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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl | Study Guide

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl | Chapter 22 : Christmas Festivities | Summary



As Christmas approaches Linda sews clothes for her children with materials her grandmother delivers. Linda relays the Christmas traditions of slaves: stockings, feasting, and the Johnkannaus, when men dressed in costumes play instruments and sing as others dance. They go from door to door collecting change and rum from the white masters. "Were it not that hiring day is near at hand" she says "Christmas might be a happy season for the poor slaves."

Linda has the pleasure of seeing the children on the street in the new clothing she has made them. Benny tells a friend he believes in Santa Claus, for Santa brought the new clothes and his mother has been gone "this long time." Martha warns her to be quiet in her "den" because she has invited the town constable and the free black man to Christmas dinner. She dispels any possible gossip by giving them a complete tour of the house.


Linda shows holiday images of families at Christmas, which are as cheery as a family can afford for them to be. Even a family who cannot afford to buy meat, she says, will catch a raccoon or a possum and prepare a meal.

These images are contrasted with Aunt Martha's house, where another performance of holiday cheer is underway that night. This one is staged for the cruel town constable, who whips any slave found outside past curfew, and for the constable's sidekick. With the threat of hiring day looming, the chapter ends with Aunt Martha, famous for her baking and her good spirits, sending her cruel, slave-abusing dinner guests off with pudding for their wives while her fugitive granddaughter watches the scene through her peephole.

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