Charleston Tours – Christmas in Charleston 1860

Christmas in Charleston is a special time of year! In a city
where old traditions persist, it is a city of Holiday gatherings, festoons and
greenery, old china and Grandma’s pound cake. Celebrations have evolved through
the Years. Christmas trees were a novelty in the 1850s, and Christmas Pie
(today we know it as “Mince Meat Pie” was on every table. I  am putting together a Special Christmas in
Charleston Tour, so I want to make everyone aware of Christmas 1860 at the
Edmondston Alston House.
 Tonight, the
Edmondston Alston House is presenting a candle light reenactment of Christmas
1860. If you have never attended it is a powerful event. Assisted by the
Washington Light Infantry in period garb, you’ll never forget it. For that
reason, I have compiled a picture of Christmas 1860 in Charleston as reported
in the newspapers.
Keep in mind that only five days earlier, on December 20,
1860, the very document that removed South Carolina from the Union, the
Ordinance of Secession, had been signed on Meeting Street. Society was in an
upheaval. There had already been a shock in the financial markets., yet this
did not stop the Christmas revelry as reported in the Charleston Courier
But Charlestonians, convinced that their cause was right and
that the Federal  government would never
challenge, joined their enthusiasm for Secession with their Yuletide
festivities. Over at the South Carolina Institute Hall there has been a move to
rename it Secession Hall. The Charleston Daily Courier announces a big event to celebrate the Holidays:
“at  Secession Hall, the George Christie Troupe
(The Christie Minstrels?) would be present to dedicate it, under  that name, with a new and original “Secession
Polka”, composed by one of them, and dedicated to the “Palmetto Minute Men of
Charleston”. The hall is rich and promising in other good things, and the past
triumphs of the Troupe leave no doubt of the success of this Christmas Eve
Charleston Daily Courier 12/22/1860
For many, Christmas was like any year. Reverend Porter went
about feeding and gifting poor children as was his vocation, the holy man that
he was. The German Church sponsored a Christmas Tree Display. The New England
Society attended their Annual Forefathers Day Feast, which celebrated the
landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. The Charleston Mercury announced:
  “The 42nd Anniversary of the New
England Society was celebrated on Saturday evening at the Mills House. The
banquet spread was in the usual excellent style of MSSRS Nickerson and Purcell,
but it was noticed that attendance was not so large as in former years.”
Mercury 12/12/1860
Since they were from New England, a part of the country that
was late to adopt Christmas as a holiday, it is curious to see that they had a
feast not unlike Thanksgiving so close to Christmas. Celebrated on December 22,
the menu for 1859 showed 60 items on the buffet (!), including East River
Oysters from Manhattan. It is sobering to note that the Banquet was cancelled
the following year and instead, $1000 was donated to the Cause.
At home there was an assured sense of normalcy. The Mercury
Santa Claus  bore as heavy 
a load of of choice gifts down the chimneys of our houses last
night…..his assistants tottering under burdens of brown paper…full of noisy
painted things., but the thought of the joy they would occasion at the spring
of the Yule converted the shame  to an
honor and made the burden light.   “
There was an apparent shame in carrying a huge bundle of
gifts, (unless you were Santa , of course!) 
Christmas Day, with all those gifts
to unwrap, was a joyous day for children. The sun rose on a dreary day, foggy
and damp. But the spirits of the children were hardly dampened by the weather. For
the young it was all about presents, firecrackers and deviltry. Reports the
“Young Charleston was
not so easily to be deprived of the privileges and enjoyment of the Festival…muddy
youngsters escaped from the parental roof…to revel in the Christmas fun and
Christmas fog. Within doors there was the usual frolic and enjoyment, and the
fact that they were no longer people of the United States did not diminish a
whit of the zest with which relished their turkeys and demolished their plum
puddings and mince pies. We venture to predict that next Christmas they will
eat them with even keener enjoyment.
Charleston Mercury 12/27/1860
The Mercury also gives a post-game assessment of Christmas
“It  was feared by many that the Christmas that
dawned today would be comparatively dull and silent, that there would be few
Christmas trees  the stockings almost
empty and the Yule fire would burn with a weaker flame.  We rejoiced in the dispersion of all these ill
Apparently, Black Friday is nothing new, as indicated from
the same article:
“So crowded were our
favorite toy stores that it was difficulty that one was waited upon….some
favorite marts were thronged to the doors .It was impossible to elbow a passage
through the living ranks.
Charleston Courier

Anxiety over Secession was overshadowed by a confident  belief that their Cause, Secession and
Independence, was the right thing, and that their future was secured. No sons
had been lost, no farms burned, no evacuations ordered. It was the last such
Charleston Old Walled City Tours offers themed tours od Historic Charleston including the Old Walled City Tour, the Home and Garden Tour, the Slavery and Freedom Tour, and the Charleston Ghost Walk. Go to www.walledcitytours.come to learn more!



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