Christmas in Columbus long ago

The following excerpt is from the “Source Material for Mississippi History (Lowndes County) Vol. I Part 44” on pages 527-529. The information was compiled and written by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1939. The WPA was a federal agency created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 as a relief effort to hire millions of unemployed on government projects during the Great Depression.

The two volume compilation is located in the Local History Room with the call number CL 976.209 LOWNDES WOR.

Note: The following content and terminology is representative of the era in which it was written.  No changes were made to the text unless otherwise noted (typically due to a misspelling in the original text) in order to maintain historical accuracy.

CUSTOMS CONNECTED WITH THE CELEBRATION OF SPECIAL DAYS

In Lowndes County, as well as all over the state, Christmas has always been the big holiday of the year, and it occurred during the season when there was little work to be done on the farms and plantations; the holiday usually lasted, according to old English customs, from Christmas Even until New Year’s.

On slave holding plantations, the slaves were released from work (other than the house work involved in the keeping of Christmas and the taking care of the stock) for an entire week. Christmas week was celebrated in the Big House and in the pioneer cabins by home-comings and visiting among relatives and friends. For about a week or two before Christmas great preparations were made for feasting and visiting. The men and boys spent days in the woods hunting deer, bear, turkeys, ducks, quail, and squirrels. The negroes were kept busy cutting and hauling firewood and “lightered knots”. On all the farms there were hog-killings with the duties attending, such as rendering lard, grinding sausage, making hogs-head cheese, boiling hams, etc. In the houses, from one-room houses to the Big Houses and slave quarters, everything must be cleaned and scrubbed, and in all the [kitchens] women were busy baking cakes and pies, making candies, cracking nuts, and preparing meat and game. At last, on Christmas Eve, the houses were garnished with holly, mistletoe, and other evergreens, and company started coming in.

After the big Christmas Eve supper, it was usually the custom to serve [eggnog] to all in the house, the evening was spent shooting fireworks, playing games, telling stories, singing, fiddling and dancing. When circumstances permitted, the fireworks display on Christmas Eve were often very elaborate, with rockets, Roman [candles], flash and bang crackers. In the backwoods homes, if fireworks could not be bought, they were devised from powder-filled corn cobs and canes, powder-filled anvils, or by shooting off muskets and rifles. Again, on Christmas morning, more fireworks were in order. This custom of celebrating Christmas with fireworks in still observed, and in all the small towns, as well as all over the countryside, rockets flare and fire-crackers flash every evening for about a week before and after Christmas. After the fireworks the children hung their stockings or [lit] the Christmas tree in anticipation of their gifts of toys and fruits, nuts, and candies.

Of late years it has been the custom to have community Christmas trees in different churches or club rooms, and a great many small towns have beautifully decorated trees, around which the children sing carols for a few nights before Christmas. It is also customary for towns and cities to decorate the streets with colored lights and evergreens. Also it has become a habit for houses to decorate outdoor trees and otherwise beautify lawns and porches with Yuletide lights.

Christmas day was usually spent in feasting and visiting, and the week until New Year’s, given over to hunting, visiting, and attending parties, fiddling, dances and formal receptions. Everywhere, among rich and poor, white and black, they all said, “Christmas comes but once a year”, so for Xmas week, toil and worry gave place to eating, drinking and general merry-making.

It is customary for the First Methodist Church of Columbus to show forth and carry out the idea and teachings of the Savior’s birthday by beautiful celebrations called “The White Christmas”. This usually takes place late in the afternoon, on Christmas Eve in the form of pageants, music and plays representing the First Christmas. To such celebrations, everyone brings a gift for the poor, which are laid at the altar, to be distributed among the less fortunate families in the county.

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Published in: on December 15, 2008 at 8:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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