Slaves during Chistmas & Jingle Bells



Notes from the podcast are from the blogs, How Slaves Spent Christmas and Jingle Bells and How It May Be Racist

Christmas on slave plantations was one of the few times of the year that slaves looked forward to. They enjoyed time off from daily labor tasks, a sense of camaraderie with plantation owners, fun, food, and festivities.

Slaves were given gift and they were able to see their family (other planations)

Many were allowed to sell their own items and keep the profit and given gifts that ranged from handkerchiefs and scarves to molasses and flour. 

 Dutch ovens were given to them by their masters; and with the flour and other seldomly used ingredients received on Christmas day, they would make breads, cakes, pies, and biscuits. Christmas dinner consisted of everything from roasted possum and ham to pigs feet and barbecued hogs. Side dishes included greens, ashcakes (a type of bread wrapped in cabbage leaves and baked in hot ashes), sweet potatoes, salad greens, and squash.

 Not all slaves were able to enjoy time off because many plantation owners hosted large lavish parties that actually increased the work of household slaves. 

 Those who were able to participate in the holiday celebrations would be given permission to select a yule log to burn.  Careful attention was placed on the selection of a log because once burned, the holiday was over. 

Most time off would last anywhere from two to seven days

On Christmas day, they were allowed to ask any white person they saw for a small gift as long as they did not address them first. All they had to say when approaching the white person was, “Christmas gift.” 

In Jonkonnu, slave men would dress up in masks and costumes and masquerade around town  going from house to house playing music and dancing while collecting small gifts. 

The Christmas holiday also gave them the opportunity to travel and visit family members who may have been separated or sold the previous season to another plantation owner. This was also an opportune time to visit with other slaves and engage in romantic encounters that often lead to marriage.

there were plenty who saw this as an opportunity to escape from their oppressors and seek freedom as plantation owners were preoccupied with the festivities of the season. There are many recorded accounts of slaves utilizing travel passes that they were given upon request from the slave to go visit family. Slave rebellions typically increased around Christmas due to owners traveling, entertaining guests, and the lax schedule that was often instituted to during the holiday. 

According to Frederick Douglass, who himself was born into slavery, Christmas was just another oppressive tool used by slave owners to reinforce their control over the slaves and break up solidarity, ease the burden of familial separation and exert control. While it was a way to break up the hardships of slavery itself, in short, it was a tool used to control slaves by appealing to the psychological need to reunite with families, rest, and socialize.

Is Jingle Bells Racist?

James Lord Pierpoint James Lord Pierpont was a New England-born songwriter, arranger, organist, Confederate Soldier, and composer, best known for writing and composing “Jingle Bells” in 1857, originally entitled “The One Horse Open Sleigh”. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and died in Winter Haven, Florida.

Was best known as a writer and composer for Jingle Bells in 1857

The famous Christmas song’s composer supported slavery on many occasions, and there are facts to back this claim.

His brother and father were against slavery. Pierpoint supported the Confederacy.  The controversy forced his brother to close his church and return to the North in 1859.

He wrote  Confederate anthems during the civil war

Some of these songs include, we conquer, or die, our battle flag, and strike for the south.

It all started with Kyna Hamil,

assistant director and senior lecturer in the CAS Core curriculum, attempted to solve the mystery surrounding the origin of the song.

After her research, Hamil submitted that the American classic was used for something other than Christmas in Boston. Hamil maintained that the song was not written at Simpson Tavern in 1850 as many would have it.

According to the researcher, the song was first performed at John Ordway’s Ordway hall in Boston in the year 1857. Hamil also stated that the song was not called Jingle bell at the time. The song was called, ‘one-horse open sleigh’ instead.

The hall where ‘one-horse open sleigh’ was first performed was a hotspot for the entertainment of white men performing in black face, offering a racist caricature of people of color as middle-class entertainment

The fact that Pierpoint supports slavery warrants this conclusion. For it is either the writer wrote the song as a racist song, or it was turned into one.

Some of them pointed out that embedded in the lyrics are words that could be translated as racial.

Many individuals, especially black activists, believe Jingle bells can mean only one thing. It is nothing but a representation of slavery.

This claim is taken from historical times when slaves were forced to wear collar bells around the neck. It was believed that this practice was used to deter slaves from escaping from their masters.

Some even claimed that the practice made the lives of slaves miserable as it denied them every kind of privacy. But what has Pierpoint song got to do with this?

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