N the old days, before the Civil War, plantation life in
Virginia was very attractive; with its big white house
set beside the road, and surrounded with old-fashioned
shrubs and great spreading trees. The Major was a
genial and kindly host, and a most considerate master
to the great family of slaves that worked his broad
acres and loved him and his wife. The two were called
The great plantation festival of the year was Christmas. The house was filled with guests, with members of the family who came from far and near, and with the boys and girls from school. Everybody was busy and happy—from the master and mistress down to the youngest dusky "hand" that worked the plantation. All labor was laid aside; the crops had been gathered and stored, the wood had been cut, the hogs had been killed, the lard tried out, and the sausage meat made. There was plenty to eat and wear, and the time had come to make merry.
For days before Christmas, preparations had been going
In the woods, the axes had been busy cutting tough
hickory for the big fires. Other wood might do for
seasons, but Christmas needed the sparkle and crackle
of hickory, with its leaping
flames and red glow. The wagons hauled the Yule logs
into the yard, where they were piled for use. Then
evergreens were gathered and holly and mistletoe and
bamboo were brought for decorating the parlor, hall and
Who would stand under the mistletoe?
In all this work the young men and maidens joined with
many a merry joke. Who would stand under the mistletoe
to be kissed? Who would hang up their stockings? What
presents would each receive? These were questions in
minds of every one.
And now Christmas Eve. Snow was falling, a white, fleecy covering for the ground like a velvet carpet. The cedars in the yard bent beneath their crystal burden. It was just cold enough to make the great leaping fire feel comfortable. The servants were busy in the kitchen putting finishing touches to the pies and puddings, cakes and tarts,—enough to feed an army. The house was ablaze with light, and the windows glowed a welcome invitation to those who might be coming for the holidays.
The wagons soon began to arrive, bringing the boys and
girls from school, the guests to spend a day or two, or
relatives and friends. Every room in the house would be
filled with a laughing, jolly party. The Major and his
wife stood at the open door, and kissed everybody who
came. The servants, down at the Quarters, were getting
ready also, singing and laughing, playing the banjo,
and wondering which one of them would be the first to
Morning—Christmas morning! The stir began long before the sun had risen, the children, stealing like little ghosts up to the fireplaces to get their stockings so as to see what Santa Claus had brought. Soon, the doors opened and shut, and the cries of "Merry Christmas" could be heard from room to room. Then a great shout outside; the negroes had come to call "Christmas Gift"—a happy, contented crowd, jostling each other, every one of them smiling, and anxious to be the first to see the white folks.
Breakfast was a merry meal. The presents were distributed, useful articles as well as ornamental ones, the negroes bowing and bobbing their thanks, as they bore away their treasures. It was the rule for everybody to go to church on Christmas, and this custom was sacredly observed. The venerable pastor preached a sermon of praise and thanksgiving for life's many blessings. Then home, through the snow, to a dinner which was the great event of the day!
The table was a sight to do your heart good. The solid old mahogany boards groaned beneath their load of food. In the place of honor, was the big "gobbler," brown as a berry, and stuffed with chestnuts and sausages. There were also a huge roast of venison and a big country ham. Every kind of vegetable that could be had was served—sweet potatoes, rice and macaroni in abundance. Then pies, cake, jellies, syllabub followed, and there seemed no end to the feast. All the time, the room rang with good cheer, fun and jokes, while the Major and his wife sat looking on—all smiles and happiness.
Down in the Quarters, the negroes were having their
feast also,—almost as bountiful and certainly as
good as that at the big house. Then followed dancing
and, maybe, a marriage, to celebrate the day, while
The day came to an end at last, as all happy days do!
Can there ever be such times as those on the old
plantation, where a kind-hearted
master shared his abundance with those he loved and owned, and
lived in peace, comfort and security because he
lived in kindness and