The Manatee Village Historical Park is decorating for the holidays. Our decorations, inspired by Florida pioneer and Victorian traditions, will be on full display during A Florida Cracker Christmas from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10. This festival will include food, make-and-take crafts, live music, and artisans selling their handmade wares.
In preparation for these festivities, here are some brief highlights of Christmas past in Manatee County, found in the Manatee County Public Library’s Digital Collections:
In 1875, the Village of Manatee celebrated Christmas with a jousting tournament at Braden Castle. In attempts to restore gaiety to the difficult days of post-Civil War reconstruction, communities held balls and other events. One popular diversion was a medieval jousting tournament and coronation ball.
Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert of Germany, introduced Christmas trees to England in the 1840s. Early Christmas trees were decorated with ornaments like apples, berries and nuts. In Florida, oranges were popular decorations and gifts.
The diary of E.E. and E.B. Johnson gives a glimpse of Christmas in Manatee County in 1884: “This Christmas we had a nice tree at the academy and the kind people solicited me to make a speech for them. ... We shipped a lot of oranges about the 15th of December to our friends up home and for the Sunday School. They pronounced them the finest they had ever seen.”
An 1890 photograph shows Judge A.E. Pooser’s Christmas eggnog party, which he held at his home in Arcadia.
The origins of eggnog are murky, but the name seems to appear in the 1700s in Britain. Eggnog sold in grocery stores today only resembles eggnog of days past, which featured cream and eggs marinated in ample amounts of alcohol for several days. George Washington’s famously alcohol-heavy recipe called for eggs, cream, milk, sugar, brandy, whiskey, rum and sherry.
An 1896 letter from Mrs. Kleinoscheg in Austria to Miss Whitaker of Sarasota describes the Christmas gifts of the era: “…it is quite customary between close friends that some little gift is made … Uncle Toni and I carried with us to Weiz little bonbonieres for the three children at each house, an egg of red silk for each girl, a brown rabbit for one and a white rabbit for the other boy in each house. We were wishing we could send our other children in America some of the same things – but they couldn’t go by mail.”
Julia Reasoner Fuller started the first library in “Bradentown.” A clipping in one of her circa 1905 scrapbooks describes nostalgia for Christmas past: “How often we hear the remark, ‘Oh Christmas is a play out’… and so it is when it means the perfunctory exchange of gifts between friends because we must … Cannot you remember ten, twenty, thirty years ago, how you stoned raisins and pealed apples for the mince pies, and helped catch the biggest turkey in the flock? … Sleep was long in coming… And without waiting to dress…we all rush downstairs and there, Oh joy! Oh bliss! The stockings are bulging out…That’s Christmas.”
A later clipping was written during the first Christmas of World War I, in 1914. “Surely the world has never before seen such a sad Christmas…how can we spend a selfish and merry Christmas, knowing that the sum of human misery and sorrow is enveloping the earth as a cloud… Rather let us deal gently… and cultivate more diligently the art that this old world needs more than any other, that of just being kind …”
Explore the Manatee County Library’s Digital Collections for more Christmas glimpses.
Kathryn Rohlwing, special events and marketing coordinator at the Manatee Village Historical Park, enjoys finding creative ways to bring the past to life through sharing historical images on social media and through designing interactive special events. Email: email@example.com Phone: 941-749-7165