I read in the Civil War Women Blog that the most beloved symbol of the American family Christmas is the Christmas tree, and that it came into its own before and during the Civil War. The decorations, as you can imagine, were homemade: strings of sugared fruit, ribbon, popcorn, pine cones, colored paper, silver foil and spun-glass ornaments.
Greenery, same as today, was used to decorate mantels, windows and tables. We still do this at the First White House of the Confederacy, using magnolia, cedar, pine and holly. Cedar wreaths decorate our staircase this year.
The pre-war Southern Christmas menu usually consisted of baked ham, turkey, oysters and winter vegetables from the root cellar: squash, cabbage, sweet potatoes, carrots and apples. Preserves, pickles and relishes, breads, pies and pudding were also used. My grandmother always served ambrosia (she called it the “nectar of the gods”).
Of course this bounty was no longer available during and after the war. Laughter turned to tears and festivities to gloom. The holiday most associated with family and home was a contradiction with men away fighting, some never to return. A way of life was “gone with the wind” forever, never to return.