For Thomas Jefferson, Christmas was “the day of greatest mirth and jollity.” As was customary during the time, Jefferson celebrated the full 12 days of the Christmas season. The usual activities included traveling to the homes of friends and family, placing greenery around the house, and hosting and attending parties. Jefferson gathered his circle of family, which he affectionately called “the fireside,” around him during the holidays. This season draw inspiration from Monticello and make your festivities merry with classic accents and DIY workshops from The Shop.
While Christmas trees were not popular until the 1840s, natural elements like decorative greenery, sprigs of holly in the windows, or holly and bay leaves in vases were likely adornments during Jefferson’s time. A Harvest Glow Wreath, featuring Monticello’s primary export wheat, or a Dried Berry Wreath with Satin Bow, a classic combination of red and green, are sure to show off your seasonal spirit.
If you enjoy DIY, visit The Shop for one of Monticello’s Holiday Wreath Workshops. These ever-popular workshops, in their 27th year, produce a gratifying and tangible end product: a beautiful holiday wreath. Janet Miller, Lou Hatch, and Maggie Stemann Thompson lead participants through the process in these three-hour sessions. All materials (straw wreath forms, pins, wire, etc.) are provided, including a cornucopia of natural materials sourced from Monticello. Bring your own hand pruners and visit Monticello.org for tickets to this annual event.
Dark wintry days and the remoteness of life in the countryside could lead to winter doldrums for Jefferson’s family. Lighting was essential in keeping “many a dull winter in Albemarle” at bay. Jefferson encouraged his grandchildren to outline a course of winter reading and used the reflecting reading candelabrum and alabaster lamp in his library for his own research and entertainment. Candles lit evening celebrations, games, and music at Monticello. Brighten your home with holiday-inspired Ivory Glitter Tree Tapers or Red Metal Lanterns, great for use inside or outdoors, from the Shop at Monticello.
Experience Monticello illuminated with a Holiday Evening Tour. These small-group house tours, offered nightly through most of December, give visitors an intimate look at how the holidays were celebrated in Jefferson’s time and include a walk through of the Dome Room.
Holiday celebrations were more modest than those we know today, but special food would have been the focal point of the winter gatherings. Guests at Monticello could have enjoyed Country Ham and Hot Chocolate during the holiday season. Traditional savory and sweet foods including Peppermint Chocolate Bark, Chocolate Covered Gourmet Apples, Country Cured Slab Bacon, Virginia Spoon Bread, and Monticello Sparkling Cider from The Shop are prefect treats for your winter festivities.
Many seasonal decorations evolved around the grand display of food on the table. Whether or not you are a fan of traditional baked goods in the “season of mince pies,” as Jefferson termed it, using apples and other holiday scents in your décor can set a familiar festive tone for your gatherings. The Shop’s Monticello Holiday Elegance Potpourri and Spicy Apple Botanical Wax Sachets are great choices for evoking the scents of the season.
Add some tasty DIY to your décor and embrace your inner architect during our My Monticello Gingerbread House Family Workshop. This icing intense program offers fun for the whole family. With hot chocolate and cookies fueling your creativity, you’ll work together to craft a delicious, hand-made addition to your home’s holiday décor.
During the 1809 Christmas, Jefferson wrote that his eight-year-old grandson, Francis Epps was “at this moment running about with his cousins bawling out ‘a merry Christmas’ ‘a Christmas gift, etc.” Christmas then and now is a time to gather family around you. Typically gifts were given by parents to children, from masters to slaves but not from dependents to superiors. The Shop offers gifts that are both classic and fun for kids of all ages like a Personalized Trunk, Child’s Pewter Cup, or Nine Men’s Morris Travel Game. For both young and old, gifts inspired by Jefferson’s Monticello make treasured keepsakes.
For handcrafted, historic, and unique gifts, visit the Shop at Monticello for Handmade for the Holidays. Meet artisans, sample holiday treats, enjoy craft demonstrations, and shop for gifts made in Virginia. Visit Monticello.org for more information on this annual event or monticelloshop.org to shop these one-of-a-kind gifts online.
Christmas cards and hymns were popular though not necessarily the same ones and tunes of today. “Adestes Fideles,”” Joy to the World,” “The First Noel,” “God Rest you Merry Gentlemen,” and “The Holly and the Ivy” were some of the carols sung at Monticello. Jefferson was fond of music throughout his life and the parlor was the scene of many musical performances and much holiday revelry. A Monticello Musical Snow Globe or a handcrafted Thomas Jefferson Caroler are great ways to commemorate the sounds of the season.
Like “dashing through the snow?” Start a new tradition and join the 4th Annual Monticello Holiday Classic 5K. Both festive and fun, this family-oriented 5K begins at the East Walk of Monticello and ends at the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith Education Center. Kids 12 and under can enjoy the Deck the Halls Kids Dash, a loop around the West Lawn within the shadows of Monticello. Pre-registration is suggested, but day-of registration is available. Visit Monticello.org for more information and holiday merriment.