Monticello Christmas...Jefferson Style!


(Some information came from this website: https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/christmas)

1762 December 25. (Jefferson to John Page). "This very day, to others the day of greatest mirth and jollity, sees me overwhelmed with more and greater misfortunes then have befallen a descendant of Adam for these thousand years past I am sure; and perhaps, after exception Job, since the creation of the world."

As it is for many people today, Christmas was for Jefferson a time for family and friends and for celebrations, or in Jefferson's word, "merriment." In 1762, he described Christmas as "the day of greatest mirth and jollity."

During Jefferson’s time, holiday celebrations were much more modest than those we know today. Socializing and special food would have been the focal points of the winter celebrations rather than decorations or lavish gifts. The customs that we think of today as traditional ways of celebrating Christmas, particularly the decorating of evergreen trees and the hanging of stockings, derived from a variety of national traditions and evolved through the course of the 19th century, only becoming widespread in the 1890s.

At Monticello, as throughout Virginia, mince pie — filled with apples, raisins, beef suet, and spices — was a traditional holiday dinner favorite. Jefferson wrote to Mary Walker Lewis on December 25, 1813: "I will take the liberty of sending for some barrels of apples, and if a basket of them can now be sent by the bearer they will be acceptable as accomodated to the season of mince pies." Music also filled the scene. The Monticello music library included the Christmas favorite "Adeste Fideles."

For African-Americans at Monticello, the holiday season represented a time between - a few days when the winter work halted and mirth became the order of the day. The Christmas season came to represent hours when families reunited through visits and when normal routines were set aside.

During the holidays, women adorned tables with wild game. Freshly slaughtered meats supplemented the usual rations of pork and cornmeal. Gills of molasses sweetened holiday fare and music lifted spirits not fatigued by a harvest but by another full cycle of work in the fields, shops, and living quarters of Monticello.

Enslaved people frequently recalled that Christmas was the only holiday they knew. Many cherished memories of gathering apples and nuts, burning Yule logs, and receiving special tokens of food and clothing.

To purchase Thomas Jefferson-From Boy to Man on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ITYMZ70/ref=cm_sw_su_dp )

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© 2013 by JAYNE D'ALESSANDRO-COX

Header photo courtesy of The Creator's Creations Photography, Charlottesville, Virginia
Author photo courtesy of KMS Photography, Charlottesville, Virginia

Marriage Bond Facsimile cover background courtesy of The Library of Virginia.

Book cover foreground image courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.