Christmas during Colonial America

Dec. 3rd 2013


As we prepare to decorate Belle Grove Plantation for our First Christmas and our Colonial Christmas Candlelight Tour, I was reminded of a blog I wrote last year about how Colonial America celebrated Christmas. It was one of our favorite blogs so I thought you mind like to see it again to remind you how simple life was during this time.


I have had several of you ask me about how true are the wreath decorations of Colonial Williamsburg. So true to form, I did some research to confirm their authenticity. In my research I came across some interesting information on customs and traditions of Christmas within the colonial period.


During the colonial period in Virginia, the Christmas season followed a four week period of Advent. Most Virginians were devout Anglicans and they would have observed a period of fasting, prayers and reflection. They would have read daily from the Book of Common Prayer. Fasting would have been only one full meal, which generally would have been meatless during the day. After the four weeks, they would end with a Christmas meal and the start of the Christmas season.


Did you know that most of New England didn’t celebrate Christmas during the colonial period? Christmas was outlawed in most of New England because Puritans and Protestants disliked the celebration and likened it to pagan rituals. In 1659 Massachusetts if you were found observing the season in any way, including feasting, you would have been fined five shillings per offense. During the same time, in Connecticut, you were prohibited from reading the Book of Common Prayer, keeping of Christmas and Saints Day, making mince pies, playing cards or performing on any musical instruments. This didn’t change until the early nineteenth century. The Burgermeister Meisterburger from the animated Christmas show “Santa Claus is Comin to Town” would have loved living here during that time!

Burgermester Mesterburger from "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town"
Burgermester Mesterburger from “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”

The Christmas season was a twelve day event during the colonial period. It would have started on December 25th (Christmas Day) and would end on January 6th. During this time, you would have great feasts and meal, attended parties, gone to visit others and would have received guest to your own home.

colonial christmas

Christmas decorations were a common sight during the colonial period. However, those used today in Colonial Williamsburg are inaccurate recreation of the eighteenth century customs and materials. Oranges, lemons and limes would never have been wasted on any form of decorations. Pineapples were considered a precious commodity and you would have never seen them used. What were used were garlands of holly, ivy, mountain laurel, berries, mistletoe or whatever natural materials were available. Lavender, rose petals and pungent herbs like rosemary and bay set the holiday scent for the season. Also during the colonial period, only one or two rooms in the home would have been decorated. The church was general more decorated than the homes. The door would have had decoration, but no Christmas tree. Most Christmas trees didn’t make their debut until the nineteenth century.


Christmas meals would have been fresh meats such as beef, goose, ham and turkey. They would have also had fish, oysters, mincemeat pies and brandied peaches. In the well to do households you would have found wines, brandy, rum punches and other alcoholic beverages.

newspaper cabinet2

Christmas gift giving during the colonial period was also a little different than what we know today. Believe it or not but eighteenth century shopkeepers placed printed ads noting items appropriate as holiday gifts. But there wasn’t a special day that it was given on. No real Christmas morning of unwrapping presents. Gift giving was done from masters or parents to dependents such as children, servants, apprentices and slaves. But the dependents didn’t return the gifts. This tradition didn’t come about until later and was a new American tradition. Santa Claus was also an American invention although European countries had their own version of him. In colonial times, Santa Claus or Father Christmas didn’t visit the children as he does today.

mt vernon christmas

Christmas carols and hymns were very popular during the colonial period. During the Christmas season there would have been lots of dancing and singing at the many parties. Hymns were always sung, but beloved songs such as “Joy to the World”, “The First Noel” and “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” were among the songs at parties. However no Christmas carols were ever sung at church.

Our present day customs have been derived from the many immigrants who settled this country with most of our traditions coming out of the nineteenth century. But this look back at the colonial period, when things were truly more simple I hope will give you a chance to really embrace the Christmas season and focus on the true meaning of the time.

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Voting closes on December 20th!

Our First Thanksgiving

Nov. 30th 2013

This Thanksgiving was our first at Belle Grove Plantation. We decided early on that we wanted to share the elegant mansion as a backdrop for such a festive holiday. So we opened the doors and prepared dinner for many old and new friends.

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When we decided to prepare dinner, we put a limit of 30 guests for our tables. Low and behold, we ended up with 45 guests!


We prepared four Turkeys with Gravy, Homemade Mash Potatoes, Green Beans Almondine, Stuffing and Rolls. We were also blessed with our dearest friend, Karen making her famous Sweet Potato Soufflé and Deviled Eggs. We followed this dinner with a choice of Pumpkin or Pecan Pies.

Brett started the dinner with a reading of a Presidential Proclamation by President George Washington. It was been requested by Congress on October 3, 1789.


Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington”

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After offering a prayer of thanksgiving, our guests made their way into the Formal and Small Dining Rooms for their meal. Everyone seemed to have a wonderful time and shared their meals not only with their family and friends, but new friends that sat with them at their tables.

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Brett and I would like to thank each of our guests for coming and sharing in our First Thanksgiving. You made it more special than we could have ever hoped for. We look forward to having many; many more special gatherings at Belle Grove Plantation, but this one will also hold a special place in our hearts as the first.

Thanksgiving in Virginia

Nov. 27th 2013

We all know the story of the Pilgrims coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts and celebrating the first harvest with Squanto, a Patuxet Native American and the Wampanoag tribe in 1621. But did you know that there were other “Thanksgiving” celebrations before this event?


The first documented thanksgiving feasts in the territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards in the 16th century. Spanish explorer Pedro Men’ndez arrived on the coast of Florida and founded the first North American city, St. Augustine. On September 8, 1565, the Spanish and the native Timucua celebrated with a feast of Thanksgiving. The Spanish most likely offered cocido, a rich stew made with pork, and the Timucua may have brought wild turkey, venison, or even alligator, along with corn, beans, and squash.

Spanish Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving services were routine in what was to become the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607, with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610.

Jamestown Settlement

On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, which comprised about 8,000 acres on the north bank of the James River, near Herring Creek, in an area then known as Charles Cittie, about 20 miles upstream from Jamestown, where the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia had been established on May 14, 1607.

Berkeley Hundred

The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a “day of thanksgiving” to God. On that first day, Captain John Woodlief held the service of thanksgiving. As quoted from the section of the Charter of Berkeley Hundred specifying the thanksgiving service: “We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

Berkeley Thanksgiving

During the Indian massacre of 1622, nine of the settlers at Berkeley Hundreds were killed, as well as about a third of the entire population of the Virginia Colony. The Berkeley Hundred site and other outlying locations were abandoned as the colonists withdrew to Jamestown and other more secure points.

Present Day Berkeley

After several years, the site became Berkeley Plantation, and was long the traditional home of the Harrison family, one of the First Families of Virginia. In 1634, it became part of the first eight shires of Virginia, as Charles City County, one of the oldest in the United States, and is located along Virginia State Route 5, which runs parallel to the river’s northern borders past sites of many of the James River plantations between the colonial capital city of Williamsburg (now the site of Colonial Williamsburg) and the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia at Richmond.

Brett and Michelle

Happy Thanksgiving from Virginia!

Brett and Michelle

Hurley at Belle Grove 2

and Hurley

The Official Plantation Dog!

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We Desperately Need Your Help!

Nov. 23rd 2013

VCA Announcement

The Virginia Center for Architecture selected us as one of 250 works of architecture in the Commonwealth of Virginia that they felt best represented Virginia’s rich architectural heritage.

The structures featured were nominated by architects throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia as they look toward the 100th anniversary of the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects in 2014.  They ask that you choose your favorites based on design, innovation, history, or the spirit of your community and Virginia. More importantly, select structures that hold a special place in your heart and mind.

Once the votes are tallied, the Virginia Center for Architecture will announce the top 100 structures — Virginia’s Favorite Architecture. These favorites will be featured in an exhibition at the Center opening on April 10, 2014.

 The poll can be found at and will run through Friday, December 20, 2013.

Ext View of Porch of left wing from ground

We are up against some serious competition!

We desperately need your help if we have any hope to be one of the top 100 structures featured!

Please take a moment and go to  to vote for us!

While you are there, please leave a comment on our profile!

By leaving a comment, it will encourage others to vote for us. They also list the most recent comments on the home page. This will grab other voters attention and may help direct them to our profile to vote for us.

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Once you have voted, please share this blog with your friends and family and on Facebook!

We need all the help we can get to come in as one of the top 100!

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We appreciate all of your help and support!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | Comments Off on We Desperately Need Your Help!

The Suites Are Done. . .Finally!

Nov. 22nd 2013


Today we received the last of the curtains for the suite!

Yes . . .  Finally!

We also received two more rooms of curtains!

Check out these and two new decor pieces we added to the Conway Junior Suite and the Turner Master Suite!

Remember the Parlor?


Look at it now!





These pull backs are really special . . .


They were made from scratch for us!!


This is the makers mark!


This is the Small Dining Room window.

The Formal Dining Room will look like this except it will be a different fabric. That should be here next week!



And here it is . . . Finally!

The Turner Master Suite with the Half Tester Canopy in place!





I wonder who will be the first to sleep under this magnificent work of art!


We have added this Top Hat (Victorian) to the Turner Master Suite.

We will get a friend to make a hat stand for it. Wouldn’t it be cool if we can find a Victorian Ladies Bonnet to go with it? Maybe even a Victorian dress!


This very large platter isn’t really that old, but it looks wonderful on the mantel in the Conway Junior Suite. Once we get Sarah Elizabeth hung, it will grace the space under her in the middle. I think I might buy two blue and white ginger jars to go on either end to balance it out. But I need to find some other pieces, other than blue and white to add to the room to make it more brighter.

Next week, we should be getting the Formal Dining Room curtains just in time for Thanksgiving Dinner!

Thank you to our two wonderful seamstresses!!

Don’t forget to VOTE FOR US!

The Virginia Center for Architecture selected us as one of 250 works of architecture in the Commonwealth of Virginia that they felt best represented Virginia’s rich architectural heritage.

Please read our blog for more information!

Help us be one of those 100 structures featured!

Please vote and share this information with EVERYONE!

Don’t forget to leave a comment on the voting site to encourage others to vote for us!

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Belle Grove History, Darnell History | Comments Off on The Suites Are Done. . .Finally!