Little Known Black History Fact: A Slaves’ Christmas

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  • During slavery, some slaves were given a day of rest while others were forced to continue work. In some parts of the country, slaves were given a yule log to burn in the big house. As long as the log burned, they were granted rest during the holiday. Sometimes the log would burn until the New Year.

    During the days of rest, some slaves would hold quilting bees, with both men and women. It was also sometimes tradition that slaves could keep the money they earned for the sale of goods during the holiday.

    While the holiday season was meant to be a joyous occasion, slaves that worked inside the house would be worked hardest during Christmas, as many owners and their families would host Christmas parties.

    The Christmas holiday would also be a time that some slaveowners gave wine and alcoholic beverages to their slaves. With business still in mind, the effects of alcohol were something unknown to many slaves, and most would overindulge. The increased lounge and slumber would discourage runaways during the break. This was a theory held by abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Despite, some slaves were given passes to see nearby relatives during Christmas time and allowed visitors from neighboring plantations.

    Along with the traditions of the Christmas holiday in Western culture, slaves had dancing and singing in the slave quarters. Sometimes the white masters would come to the slave quarters to watch the celebration. Parents would give children small, homemade tokens.
    Another celebration known as Jonkonnu, or a Christmas masquerade, took place on the plantations. It was a basic traveling show in which the slave would put on makeshift costumes and go from house to house to perform for gifts and money.

    The traditions of Christmas during slavery were tools for celebration in the harshest working and living conditions for blacks. While the whites in the “big house” were being showered with gifts and feast, they shared a portion of those with their captives, and at the same time, used the opportunity to convince slaves that slavery was their best option for living peacefully and safely among the masters.

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    7 thoughts on “Little Known Black History Fact: A Slaves’ Christmas

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