Christmas Customs continued from page 7 Christmas tree dates from the seventeenth century when a candle-lighted tree astonished residents of Strasbourg. I have found nothing recorded in the eighteenth century about holiday trees in Europe or North America. By the nineteenth century a few of the “ German toys” use Charles Dickens’s phrase) appeared in London. But these foreign oddities were not yet accepted. When a print of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s very domestic circle around a decorated tree at Windsor Castle appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1848, the custom truly caught on. At about the same time, Charles Minnegerode, a German professor at the College of William and Mary, trimmed a small evergreen to delight the children at the St. George Tucker House. Martha Vandergrift, aged 95, recalled the grand occasion, and her story appeared in the Richmond News Leader on December 25, 1928. Presumably Mrs. Vandergrift remembered the tree and who decorated it more clearly than she did the date. The newspaper gave 1845 as the time, three years after Minnegerode’s arrival in Williamsburg. Perhaps the first Christmas tree cheered the Tucker household as early as 1842. more and better things to eat and drink for a celebration. Finances nearly always control the possibilities. In eighteenthcentury Virginia, of course, the rich had more on the table at Christmas and on any other day, too, but even the Christmas foods and beverages. Everyone wants gentry faced limits in winter. December was the right time for slaughtering, so fresh meat of all sorts they had, as well as some seafood. Preserving fruits and vegetables was problematic for a December holiday. Then as now, beef, goose, ham, and turkey counted as holiday favorites; some households also insisted on fish, oysters, mincemeat pies, and brandied peaches. No one dish epitomized the Christmas feast in colonial Virginia. Wines, brandy, rum punches, and other alcoholic beverages went plentifully around the table on December 25 in wellto-do households. Others had less because they could afford less. Slave owners gave out portions of rum and other liquors to their workers at Christmastime, partly as a holiday treat (one the slaves may have come to expect and even demand) and partly to keep slaves at the home quarter during their few days off work. People with a quantity of alcohol in them were more likely to stay close to home than to run away or travel long distances to visit family. Length of the Christmas season. Eighteenth-century Places We Love Submitted by: Aimée O’Grady Oatlands Plantation I Anglicans prepared to celebrate the Nativity during Advent, a penitential season in the church’s calendar. December 25, not a movable feast, began a festive season of considerable duration. The twelve days of Christmas lasted until January 6, also called Twelfth Day or Epiphany. Colonial Virginians thought Twelfth Night a good occasion for balls, parties, and weddings. There seems to have been no special notice of New Year’s Eve in colonial days. (Maybe that is to be expected since Times Square Christmas Customs continued on page 28 f your family enjoys history, consider a day trip to Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg, Virginia this holiday season and learn how the families who called Oatlands home, celebrated the holidays. Each year, the plantation pays tribute to a specific time in history. This year, from November 18 through December 30, guests can experience Christmas during the Roaring Twenties at Oatlands. Each room will be filled with greenery and beautifully decorated Christmas trees, displaying the opulence of Christmas in the 1920’s. As you tour the estate, guides will explain how the holidays were spent by the plantation’s wealthy owners throughout the years. Visitors can also enjoy candlelight tours, holiday teas, wreathmaking workshops, children’s theatre programs, and even a gingerbread contest. Events at the plantation are varied enough to entertain families with children of all ages. Oatlands Plantation is a unique destination any time of the year, but especially during the holidays when a bygone era comes alive. 2013 • Issue 6 Piedmont Family Magazine 21