18 December 2014
Mint Juleps, Sauerkraut, and Frolics
The Southern Christmas Book, Harnett T. Kane
To read this book you must do it with the eyes of an historian, as it was written in 1958. Gratefully, it is relatively free of the tongue-tangling dialect, references to stealing watermelons, and "happy days on the Ole Plantation" attitude of most pre-Civil Rights Southern books. Oh, it comes across very clearly that the author is white and there are black servants flitting around in the background somewhere having a happy time getting new clothes and new shoes; they pretty much disappear after the Civil War, too.
What is appreciable about this book is that they identify that there wasn't just "one" South, but different areas of the South which celebrated Christmas differently. In Baltimore the large German population ate sauerkraut with their Christmas turkey. The Colonial Virginia Christmas was full of drinking and dancing—and later that newfangled decoration, the Christmas tree. No Christmas was possible in the early White House, but later John Adams' granddaughter enjoyed the holiday there. Christmas customs in Louisiana and Missouri had French roots, while rugged settlers in the mountains held "frolics" where homespun-dressed folks danced to "a fiddle." Even the rough-and-ready Texans held parties, even if they had to make do with a little coffee and fresh-caught venison, and decorate a tumbleweed with yarn, while the Spanish residents had la posada, luminaria, and pinatas for their fun. Obscure celebrations that included "Old Buck," John Canoing, shooting in Christmas, and fireworks are also touched upon.
Valuable as a chronicle of history and an interesting read, even if half the population is considered in only a few paragraphs.