Illinois History Minutes

December 23 Illinois History Minute


It’s December 23rd, and Christmas is coming. The holiday wasn’t always the big deal it is today. 18th century journals from the French settlement of Kaskaskia --- later the first Illinois capital --- show that people attended church on Christmas Eve, and perhaps gave small gifts to their children.

During the 19th century, Knox College in Galesburg held classes on Christmas Day, like any other day. Student pranksters in the early 1850s tried to discourage the practice, by hiding the school bell, removing the keys to the classroom and sealing window latches.

Then in 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant, who made Galena Illinois his hometown by that time, signed a resolution declaring Christmas a holiday for federal government employees. The practice soon spread to state government and the private sector.