The year was 1872. A cold snap had frozen Baltimore’s waterways. The city was preparing for Christmas. And as the holidays approached, city leaders were looking to stamp out a societal vice: eggnog.
One hundred and forty-six years ago, Baltimore’s Temperance Convention gathered Dec. 17 to call a series of meetings before Christmas “to oppose the habit of indulging in egg-nog and liquors during the festive season,” according to Baltimore Sun archives.
“There is no doubt that much of the drunkenness which too frequently disgraces Christmas Day is due to the free liquor and egg-nog of the barrooms, in which young and old can fill themselves full enough during the early hours of the morning to keep drunk all day,” a Dec. 18, 1872, Sun story read.
In an effort to suppress the prevalence of drinking during the holidays, the city’s temperance convention hosted a large meeting Dec. 22 — the Sunday before Christmas — with well-known public speakers who condemned the proliferation of alcohol around Christmas and New Year’s. The event also incorporated vocal and instrumental music featuring “temperance songs and sacred music” to “add to the attractiveness of the meeting,” according to a Dec. 19, 1872, Sun story.
The temperance group and the Young Men’s Christian Association also issued a circular to local church leaders asking them to preach about the ills of consuming eggnog and other liquor in conjunction with the event.
“You are respectfully but earnestly requested to call the attention of your congregation on Sunday next, to the pernicious practice of setting out egg-nog, wine and other liquors during Christmas and New Year’s holidays, more especially before the young, and of tempting and enticing them to partake thereof,” the flyers said, according to a Dec. 19, 1872, Sun story. “Urge them to discountenance this custom in every way possible, by all that is sacred in religion, or to the moral well-being of the community, and especially by all that is sacred to the best interests of the rising generation.”
Pastors did just that on “teetotal temperance Sunday,” according to Sun reports. One pastor, Rev. Thos. L. Poulson, decried the prevalence of liquor stores and called for congregants to “rally round the cold water flag and fight on, fight ever, until not one grog shop was left in existence.”
But perhaps the message did not spread far enough; a Virginia man died after drinking eggnog on Christmas Day, according to Sun archives.
Samuel E. Vaden of Manchester, Va., was celebrating Christmas with friends before he died “under sudden and distressing circumstances,” according to Sun reports.
“He had been indulging with some friends in egg-nog and other drinks, and was lying asleep on a table in a rear room, when a friend, taking hold of his hand, discovered he was dead.”
Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.