By Judith Linsley
Read the full December issue of Viewpoints.
In her book, Emyl Jenkins’ Southern Christmas, the author gives two reasons for the rich Christmas traditions in the South. First, the earliest Southern settlers—mostly Anglican English, Irish, and German—came from European cultures that, unlike the New England Puritans, reveled in the “festivity and enjoyment” of the holiday. The second was the relatively mild weather, which allowed people to gather and celebrate. Ida and W.P.H. McFaddin were both products of Southern culture—that of Southeast Texas and of West Virginia—so Christmas at the McFaddin home in Beaumont was a rich blend of two Southern traditions.
Giving topped the list of family traditions. Christmas shopping began sometime in the late fall. Sometimes the two women shopped together, but Mamie usually worked alone, doing much of Ida’s at the same time. “Shopped, I think, all day,” she wrote in her diary in 1921.
The McFaddins were generous at Christmas; in 1914, Mamie wrote, “Papa bought me a seal skin coat.” She also received pearls. Future husband Carroll Ward, still a relatively new beau, gave her a watch and bracelet. In 1921, she got a diamond ring and a negligee “and lots of things.”
Ida McFaddin and Mamie Ward enjoyed exchanging beautiful gifts, whether personal items such as a nightgowns or elegant silver serving pieces. In 1947, in October, Mamie found “2 silver bowls for Mother’s Christmas present” at Cherry Jewelers in Beaumont. In 1941, Ida wrote Mamie from Huntington, “My Santa from you and Carroll was grand.” When declining health limited her shopping, Ida gave Mamie checks, always accompanied by a sweet, loving note.
Ida McFaddin always remembered her family in West Virginia: parents, Mary and J.L. Caldwell, and sister Ouida Watts, mailing or shipping their gifts to them. Many times they spend Christmas in Beaumont, however, a longstanding holiday tradition.
Christmas giving went far beyond family and close friends. The McFaddins remembered not only their employees—domestic, office and ranch—but people in the community who served and assisted them. Often Ida and Mamie sent checks or small gifts to Ouida’s domestic staff. This created an especially busy shopping season for Mamie, who was determined not to leave anyone out. In 1941, she wrote in her diary that she bought “candy for sales girls [at the White House, a Beaumont department store] & sweater for Tom Parker & gift for Albertine [chauffeur and his wife].” In 1947, Mamie “went to White House for more ribbon, tags etc. & wrapped rest of Christmas gifts – 44 in all.” Her shopping usually ended with one last trip to town on Christmas Eve, followed by delivery of gifts. No wonder her holiday diary entries frequently contain the word “exhausted.”
Charitable giving received special attention at Christmas. The Beaumont Day Nursery, later the Beaumont Children’s Home, was one of Ida and Mamie’s favorite charities, both women serving on the board for many years. In addition to monetary donations, Mamie often chose, bought, and wrapped Christmas gifts for the girls who lived there. In 1940, she and her friend Clytie Allen decorated the Christmas tree at the Home.
A festive house was a must. After she married and took on more household operations, Mamie saw to it that the house was elegantly decorated each year. As a member of the Magnolia Garden Club, and a person who enjoyed beautiful gardens and flowers, she favored live décor—evergreens, pine cones, fruit, flowers—and arranged it herself, with assistance from Ida. Beaumonters attending parties at the McFaddin home over the years recalled beautiful poinsettias massed in the entry hall.
The live greenery may explain why Mamie didn’t decorate until just before Christmas. On December 22, 1941, she “decorated the house…put up sleigh Bells at door…pine burrs & greens & Leonard put lights on outside.” In 1942 she started even later, on Christmas Eve recording that she “fixed house. Ma put around cones, I fixed all the flowers, fruit & candy.” That year she decorated for a post-Christmas dinner with “candles, leaves & apples.”
No Christmas would have been complete without family dinners. Ida and Mamie hosted them each year, for the family in Beaumont, for visiting relatives and friends, or for the Wards, after Mamie and Carroll married. Usually they were held at the McFaddin home, but during World War II, with domestic employees scarce, Ida sought other venues. In 1944 Mamie recorded, “Carroll & I to Hotel Beaumont to New Year’s dinner Mother had for family—20 including children.”
Eggnog parties and open houses were especially popular traditions. One Beaumonter recalled of Christmas, “Socially it was a very entertaining time. There was actually a season….from Thanksgiving to Lent and women bought clothes all year for it. Teas, dances, dinner after dinner.” Several open houses became so entrenched that they occupied the same time slot each year: one was always at night; another was the last to be held.
New Year’s brought more fun. During Prohibition in the 1920s, the Crosby Hotel hosted a New Year’s Eve “cabaret.” People could unofficially bring in their own alcohol. In 1918, Mamie, brother Perry and fiancé Carroll Ward bought liquor from “Tolivar,” the local bootlegger, before they went.
The McFaddins usually hosted parties between Christmas and New Year’s. Some were grand social occasions; in 1940, the Beaumont Journal praised the “festive decorations” at an “elaborate affair” hosted by Ida, Mamie, and Carroll “in the large and exquisitely furnished old southern home.” In 1944 Ida and Mamie invited 150 friends for cocktails and hors-d’oeuvres. In her words, “all came early & stayed late & had a good time,” and she went to bed “tired but happy.”
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol ends with this description of the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge: “and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well….” The McFaddins also knew how to keep Christmas well, and did so for many years.
“Deck the Halls: McFaddins and their Christmas Traditions” will be up through December 30 at the McFaddin-Ward House.
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