Christmas in Colonial Virginia

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An upper-class Virginia Christmas in 1773 on the “Nomini Hall” plantation:

By day the men rode to hounds or hunted the plentiful game – turkeys, ducks, pigeons, and geese – that abounded. At night, parties were made merry by music, dancing, and games that often went on until nearly dawn. Philip Fithian, a young divinity student from Princeton University who served as a tutor for the offspring of the wealthy planter, Robert Carter, has left us one of the few early accounts of a Virginia Christmas party.

Carter’s lands sprawled over 75,000 acres of countryside, and he could well afford to offer lavish entertainment. After breakfast-parties in Virginia started early in those days-Mr. Fithian tells of entering a large ballroom and seeing “several Minuets danced with great ease and propriety; after which the whole company Joined in country dances, and it was indeed beautiful to admiration to see such 3 number of young persons, set off by dress to the best advantage, moving easily to the sound of well performed Music, and with perfect regularity, tho’ apparently in the utmost disorder. The Dance continued til two, we dined at half after three-soon after dinner we repaired to the DancingRoom again… When it grew too dark to dance, the young gentlemen walked over to my room and we conversed til half after six. Meanwhile the great hall Was lit with hundreds of candles, and ‘looked luminous and splendid.’ Everyone then returned for more dancing and parlor games until supper was served.”

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