The holidays have always been a special time for the people of Jefferson County. July 4, Thanksgiving and Christmas were festive occasions that have marked every home for centuries. As the merry times approached, businesses closed and locals braced for the upcoming celebrations. Even the newspapers weighed in on the action, offering barbecue tips or special recipes to liven up the festivities.
Christmas of 1937 was a case in point. In this month of December, the Monticello News temporarily suspended its reporting to fill two columns of the front page of its newspaper with a special note for its readers:
âAnd the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I announce to you a great joy, which shall be for everyone. Â»Saint Luke 2:10
All year round, year after year, this newspaper brings you the news of the world. Not all are joyful, certainly not as glorious as the Christmas story Saint Luke foretold 2,000 years ago in the glowing words of promise above. . .
There is no other news that we bring to you that will fill our own hearts with joy like the news of another Christmas does. And so, a merry Christmas to you all, and may the love, peace and hope of the Big Anniversary soften your worries throughout the year.
The holidays were a cherished time for all. Take, for example, Lloyd’s Gadsden family. Members of the Gadsden clan have resided in Florida for centuries. When Andrew Jackson invaded Spanish Florida, one of his aides-de-camp was James Gadsden. Eventually, James became the Ambassador to Mexico and he organized what is called the Gadsden Purchase. In 1827 James bought an estate in Florida and moved with his brother Octavius ââto this new house a few miles from Waukeenah. James became one of the first five commissioners of Jefferson County when that county was established in 1827. But he died childless and his property passed to his brother Octavius.
Two hundred years later, the descendants of Octavius ââstill make their home in Florida. Ira Davis Gadsden, wife of Octavius’ grandson, was a beloved member of the Lloyd community. In the 1940s, her young grandson Jack Carswell often came to visit her on vacation. Jack remembers the delicacies of his grandmother’s house during these festive times of the year.
In Ira’s house, the holidays began in the kitchen. Ira would start preparations until a month before Thanksgiving or Christmas. Fruit cakes and other staple recipes often required a hardening process, requiring an early start to holiday cooking.
Further preparations followed over time. Her grandson Jack remembers:
If we wanted a turkey for Christmas or Thanksgiving, my uncle would have to get it. My grandmother would start picking on him about two weeks before Thanksgiving. âYou have to go hunting, Jim. You have to find us a turkey.
Uncle Jim Gadsden was hunting in the woods around Lloyd. For ducks or wild geese, he went to Lake Miccosukee. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, the pantry would be well stocked with wild game. It was necessary for the extended family gathered at Ira’s house for the celebration of the holidays.
The Gadsden family had been prosperous in the past, but by the onset of the twentieth century that wealth had vanished. Ira still brought out the best tablecloth for the holidays. It would be freshly starched and ironed, but it would also be noticeably shredded. Still, no one seemed to care.
When the merry day came, horseshoes and outdoor games were children’s favorites, along with card games such as Old Maid and Go Fish. For adults, canasta was an enjoyable pastime. But for Thanksgiving, like Christmas, the meal was the highlight of the day.
Long tables were filled with food. Roast turkey, wild duck, quail (and possibly dove) and freshly slaughtered pork were surrounded by platters of cookies and cornbread while plum jams, blackberry jelly and watermelon rind. added color to the table. Local fruit and vegetable dishes widened the spread, and after the meal was over, dessert awaited in the form of chocolate cake, fruit cake, lane cake (with whiskey), and cherry, apple and apple pies. with minced meat.
After dinner, the men headed out into the woods for an afternoon hunt while the women visited. The festivities (and meals) would continue throughout the afternoon and into the late evening.
Food was an important part of any Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration, and it sometimes played an unexpected role in the exciting holiday game. The cook at the Dixie Hotel in Monticello was busy preparing Christmas dinner for her guests in 1930 when a surprising discovery was made: five of the hotel’s live turkeys had fled. Apparently the turkeys understood the purpose of their increased feeding and decided to sneak away before it was too late. (Or perhaps they âdisappearedâ to honor the table of an unrepentant member of the small town.) The story is silent as to the final fate of the turkeys.
Overall, vacations were a long-awaited opportunity to put aside the routine of normal life to indulge in special treats and indulge in enjoyable leisure activities. It was also a cherished opportunity to revel in the sheer joy of being together. That way, I guess, they haven’t changed much in Jefferson County over the past hundred years.