Christmas In Antebellum Vicksburg
In addition to a fine Christmas meal enjoyed at the plantation, the turkey feathers did not go to waste and food portions were distributed to those less fortunate. Good lessons from long ago.
Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Christmas in Antebellum Vicksburg:
"(In Vicksburg), as on the plantations, Christmas Day meant "Christmas gifts," surrendered on demand to the servants. The cook in town, Aunt Diddy, arrived in a costume that seldom varied—purple calico dress, black silk apron, hair tied up in a red and yellow bandana. She gave finishing touches to the house decorations which had a Deep Southern touch: gray moss and magnolia leaves on the wall or the tablecloth, in addition to the usual holly and mistletoe.
Aunt Diddy’s only occupation on this day was the meal itself. The turkey already had a side use; his wing, covered with calico, had become a brush for the hearth, and his tail feathers were being woven into a Sunday fan…the fowl itself was filled with oyster stuffing and placed in front of the master; before the mistress sat a whole roast suckling pig with an apple in its mouth.
First a serving of turkey, then pig, and with them Irish and sweet potatoes, lima beans, hominy and rice, egg bread, biscuit and Sally Lunn, "baked in a Turk’s cap pan." At each end of the table were dishes containing a pound of butter in a handsome print; a pair of glass stands held large cakes—fruit, pound and sponge—the result of days of baking; and the lattice-work fruit stands were full of polished oranges, apple and grapes. Dessert, like many of the things of this day, also came in double style; there were mince pie and boiled custard, "the latter served in tall thin goblets with a little floating island of white of egg on top." As a last touch, the children and adults could select from Canton-blue jars of ginger. Within a half hour after the meal, "portions" of practically everything on the table were on their way to less well-to-do families of the town.
The day after Christmas had a special meaning in Vicksburg and other river places; it "belonged to the Negroes," whose duties were lightened so that they could leave early for their parties, and for the weddings that took place at Vicksburg as they did at the plantation….Such Christmas-time Negro weddings were conducted with high ceremonial and also high order. At the end the minister would lift his hand: "Well Jim, salute your bride." At that the crowd cried out, the groom would bestow his kiss, and the lighter hours had arrived, with singing and dancing into the night."
(The Southern Christmas Book, Harnett T. Kane, David MacKay Compant, 1958, pp. 166-169)