By Joel Hall
While the spirit of Christmas hasn't changed over the years, many of its customs have shifted drastically from decade to decade. Stately Oaks Plantation, and the Jonesboro chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), will give visitors a chance to learn about the traditions of the past during "Christmas Through the Years."
The annual holiday event will take place tonight, and on Saturday night, from 6 to 9 p.m., at Stately Oaks Plantation, located at 100 Carriage Lane in Jonesboro.
According to Barbara Emert, president of Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., which operates Stately Oaks, most of the plantation's rooms will be decorated to represents scenes of Christmases of the 1840s, 1860s, 1890s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. She said each of the rooms will have toys, Christmas decorations, clothing, and other items related to the decade, and UDC volunteers will be present in each room to explain how Christmas differed by the decade.
"In the 1840s ... it [Clayton] wasn't even a county," Emert said. "It would have been very rural. Christmas would focus on the family. There would be an elaborate meal and some presents ... definitely no Christmas tree. During the [Civil] War, there were a lot of food shortages. If a girl received a doll, it would usually be a doll made from a handkerchief or other left-over material. In the 1950s, that is when they would have the aluminum Christmas tree and Elvis singing ... it is going to be a 'sock hop.'
"Every decade and every period sort of had fashions and fads and everybody tried to get into it," she added. "It's kind of a history lesson in Christmas past ... but it's not a dry history lesson. It is really about how Christmas has evolved and changed."
Scattered throughout the house will be decade-specific Christmas periodicals, such as a late 19th-century songbook, a 1905 edition of Annie Fellows Johnston's "The Little Colonel's Christmas Vacation," and the Christmas 1890 edition of "The Ladies' Home Journal." Throughout the event, the plantation's Juddy's Country Store will sell handmade ornaments, historical Christmas toys, and "Gone with the Wind" collector's items.
"We have snow globes, figurines, cookie jars ... all kinds of jams and jellies," Emert said. "Some of those items have been discontinued and once they are gone, they're gone."
Bonnie Lemacks, a member of the Jonesboro UDC chapter, and Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., will treat visitors to a vision of Christmas during the 1930s. In the plantation's "Tenant House," Lemacks will offer hot cider and teacakes prepared on a wood-burning stove -- simple pleasures people would have likely enjoyed during the Great Depression.
"A lot of people can't think of not using lights or eating teacakes from a wood stove," Lemacks said. "You can read about it in books, but to really experience it is unique. It's hard to go somewhere and see the different periods of times through the years like you can here."
Lemacks said the event will allow people to "step back in time" and appreciate the true importance of the Christmas season.
"They actually had more than we have nowadays," she said. "The closeness of family and the simplicity of Christmas ... you can't beat that."
Entrance to "Christmas Through the Years" is $12 for adults, $9 for seniors ages 55 and older, $6 for children ages 5 to 13, and $3 for children ages 4 and under.
For more information, call (770) 473-0197.