On the estate, the Washington family weren’t the only ones who celebrated the holidays. This time also presented a period for the servants to relax and enjoy games and feasting. All but a skeletal domestic staff were given several days of vacation, as well as extra supplies of food or an extra ration of spirits. This was often specified in the contracts made with hired help, as in Washington's agreement with a gardener dated April 23, 1787.
The contract stipulated:
In consideration of these things being well and truly performed…George Washington doth...allow him...four Dollars at Christmas, with which he may be drunk 4 days and 4 night...
Evidence from other estates suggests that a four-day break was standard. According to a diary entry by an overseer, white servants appear to have been given the same holiday time as the slaves.
Besides freedom from work, both slaves and white servants might be given money or alcohol at Christmas, a practice which came from England. On December 24, 1787, fifteen shillings were given to the servants. Such gifts to servants were the only specific instances found for holiday gift-giving at Mount Vernon in the 18th century.
Since Mount Vernon was an active estate, cooks and house servants provided necessary services during the holiday period, which could not be neglected for even a day. In order to give them as much free time as possible, the Washingtons may have adjusted their schedule. Once they were off, the slaves and white servants celebrated heartily.
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