Christmas is cancelled; the Yanks captured Santa: Christmas in the Antebellum and Civil War-era South

When we think of traditional Christmases, we often picture the Victorian era, with its mistletoe, decorated Christmas trees, and carolers. Not all Victorian-era people were gung-ho about Christmas, though, as evidenced by The Journals of David Golightly Harris, 1855-1870 (edited by Philip N. Racine, University of Tennessee Press, 1997). These journals are a great resource about the life of a middling, slave-holding Southerner before, during, and after the Civil War, even including his wife’s voice as she keeps records for him while he’s fighting. It also gives some glimpses into the brutal lives of slaves. Amidst all this, we learn about Christmas traditions south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Some of the traditions are familiar to us. Santa Claus brings presents to the children, and friends and families gather for large Christmas dinners. It’s also a time of reflection on the past. Harris mentions grog and whiskey as part of the festivities, which may or may not resonate with modern Christmas celebrants. There’s no mention of Christmas trees or caroling.

More unusual Christmas traditions mentioned by Harris include fox hunting, firecrackers, and shooting off guns. They also held “egg-nogs,” which seem to have involved making and consuming the drink with groups of friends. The festivities lasted for several days, usually until the 28th, and Harris repeats a folk belief that the weather in the twelve days between Christmas and “old Christmas” (Twelfth Night) portends the weather in the years to come. The slaves got time off as well (unfortunately, we don’t hear much about how they celebrated), leading to Harris to grumble about having to wait on himself. In fact, Harris thinks the Christmas holiday is dying out—perhaps not as vibrant as he remembers it as a child—and since he finds it dull and tiresome, he doesn’t seem to regret its demise in the Antebellum years.

His attitude toward Christmas changes during and after the war. He still believes it’s a fading holiday, but he is sorry to think it will soon be gone. Santa brings no presents to the children in the deepest part of the war (perhaps none were to be had), and Harris hints that they told the children that the Yankees captured Santa and his presents. Fewer people came to visit and there was less to eat. The older people turned reflective in the face of death and deprivation, but the children still played and found ways to enjoy themselves, showing that some things about human nature change very little over time.

A writer’s search engine history

My writer friends and I often joke about the weird things we research while writing, so I thought it would be fun to post a snippet of my recent writing-related search engine history:

  • Heirloom chicken breeds
  • How to make gunpowder
  • Renaissance guns
  • Father William Davies execution
  • Y Drych Cristianogawl
  • Robert Pugh Catholic recusant
  • Plas Penrhyn
  • Little Orme
  • Printing press parts
  • Cider making
  • Elizabethan portraits men 1580s
  • Burn scars (not a recommended image search)
  • Babington plot
  • Punch and Judy
  • Puppet show history
  • Henry Herbert Earl of Pembroke
  • Shakespearean insults

And this quick-and-dirty research doesn’t include the leaning tower of books next to my writing space. I’m putting some polish on a few scenes in my Elizabethan novel and fact checking myself as I go, though a new story idea is nagging at me, so I’ll be racking up a fresh set of strange searches soon. I get search-generated ads for the oddest things sometimes (this set will probably get me chicken recipes and English degree programs), and I’m sure the government agents spying on my internet use are scratching their heads (hi, guys!). 😉

What about you, fellow writers? What’s in your search history?

Too busy writing to write

I was a blog slacker in November. I couldn’t find time to post, between NaNoWriMo and a couple of freelance jobs that fell into my lap. Being a writer (and a mom of little kids!) requires an insane amount of time management. But, to prove I was being productive, here is my NaNoWriMo winner badge. 🙂


Now I have 50,000+ words that need to marinate for a while and then undergo serious editing. It feels good to have a rough draft, even knowing it’s going to take a lot of work to take it from coal to diamond.

I also got a peek at the first draft of the cover for The Haunting of Springett Hall! It’s going to be awesome, and I wish I could share it now, but hopefully it’ll be finalized soon and I’ll be doing a cover launch in the relatively near future.