December 19, 2001 - Simple Decorations

Most of us have seen the annual Christmas displays at the River Road plantation homes. They're glamorous and worth the trip, but there's a part of the story they don't tell. A Pre-Civil War Christmas in plantation country would be a pretty simple celebration.

The Aillets were typical planters of that era, not the rich folks from Oak Alley or Nottoway. Their home was decorated with simple nuts, fruits and berries. Tour guide Linda Collins explains as she takes visitors through. "Various fruits have different religious significance. Plus, fruits were very rare in our area. They had to be imported, so it was a special occasion when you put out fresh fruit and nuts and things."

Christmas trees weren't introduced to plantation life till the 1870s. Under the mantel, sabots, wooden shoes, held small gifts for the kids. Simple home spun gifts, usually clothing, would be exchanged between master and slave. "Our slave cabin is extremely simple," says our guide. "Their main thing is that they had time off. That was their biggest celebration. Just having the time off was the greatest present to them." They called it "the week of Sundays." it was a bittersweet celebration. Across much of the south it ended New Year's Day at the slave market. The 1830 planter's home and slave cabin are permanent exhibits at the West Baton Rouge Museum in Port Allen.