Christmas through the years at Stately Oaks

By Joel Hall


In times of war, peace, struggle, and great prosperity, people in the Southern Crescent have found a way to celebrate Christmas. This weekend, Stately Oaks Plantation will show visitors how the past generations celebrated the holidays.

This Friday and Saturday, from 7-9 p.m., Stately Oaks will host "Christmas through the Years," a walk through dioramas of how Christmas was celebrated between the years of 1840 and 1950. Eight different rooms will be decorated with Christmas items specific to particular decades, including the pre-Civil War era, the Roaring '20s, the Great Depression, and the rock 'n' roll era.

Barbara Emert, director of Stately Oaks, said this is the second year the plantation, located at 100 Carriage Lane, in Jonesboro, has hosted the celebration. She said the celebration has particular meaning this year, given that it is the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Clayton County.

"This year, because we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the county, we are trying to illustrate the different periods that this house was lived in," said Emert. She said Christmas traditions are a good indicator of the challenges people faced during a particular time.

The dining room at Stately Oaks will recreate the 1840s. Period dinning items will illustrate the large, holiday meals typically shared by the early settlers of Jonesboro.

"This was really early settlement in Jonesboro," said Emert. "[Jonesboro] was way out in the country and it was the beginning of Christmas trees. We have turkey and dressing [during holiday meals], but they may have had turkey, and ham, and lamb."

The parlor will host an 1860s Christmas, complete with a period-specific Christmas tree. As real trees were used and real candles were used for decoration rather than electric lights, a bucket of water was kept next to the tree for safety reasons.

The tree is decorated with ornaments a Southern family would have used during the time leading up to the Civil War, including popcorn string, decorative dolls, and Confederate flags at the top.

The music room will illustrate Christmas during the "Gay '90s," or rather, the 1890s. In what was a time of great prosperity leading up to the 20th century, people of the era would gather around the piano to sing Christmas carols or entertain guests.

Three upstairs bedrooms of the plantation will capture the 1910s, the 1920s, and the 1950s.

Known as the "Edwardian period," the 1910s represented a time when middle class Americans were traveling outside America in numbers for the first time. The room will illustrate Christmas as it would have been celebrated by people of great wealth.

The 1920s was the era of "the flapper," prohibition, unprecedented new freedoms for women, and a mass departure from Victorian social norms. The room will contain period items, including an authentic flapper dress, complete with red leggings and long, beige gloves.

The 1950s room will be decked with poodle skirts, saddle shoes, bobby socks, varsity jackets, and other memorabilia typical of the era. The room will feature an aluminum Christmas tree, as those were all the rage at the time.

On the plantation grounds, two different rooms will show what Christmas was like during more challenging times.

The wooden tenant house on the property will display a Christmas typical of the 1930s. Keeping with the great strife and financial collapse of the Great Depression, the room will feature modest, handmade items that would have been shared by family members at Christmas time.

The one-room "Bethel School House" will host a "Christmas Canteen," typical of the 1940s. During World War II, local women would often entertain troops with food and dance as the troops made their way to the battlefield.

"If a troop train was coming through Jonesboro on their way to Fort McPherson, the ladies of the town would get sandwiches together and host a meal for the troops," said Emert. "[The soldiers] would dance with the local girls."

At the Christmas Canteen, Stately Oaks volunteers will be on hand to teach people swing dancing, the dance most popular at the time.

Emert said the event shows that no matter what the extenuating circumstances, Christmas is something Americans have long held dear.

"No matter what the year is, no matter what's going on politically [or] economically, [during] war or peace, people find a way to celebrate the season," said Emert. "Maybe it was decorated differently, but it was ultimately a time to celebrate family and friends."

Tickets to the event are $12 for adults, $9 for seniors, and $6 for children aged 11 and younger. Tours will start every 20 minutes. For more information, call (770) 473-0197 or 1-866-793-1839.