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. Even so, 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. Charleston Old Walled City Tours is proud to announce that we are offering our popular Christmas in Olde Charleston Walking Tour again this year. For information or reservations call 843 343 4851 or go to hhttp://www.walledcitytours.com/index.html and choose the “book online” button in the upper right hand corner.
We also want to make everyone aware of Christmas 1860 at the Edmondston Alston House.
This year, on December 2 and December 9, the Edmondston Alston House is presenting a candle a light reenactment of Christmas 1860. To purchase tickets ,make reservatiuon and get information for Christmas 1860 at the Edmondston Alston House got to: https://middletonplace.org/store/special-events/christmas-1860.html . 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 “snapshot” 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. 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 was a swift decision to rename it Secession Hall. The Charleston Daily Courier announces :
“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 entertainment”. 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.” Charleston 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 reports:
: The German Church sponsored a Christmas Tree Display.
” 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 Mercury;
“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 1860:
“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 apprehensions.
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 12/27/1860”
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 Christmas.