Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Christmas at Monticello
“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." Although no documents exist to tell us how, or if, Jefferson decorated his Monticello for the holidays, Jefferson noted the festive scene created by his grandchildren. On Christmas Day 1809, he said of eight-year-old grandson Francis Wayles Eppes: "He is at this moment running about with his cousins bawling out 'a merry Christmas' 'a Christmas gift’ Etc."
“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.” For example, visiting and receiving friends was most common, as Martha Jefferson Randolph wrote to Jefferson on January 1, 1796, “We have spent the holidays and indeed every day in such a perpetual round of visiting and receiving visits that I have not had a moment to my self since I came down.”
“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.”
“References indicate that 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 accommodated to the season of mince pies." Music also filled the scene. The Monticello music library included the Christmas favorite "Adeste Fideles."