Slavery, Christmas


In Solomon Northup's account of his years as a slave, he described "the happiest day in the whole year for the slave. . . . Happiness sparkled in the eyes and overspread the countenances of all." What was the day that caused so much delight for slaves, and what were the reasons for this joy? It was Christmas Day and, more broadly, the larger Christmas holiday that often lasted many days. Northup continued to explain that these feelings resulted because "it was to be a day of liberty among the children of Slavery. Wherefore they were happy and rejoiced." In the antebellum South, Christmas represented a momentous occasion for slaves. As Northup posited and many other slaves agreed, this holiday was the one time of the year that slaves were able to enjoy some sense of freedom. This freedom came with vacation from work, gifts that they received from whites and autonomy that they were able to express due to the relaxed holiday atmosphere.