By Sammy Cook
Christmas during the late nineteenth century was very different than the one we experience today. Beyond inflation, lack of skyscrapers and cars, and the issues of the Civil War, what really made Christmas different were the holiday traditions. The Pease family was one of the most prominent families in Austin during the nineteenth century. Their letters and memories have been preserved over time at the Austin History Center. From the accounts captured in the collection, the Pease, Graham, and Niles Families Papers (AR.A.001) and the Austin American Statesman comes a story of a Christmas very different than ours. Thanks especially to Sarah and Julie Pease’s recollections we are able to look back and see what Christmas was like then.
In 1915, Julia Maria Pease, known as Julie, wrote down her memories of Christmas during the Civil War for her grandchildren. The Austin American Statesman published the account on December 18th and December 25th 1971. In the December 18th article Julie wrote, “It was winter in 1862 … And oh that Christmas tree, not tall and stately as is the German Tannenbaum but just a common cedar, cut by old Uncle Tom under the direction of my father from his wild cedar brakes … For days the ladies of the family have been actively enjoying stringing popcorn, making cornucopias and pasting on them the bright prints which all had been saving for months ... You must know that our dear United States had blockaded our willful southern states and nothing could come to us from land or seas, unless it ran the blockade. All food stuffs must be raised at home and almost everything for clothing was made in the family.”
On December 25th the Austin American Statesman published more of Julia’s story where she continued, “After supper on Christmas Eve, the doors of the dining room were locked to us and we children sat in suspense ... and there stood the wonderful living tree, ablaze with home dipped candles – Oh, the joy of it, ... Then the cries of delight as my dignified father called out the names and took of the parcels – Fruits were scarce, but there were homemade candies – pecans, peanuts and small cakes to fill the bags and cornucopias.” This Civil War Christmas was full of family, fond memories, and homemade presents that portray a happy Pease family at their plantation a couple of miles outside of town known as Woodlawn. The house was a prototype of the Governor’s Mansion and four generations of the Pease family would live there.
After the Civil War had ended in a letter to Carrie Augusta Pease from her grandmother Sarah Marshall Pease on December 10th, 1867 the Pease family Christmas was further detailed. Sarah wrote, “After she returned, Maria and Marshall, and Cleveland came and made us a good visit, spent Christmas, and New Year’s, Carrie made a large party for the children, had supper, music, so they all appeared to enjoy it, very much.” The Pease families’ Christmas was an eventful one with dinners, presents, and the entire family gathered around. We at the Austin History Center hope you have a very happy holiday season.
To find out more about Christmas and Holiday traditions in Austin be sure to visit the Austin History Center where we have collections like those of the Pease Family that can provide insight into the Austin's past celebrations.