I get to celebrate Christmas not only multiple times during the month of December, but in multiple time periods as well!
And I do it with two separate families.
My 1860s reenacting family:
We've been working in this
capacity for nearly a decade
and pretty much have our 1860s
lives of the period down pat.
Various homes were built just outside the fort, and the street is known as Officer's Row. It is unfortunate that many of the homes have become dilapidated and are beyond repair. However, there are a number of homes that have been restored to their former glory, and, out of all of the houses still standing here, we - my 1860s family and I - get the most elaborate of them all to use for our house.
Recreating an 1860s family has taken years of research and years of practice. I didn't actively search and seek to form this living history group; we all just seemed to find each other naturally, and everything just fell into place. And though we may not be note perfect - nobody alive today can be for such an endeavor - we make a true and gallant attempt at it and I believe it's very close.
So I thank everyone involved in making this Christmas Past dream come true, for when you find living historians such as those I work with, memories of Christmas past are real.
Some of what you are about to read (in parenthesis) comes from various period books, letters, and diary/journal entries of the 1860s...just to add to the flavor.
But please take note: we are not acting here. We are living out a different time period as if it were truly happening. No scripts. No reminders that we were reenactors ("They would have done this, right?"). Nothing planned other than what many families of the time did during that period such as 'dressing' the Christmas tree and preparing for Christmas.
And I believe that's what makes this so special.
Now, to our story:
I must tell you that my wife and I plan to give a grand family party. All the children, grandchildren, aunts, cousins, from far and near, are to be invited to spend the day.
|This is my reenacting "wife and mother-in-law."|
The appreciation we have for our actual 21st century
spouses in allowing to reenact in this manner
cannot be over-stated enough.
|Mr. Cary, our next door neighbor, who recently returned|
from the war and is spending Christmas with us this year.
|Our daughter returned home to visit for the Christmas holiday!|
Her husband is off fighting with the 21st Michigan so, rather than spend the time alone, she came home to family.
The whole house was thoroughly warmed and lighted, and every room opened.
|It did not take long for our festivities to begin!|
The beautiful sounds of Christmas carols
filled the parlor as everyone prepared
for the big day.
|Mr. Cary brought along his mouth organ|
Do you know (and not a guess or an assumption, please)?
|Violet beautifully played the pump organ, and everyone sang along to such carols as Joy To the World, The First Noel, and O Come All Ye Faithful, while the wooden crate sat, waiting to be emptied of the festoons and other decorations.|
|Our servant, Candace, kept very busy in the kitchen, preparing our Christmas Eve supper as well as working on our Christmas Day dinner. Yes, we work our servants throughout the season, for we had our guests and family to tend to.|
|Larissa made a fine cranberry pie. Given that she works in an open-air museum in her 21st century life, making traditional foodstuffs is second nature to her.|
This was my first time having some; methinks we just may have a new tradition.
We decked the front parlor with evergreens, hollyberries, and everlastings, and over the folding doors which separate the rooms we made in green and crimson berries the words “A Merry Christmas.”
|The tree, set up carefully upon a table, was set for 'dressing.'|
“Won’t it be fun to dress it?” whispered Mother.
|Mr. Cary, the tallest among us, positioned|
a bird for the topper.
|These were festooned in graceful garlands |
from the boughs of the tree.
|Great care was taken that there should be a clear |
space above each wick, that nothing might catch fire.
|"I have been looking on, this evening, at a merry company assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas Tree.|
There is probably a smell of roasted chestnuts and other good comfortable things all the time, for we are telling Winter Stories-- Ghost Stories, or more shame for us--round the Christmas fire; and we have never stirred, except to draw a little nearer to it. But, no matter for that. We came to the house, and it is an old house, full of great chimneys where wood is burnt on ancient dogs upon the hearth, and grim portraits (some of them with grim legends, too) lower distrustfully from the oaken panels of the walls.
Now, the tree is decorated with bright merriment, and song, and dance, and cheerfulness. And they are welcome. Innocent and welcome be they ever held, beneath the branches of the Christmas Tree, which cast no gloomy shadow! But, as it sinks into the ground, I hear a whisper going through the leaves. "This, in commemoration of the law of love and kindness, mercy and compassion. This, in remembrance of Me!"
(this short portion was taken from Charles Dickens "A Christmas Tree" published in 1850)
|Larissa adds a few final touches.|
|At last, all the contents of the basket were on the tree.|
No, we really didn't light the tapers, for we were in a
|We had a mini-manger scene underneath, as well as a few small toys for the wee ones planning to show tomorrow.|
|In our reenacting world, the wooden collection of Ark figurines was carved by my grandfather back around the end of the Revolutionary War.|
|Sister/Auntie Jenny read to us from a collection |
of Christmas poems and stories.
|Christine does not see her aunt very often,|
and so she adores sitting on the floor next to her.
Not that Christine is a child, for she is a
married woman, and the two took turns
reading from the book.
Every year at Christmas at the Fort, we will take a few minutes out of the day to enjoy the other Christmas tide festivities and walk around the fort grounds to enjoy some of what we cannot see while inside our home during this event.
I should suggest an earlier tour strictly for participants so that those of us who volunteer can enjoy each other's presentations.
No matter, for we were able to sneak out...and found ourselves about 90 years further back in time, to the 1770s, for Christmas at the Fort is not only centered during the Civil War era, but goes back as far as the Revolutionary War:
|Showing off our winter wear.|
Larissa and I were dressed a little out of time while we visited the 18th century,
and if it can be helped we try to prevent from having the paid guests see two
(or more) separate time-periods intermingling.
|General Washington and a few of his men.|
|Discussing another plan to possibly surprise the enemy as was done the previous Christmas, mayhaps?|
|Some warmth to squelch the bitter chill in the air.|
|Some of the men were lucky to sleep in |
doors during the bitter cold.
|My son, a member of the 1st Pennsylvania|
and his girlfriend, who sews and cooks
for him and the other men.
Moving onward and back into the future, the house directly next door to ours' had ladies from the 1860s preparing packages for the fighting men of the north during the Civil War.
|Utilizing the period homes in the way we do allows for a much more authentic presentation, and all of us involved thank the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition for allowing us to do so.|
And on the other side of our house we found a southern family representation during the Civil War as well.
|Again, the folks here in this house have been doing this for a number of years as well and, from what I have heard, do a wonderful job in their representation.|
|Preparing the dining room table|
|Our Christmas Eve meal was, of course, by candle light and oil lamp. Larissa caught me adjusting the oil lamp (an original from the 1880s) in this photo - one of my favorites of the entire year.|
Never was there a more cheerful supper, or one more heartily enjoyed. The table was covered with pork and chicken pies, boiled turkey with oyster sauce, mashed potatoes, turnips, winter squash, applesauce, bread and cheese, cranberry tart, the customary mince-pies and plum-puddings and a large cake called the yule-cake, overspread with leaves and ornaments. And eggnog, the drink of choice.
(okay, maybe not everything listed here, which came from an 1861 story, but we did indeed dine on a fine ham, sausage & apples, bread, cranberries, crackers, cheese, cider, and desserts)
|A toast to family, friends...and Christmas!|
And now, I get to have this dream come true for me as well.
I must say, when all is said and done, there is something special about eating a fine Christmas meal in a period setting, especially when using only lighting apparatus of the time.
True sensory immersion in every way.
We were there...
|Our hard-working servants received useful |
gifts on Christmas morning;
the rest were reserved for evening of Christmas Day
during the social gathering.
O! What fun - - -
And before we knew it, the evening was over. It is always a bit sad to take everything down -
un-decorating the tree, etc., - for this is as real a Christmas party as any one could have.
Yes, a fine 1860s Christmas celebration...
Something we did not do that was common in the old days was uniting in prayer before leaving.
As was written in 1860: We knelt while Grandmother offered a fervent, heartfelt prayer. When we rose from our knees, there were a few moments of hushed silence, for all felt the presence of the Savior, whose advent is prominently being celebrated. After cloaks, overcoats, hoods, and furs were on for those who were to go their merry way, there was a reassembling in the parlor for last words.
“What a delightful evening!”
“I never enjoyed myself so well before.”
There was a general cheerful “good night” for those who needed to leave, and then the merry sleigh bells sounding in different directions told us that our visitors were going to their homes.
I think maybe we can add this to our festivities next year.
Until next time, see you in time.
~ ~ ~