for everyone on your list.  Looking for a little something to accompany the gift?  Include a pass to the museum and give the gift of exotic cultures, art, special exhibitions, weekend festivals and family art-making programs.


Unique gifts from the Cape Ann Artisans
The Cape Ann Artisans are part of a vibrant arts community.  For the past two years Gloucester has been named one of the country’s top ten Art Destinations by American Style Magazine.  The works by the artisans include jewelry, pottery, mosaics, paintings, and so much more – the perfect gift for the art-lover or someone who collects unique, one-of-a-kind items.


Kits, certificates, and gifts from Woodman’s of Essex
Woodman’s of Essex offers a terrific assortment of gifts for the foodie or seafood-lover on your list.  You can never go wrong with a Woodman’s gift certificate, but what about the friend or family member who lives outside of the region?  Woodman’s offers Chubby’s Friend Clam Kit and Authentic Clambake kits so you can bring a delicious bit of New England history into your home.



Appleton Farms gift basket
Appleton Farms has a fabulous on-site dairy farm store which offers farm-fresh milk, unbelievably delicious cheese, yogurt, beef, butter, and eggs along with a myriad of other fresh, locally-made foodstuffs and crafts.  We recommend putting together a gift basket for the foodie on your list.



Salem Witch Museum gift shop
Bewitch your friends and family this holiday season with a gift from the Salem Witch Museum.  The gift shop at the Salem Witch Museum offers a wide assortment of books, jewelry, home decor, souvenirs, games, novelties, accessories, and handcrafted local items.  Passes to the museum also make for excellent gifts!


North Shore Music Theatre gift certificate
Get the gift that’s “Always the right size. Always the right color. Always appreciated” for the theater lover on your list!  Surprise them with a night of a lavish musical spectacular.  Make them laugh. Make them cry. Make their holiday season merry and bright!


Confections from the New England Chocolate Company
The New England Chocolate Company creates, handcrafts, and markets deliciously sweet Belgian chocolate confections at its retail location.  They offer many chocolatey delights from caramels to creams and truffles.  Visitors are welcome to see and learn how the candy is made.  If you’re looking for the perfect gift for the sweet tooth on your list, we recommend the divine peanut butter cups.


ShopView2WEBSITEWenham Museum Gift Shop
The Wenham Museum offers a terrific assortment of toys, dolls, trains, books and more for the children on your list.  We suggest putting a pass to the museum in their stocking as well – a visit to see the museum’s collection (which includes rooms full of dolls, antique dollhouses, and an incredible model train room) can be more fun than the toys themselves!


Mill River Winery_Pinot Noir_Lo Res1Wines and gifts from Mill River Winery
For the wine-lover on your list, you cannot go wrong with a locally-made wine from Mill River Winery.  Mill River Winery produces handcrafted wines using the finest grapes from Massachusetts and other notable wine regions.  Don’t know which wine to buy?  A subscription to the Mill River Wine Club makes a wonderful gift!

North of Boston Historical Figures – Lily the Pink

Let us sing (let us sing) of Lydia Pinkham,
The benefactress of the human race.
She invented a vegetable compound,

And now all the papers print her face.

lydiaLynn’s Lydia Pinkham was one of the most successful businesswomen of the 1800’s.  She managed to succeed not only in a time when a woman working outside of the home was unheard of, but also within a field which remains male-dominated to this day: health and medicine (and she managed to do it without any sort of degree or medical experience what-so-ever).

In the 19th century, medical care was…well, “iffy” to say the least.  It was very expensive and even if you could afford it, it would probably kill you.  Literally. Mind you, this was a time when heroin popped up in cough syrup. leeching was just peachy keen, and toxins containing mercury (non-threateningly referred to as “calomel”) were given to patients.  Thus, cheaper (and safer) herbal medicines and home remedies were very popular.  We’d opt for the placebo over mercury any day.

One of the most popular remedies was Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound.  Lydia Pinkham was a Lynn woman who, like many people of the time, developed her own home remedies.  The Vegetable Compound became very popular and she founded the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company in 1873.

The Vegetable Compound was a smash success with women – it was a cure-all for “women’s complaints.”  Female “matters” were pretty much a taboo subject in the 19th century, so, in writing this, we assume that there wasn’t a Victorian equivalent of Midol.  So, the frankness and widespread availability of Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was probably welcomed with open arms by women suffering from cramps and other assorted menstrual problems.


Queen Victoria (above) and Lillie Langtry (right). Both also known to look just like Lydia Pinkham to some 19th newspaper readers.

download (1)Lydia Pinkham was a savvy marketer and put her image on the bottles and in her advertisements.  This gave women a friendly, almost motherly image they could trust with such a delicate matter.  There was a small drawback, though.  Photos were relatively new and hard to come by in the late 1800’s.  According to legend, some newspapers would lift Pinkham’s picture from her ads and use it for articles on Queen Victoria or other celebrities of the day.

A celebrity in her own right, Lydia Pinkham was the subject of the bawdy drinking song “Lily the Pink” or “The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham.”  It contained the verse “Let us sing (let us sing) of Lydia Pinkham,/The benefactress of the human race./She invented a vegetable compound,/And now all the papers print her face.” and singers would add their own verses.  A few examples:


LydiaPinkham-Delineator1896AUncle Paul, he was awful small, he
Was the shortest man in town.
Rubbed himself with Medicinal Compound,
Now he’s six foot-but underground.

Mrs. Jones she had no children,
And she loved them very dear.
So she took three bottles of Pinkham’s
Now she has twins every year.

The Pinkham Medicine Company also issued the Pinkham Pamphlet, which contained a sort of “Dear Abby”-esque column.  Women were encouraged to send in questions to embarrassing to be asked aloud and “Lydia” would answer them.  Lydia continued to answer questions well after she had died…and it was revealed that the advice-giver was actually a staff of writers.


Pinkham’s Lynn home

Lydia Pinkham died of a stroke in 1883.  The Pinkham Medicine Company grew to gross nearly $4 million dollars in the 1920’s and some of its products (or modern variations) are still available today.  Pinkham’s Lynn home is on the list National Register of Historic Places.

So, here’s to Lynn’s Lydia Pinkham
A woman who succeeded among medical quack-ses
Who earned fame not by informing deer
Or scalping her captors with sharp axes. 

We’re not-so-much with the good lyric-writing.  Did we mention that the Compound contained 20% alcohol?  That probably had something to do with its popularity.