To the Reverend Joseph R Wilson and his wife Jessie, Woodrow Wilson’s parents, Christmas in Staunton, Virginia in the 1850’s was marked by social gatherings and special foods prepared for family and friends.  Stores stocked a variety of delicacies including fresh oysters, figs, raisins, tamarinds, and currents.  Confectioneries advertised every kind of delicious cake imaginable and suggested that customers order early to obtain the best selection.  E.M. Cushing and Company ran ads in the Staunton Spectator addressed to “Our Old Friends” which proclaimed they were “well prepared as ever to bake all kinds of cake for families; and we will endeavor to please all who favor us with their patronage. – Give us a chance and we will suit you.” Candies and imported chocolates from France were featured, too.  Local Historian Lewis Waddell noted that his family baked cakes “cut in shapes of horses, deer, hogs, birds, and fish.”  Local merchants made sure they had extra stock of all manner of seasonings, spices, and other specialty items for Staunton households.
Decorations, particularly for a Presbyterian minister’s home like that of the Reverend and Mrs. Wilson, tended to be minimal.  Simple garlands and modest arrangements of greenery and berries were used to decorate the home.  The Christmas tree would have been quite small and probably would have been displayed on a table top.  Prior to 1870 the tree ornaments would have been handmade.  Some decorations would include walnuts covered with real gold and silver leaf.  Designs of many shapes including stars were cut out of pasteboard and covered with gold and silver paper, and cookies were suspended by strings.  Strips of paper were made into chains and candles were fastened on tree branches.  Presents also hung from the tree.  The first Christmas trees in Staunton and Augusta County were displayed in 1855, the same year the Wilsons moved to Staunton.  Christmas trees were uncommon at that time, except in German households.    In general the holiday emphasis was on socializing, family gatherings and special meals prepared for these occasions.  The elaborate Victorian Christmas that spawned many of the traditions we now associate with the 19th century came later, after the Civil War.
Two familiar traditions that gained popularity by the 1850s were gift giving and Santa Claus.  The True American reported in December 1855 that local children were eager for the arrival of Kris Kringle, who would come down the chimney and fill their stockings with candies, cakes, and toys.  The Rev. Benjamin Mosby Smith, the first minister to live in the Presbyterian manse where Wilson was born, commented that his children were up early on Christmas morning in 1848 and “in a great commotion about their presents.” One of the girls was “quite charmed with her bedstead” for her doll. 
One more aspect of the Christmas season in Staunton and one that generally continued into the New Year was noise making.  Residents typically awoke on Christmas morning with the sound of gunfire, firecrackers, and boisterous youths yelling in the streets.  On the one hand, the local paper urged the city to increase its patrols during the holidays to calm peoples’ anxiety about these “abominable nuisances” but on the other hand, it noted one January that the bad weather between Christmas and January 1 resulted in a “dull and uninteresting season.”
For others, Christmas was business as usual.  Many shops were open on Christmas Day, and if court session fell on the 25th, it was held.  Rabbit hunting was a ritual for some, while men of Scotch-Irish decent dressed in disguise called “Shanghai-ing” and rode throughout the countryside. 
Additionally, a feature of the Christmas season in Staunton of the 1850s was the return of slaves who were rented out for the year to their respective homes.  Contracts for rented slaves were generally made from New Years Day to Christmas leaving the week between for rest, visits with family and Christmas cheer.  This was certainly true of the “servants” who were rented out from local farmers by the Church for use in the Manse where the Wilson’s lived.  There was no work for the slaves for this brief time; parties were held with music, dancing, food, and drink.  Often slaves would come home only to be hired out after the first of the new year, a common practice in Augusta County.  Sometimes the hiring took place on Christmas Day perhaps followed by a slave auction on New Year’s Day.   This day was called “Sorrow day” by the slaves.


did you know?

Wilson was president throughout World War I. He sought a neutral position for the United States and even won reelection with the slogan “He kept us out of war.” Nonetheless, actions by the Central Powers (notably Germany) threatened this neutrality. Following years of attacks on American shipping and citizens on the high seas, particularly the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, public opinion began to turn. The final straw came with the release of the Zimmerman Telegram, forcing the United States to declare war on the Central Powers in April of 1917, joining the war on the side of the UK, Russia, and France.

Woodrow Wilson was President when the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920 giving women the right to vote.

Wilson piloted the ship that brought America onto the world stage. He made the first steps of leading us out of isolationism, violating Washington's tenet of avoiding foreign entanglements.

He led America during World War I. His fervent hope was for the US to join a League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations.

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "Life does not consist in thinking, it consists in acting."

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "The Constitution was not made to fit us like a straitjacket. In its elasticity lies its chief greatness."

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "I believe in democracy because it releases the energies of every human being."

The Seventeenth Amendment was formally adopted on May 31, 1913. Wilson had been president for almost three months at the time. The amendment provided for the direct election of senators. Prior to its adoption, Senators were chosen by state legislatures.

Wilson was the first president to receive a PhD which he got in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University. He had received his undergraduate degree from the College of New Jersey, renamed Princeton University in 1896.

Woodrow Wilson could not read during the first decade of his life. Though undiagnosed, he may have suffered from a learning disability

Woodrow Wilson was known as "Tommy" until his college years.

Woodrow Wilson during his boyhood, helped establish the "Lightfoot Baseball Club" with his friends. Wilson played second base and was an avid sport fan throughout his adult life.

Woodrow Wilson was the first president to attend the Major League Baseball Fall Classic. He saw the debut of a young 20 year old pitcher by the name of George Herman "Babe" Ruth.

Woodrow Wilson was a graduate of Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University and the only president to hold an earned doctoral degree.

Woodrow Wilson image is on the $100,000 bill although it is no longer in circulation