Wednesday, November 28, 2007
There are many folks out there who cannot seem to enjoy themselves at Christmas. I found the main reason for this is because when they think of Christmas, they think of spending money on gifts. They think of hearing the same ten Christmas songs over and over and over. They think of fighting the crowds at the over-crowded mall.
Well, I'm here to change that.
You see, I love Christmas, and for those of you who know me know this to be true. The reason I love Christmas is because I enjoy the holiday not only for what it is, but for what it's supposed to be. In other words, we do our best to have a Currier & Ives Christmas.
Please allow me to explain...
In a way, my wife and I (and our four children) have taken all of the elements that supposedly makes Christmas so special and applied them to our own celebrations. For instance, me and my two oldest sons take part in the Holly Dickens Festival every year, where we don period clothing and give the patrons a "Christmas Carol" Dickensian Christmas, ripe with the characters from Dickens' book, including Scrooge, Cratchit, Jacob, Marley, Tiny Tim, and Charles Dickens himself (see my previous Dickens/Holly blog ).
We also head out to Greenfield Village for their "Holiday Nights" Christmas event. (See my Christmas Music blog for photos taken at GFV's Holiday Nights). Greenfield Village truly decks the halls of the homes there in wonderfully accurate period Christmas fashion. Carolers, mummers, a brass band, skaters, vendors of greenery, and, of course, all the sights and sounds of Christmas past. Santa and reindeer, a 'winter quarters' Civil War reenacting unit, horse-drawn carriage rides, and the homes, inside and out, decorated for their time, with docents explaining the old-time practices of Christmases long ago. My wife and I have been going to Greenfield Village for Christmas since 1983, and we never tire of it (although it has changed immensely over the years).
In our own home we make the attempt to have an old-fashioned Christmas. We cut down our own Christmas Tree every year, many times bringing friends along to enjoy our tradition with us. The first weekend in December we head up to Western's Tree Farm off Applegate Road in Sanilac County, saw in hand, and find that perfect tree - always a short needle spruce - to decorate in our own Victorian style. A tractor or horse-drawn wagon ride takes us out to where the grove of trees are, and picks us up when we have chopped ours down.
And we always decorate it that same night, with wonderful hammered dulcimer Christmas music playing in the background. Yes, we do put real candles on our tree (see the picture above) and, yes, we do light them once a year (with all kinds of water buckets about just in case) - I have been doing that for over twenty years. We also have the tiny electric lights as well.
And, we decorate our home in a pseudo-Victorian style. Friends of ours have come over just to get that old-time feeling.
Yes, we do partake in some 'contemporary' traditions as well, including watching Christmas DVD's. Of course, my favorites are the various "A Christmas Carol" movies available. My favorite version is with George C. Scott, followed by the Alistair Simm, Patrick Stewart (awful Scrooge but a great Cratchit family), and Seymour Hicks. The Gene Lockhart version is OK but not one of my favorites.
We also watch the Walton's original Christmas movie (that launched the series), and one called "I'll Be Home For Christmas" that takes place during WWII (on VHS only so far), and, yes, even Jim Carey's "The Grinch."
There are a few others, but these are the main ones. Oh, by the way, there is an excellent foreign Christmas movie, "Joyouex (sp?) Noel," about the Christmas reprieve during WWI.
We like to watch the Christmas TV shows that I have on video - Charlie Brown, Grinch (cartoon), Twilight Zone, Andy Griffith, Bewitched, etc.
Christmas Day is when we put on our Civil War era clothing and, especially while eating dinner, have a completely candlelit house. A feeling like no other.
But, best of all is when we sit quietly with all the lights off except the Christmas lights, and just enjoy the season. This is a great time to reflect and to clear your mind of all your stress.
This is also a very good time to remember the Reason for the Season.
It's really not hard to have a truly Merry Christmas when you allow yourself to do so.
Give it a try - you just might enjoy yourself.
(Order your gifts from Amazon.com - avoid the crowds and save loads of dough!).
Thursday, November 22, 2007
I invite those who disagree with this blog to please look up the quotes written and put them in their original context.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
By now, many folks living in the Detroit area (you know, the most dangerous city), have at least caught a snippet of radio station WNIC 24/7 Christmas music format. This is where one can here 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree,' 'Jingle Bell Rock,' 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,' and 'Holly Jolly Christmas' once, and sometimes twice an hour. This is where one can listen to today's contemporary artists (Mariah Carey, et al.) kill the music you know and love or, better still, write new "Christmas songs" that sound like every other 'diva' tune out there - not Christmas-y at all.
My mother, who normally simply cannot wait for 'NIC to begin playing the Christmas tunes, ended up turning it off because she was sick of it - and it's not even Thanksgiving yet!
It's not that she's sick of Christmas music - she is tired of the same songs played over and over and over and over...she knows there is much more out there that WNIC doesn't even touch.
(To WNIC's credit, I will give them this much: a couple of years ago, they played only secular Christmas music - Santa, Rudolph, and the like - nothing sacred...not even 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen' or 'Silent Night.' I sent them an email asking why. The response was that they didn't want to offend anyone, especially non-Christians. My response? If someone is playing Christmas music, chances are they are Christians - or at least celebrate the holiday - and that I doubted there were very many Jews or Muslims listening. The next year, a noticeable increase in sacred music was presented to the listening public.)
For those who know me know that I have a rather large collection of Christmas music, from the classics of Ray Conniff, Johnny Mathis, Mitch Miller, Nat King Cole, and Bing Crosby, to the fun rock and roll of the Drifters 'White Christmas,' Beach Boys, Elvis, and the Ventures, to the Country Christmas music of Emmylou Harris, the Judds, George Strait, Susy Boggus, Patty Loveless, and Willie Nelson, to the contemporary CD's of 'A Very Special Christmas,' and Amy Grant, to the children's music with the original Chipmuncks, 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas,' etc.
But, my very favorite Christmas music is what I call Victorian (or Old World) Christmas music. This includes artists such as Linda Russell, Robin Petrie, The Christmas Revels, Maggie Sansone, Katie McMahon, The Chieftains, Madeline MacNeal, Bonnie Rideout, and even the the early recordings of Mannheim Steamroller. These artists perform traditional Christmas music on period and traditional instruments like the hammered dulcimer, penny whistle, mountain dulcimer, and very old guitars and pianos. The vocals are as if the performers were in your living room, singing just for you.
Now, they do many popular tunes that you will know and recognize, such as 'God Rest Ye,' 'Silent Night,' 'Jingle Bells,' 'The First Nowell,' 'It Came upon a Midnight Clear,' etc. But, there are so many wonderful Christmas songs that have been forgotten about. Tunes like 'The Gloucestershire Wassail,' 'The Holly Bears a Berry,' 'A Virgin Unspotted,' 'Riu Riu Chiu,' 'The Boar's Head Carol,' 'All You That Are Good Fellows,' 'In The Bleak Mid-Winter,' 'Bring A Torch Jeannette Isabella,' and countless others.
By listening to this music over the top sellers I have found myself enjoying Christmas music so much more. Why? Because I don't hear the same 10 tunes over and over and I don't get sick of it. I also know that the majority of this Old World music has a history - a much deeper history than say, Woolworth's advertisement campaign which spawned 'Rudolph.'
When my house lights are off and just the lights from our Christmas tree are glowing, the last thing I want to hear is 'Run Run Rudolph' or 'Santa's Beard.' Beautiful hammered dulcimer and fiddle with a five piece vocal quartet is the perfect soundtrack to a perfect holiday.
Pretty much all of the music I have mentioned is available on Amazon.com
Sunday, November 18, 2007
As stated earlier, this is my tenth year doing the festival - I never thought I would be doing it this long, but it's a great and fun way to bring history to life (in a farby way, but that's OK) during the off season for Civil War reenacting.
Also, my two eldest sons perform at the festival and have themselves been doing it for a number of years as well.
For photos and more info, check out this site: http://thefestivalsingers.com/
Hope to see you (who ever you are) there!
Saturday, November 17, 2007
I told him that, yes, in a round about way - this is where a little research comes into play - being puritans (advocating strict religious discipline), they would not have given thanks to the Indians themselves, but rather to God for sending them the Indians to ensure their survival.
Well, other coworkers stepped in and, as usual in this day and age, I found myself in the minority in my belief - even with all the proof I had - and pretty much smiled and nodded and said, "You can revise history all you want, but the truth is there to be found if you'll search for it. But, I know you won't, so you'll go on believing what you perceive to be correct but in reality, is false."
Pretty much shut them down with that.
And this, by the way, from President Lincoln 1863:
"I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I took the above five pictures at Greenfield Village. (from the top): (1) Christmas at the Daggett Farmhouse (2) inside the general store (3) The Ford Farm (4) Dinner at the Eagle Tavern (5) A Colonial Scene - all homes in this shot were built prior to the 19th century.
As mentioned in other blogs I have written, I love visiting Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. The collection of old homes and structures is second to none: where else, in one area, can you visit the original homes of the Wright Brothers, Henry Ford, Daniel Webster, Harvey Firestone, and Stephen Foster? There are other historical structures placed there as well: the building where Abraham Lincoln practiced law, the shop where the Wright Brothers built their first-to-fly airplane, and Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park complex (can you say electric light, phonograph, and “hello”?). Then there are the odds and ends buildings, showing great examples of life as lived in past centuries: Sarah Jordan Boarding House, which was the first home lit by electricity, Daggett, Plympton, and Giddings houses – all from the colonial period; Adams, Chapman, and the Ann Arbor houses – great examples of Victoriana; two 19th century schoolhouses, Smith’s Creek train depot, a general store, a carriage stop, and even a stone cottage from 17th century England. And so much more.
It’s a history lover’s dream!
I do, however, have a number of complaints of late:
First off, I am not fond of the streets, curbs, and sidewalks that were installed a few years ago. The modern concrete really took away the step-into-the-past ambience that the Village once had. I was told it was for those in wheelchairs, but the previous set up worked for over 70 years.
Second, the Disney feel that was given to the place (Model T rides galore and the entrance ticket booth) does not help with the stepping-into-the-past experience either.
Third, they’ve taken away public candle dipping (we always made our own candles every summer and used them during Christmas), the steamboat ride – always a favorite -, and the Colonial Days festival, which was a yearly highlight for me and my family.
Now for the good stuff about Greenfield Village:
1) They still have Civil War reenactments every Memorial Day weekend (although the constant running of the Model T’s takes away from the historical accuracy).
2) Their Christmas celebrations are the BEST anywhere (it used to be called “12 Nights of Christmas,” and is now called the more politically correct “Holiday Nights”- as if any from the Jewish or muslim faith would ever come to this event knowing what it actually is).
3) Hallowe’en in the Village.
4) The fact that they pride themselves (rightfully so) on historic accuracy in their presentations (except for said Model T rides during the Civil War weekend).
Now, what would Ken change if he were suddenly put in charge? Well, first thing, correct the wrongs that I listed above. Then I would open each house – get rid of the dog-gone plexi-glass in many of the buildings – and have 1st person presenters ala Colonial Williamsburg. At least on the weekends.
I would also get an original layout of the Village from an old guide book and re-arrange the buildings back to what Henry Ford originally planned. I’d also bring back the cobbler shop, the cooper shop, the Plymouth House, get a working smithy to show the craft of a blacksmith, and truly keep the Village where Mr. Ford intended – pre-20th century.
Because I am a perfectionist and an amateur social historian, my complaints seem to be making Greenfield Village out to be much worse than it actually is. But, it’s because I still have such a love for the Village (there’s that Passion for History again!), and these so-called changes and “improvements” (when they really aren’t improvements at all) are very hard to take. If it ain’t broke, as the saying goes, don’t fix it.
It's still a great place to go for American history - you would do yourselves a favor to visit Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum (I’ll write about the museum another time).
In a future blog, I’ll write about some of the neat GFV items I have collected.
Monday, November 12, 2007
How many of you know your family history? Do you know where you came from? Can you name anyone in your direct line beyond your grandparents?
I can't express enough the importance of knowing your genealogy, and it isn't very hard to get started.
Here is a very quick lesson:
1) Talk to your parents or the siblings of your parents.
2) If they are still alive, talk to your grandparents (or siblings of).
3) Find out the dates of births, marriages, and deaths of not only your direct line (grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents, etc. - your uncles and aunts, no matter how far back, are not your direct line), but their siblings as well, and their place of birth, marriage, and death.
4) Find out the occupations of your line.
5) Find the maiden names of the women in your line.
When you have gotten as much info as you possibly can get by asking questions, then locate the birth, baptism, marriage, and death certificates of all in your line. This will confirm much of what you have been told. Plus, many times the maiden names of your multiple great grandmothers can be found here. Also, if a family bible exists, you would do yourself a great favor by locating that as well.
Now, this is where a little money and possible travel will come into play. This is also where the real fun begins.
I'm not going to get into how to locate your ancestors in the census, but, if you are able to head to a large city library, most will have access to the census across the United States, and sometimes into other countries. The folks working at the library will usually very happily help you learn how to use the census. Also, many of the libraries will have old city directories available as well as old newspapers announcing births, marriages, and deaths. Through this procedure, I was able to get a description of my great grandparents wedding and reception - including the weather - that took place in 1902!
There are some wonderful books available, most reasonably priced, to guide you down the path of your family history. You would do yourself good to search them out on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, or Borders.
A little advice, however:
Learn the stories of your ancestors, but remember that they were human, too, and may have made (sometimes embarrassing) mistakes. That's all part of the fun.
Don't look for gossip. Just get the facts (I was able to find out from two separate lines with a common ancestor that my great great great grandfather, a poor farmer who lived in mid-19th century England, loved to eat cheese sandwiches for his mid-day meal).
Please please please do not embellish the stories and make your ancestor what he or she is not - i.e. I was told that the above mentioned g g g grandfather was a knight - NOT! He was just a poor farmer, but, by taking in boarders, scrimped and saved enough money to cross the Atlantic in 1870 with his family in tow. Now that's a story to be proud of!
Unless you have proof, do not believe a word. When you hear a story about a long-dead ancestor, for example, from multiple family members - especially from those who had never met each other - then you can conclude that it is probably true.
But, most of all, have fun - enjoy yourself. I know your ancestors would appreciate not being forgotten.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Before I got into reenacting/living history, I recall seeing pictures of folks and artifacts from the Civil War era - bearded men in their sack coats and hats and hoop-skirted women in bonnets looking flat and ancient in the sepia photographs. I absolutely used to love going to the Greenfield Village outdoor museum in Dearborn (still do!), checking out the old homes from the 18th and 19th centuries, entering them to peer at a spinning wheel, an old-time looking dresser, candle and gas lighting, wood stoves, a corner what-not-shelf…the every day items of life long ago.
Now, have you noticed that, after being a living historian/reenactor for a number of years, things that you once considered antiquated, items such as those listed above, or even something as simple as a rosetta – have become commonplace in your life? Do you find that you are more interested in getting a new period vest with three pockets rather than a new pair of jeans? Or, if you are a female, do you get excited about the annual ball so you can show off that new bonnet you either made or purchased?
A number of years ago we added a large back room addition to our home – what modern folk refer to as a great room – and we have it decorated in a very Victorian style. Yes, because of modern laws, we had to install electricity, gas heat, and electric lighting, but it does give one the impression that they have stepped into the past. And now, upon returning from Greenfield Village, I don't get depressed like I used to. I sit in my "gathering room" and continue to keep that old time feeling.
So, one might think that my family and I ‘live in the past,’ wouldn’t you say? It would seem like it. But, if that were the case, I would not be writing in this blog, or watch my DVD’s, listen to my CD’s, or make calls on my cell phone.
I enjoy – no, absolutely LOVE - the past, but I live in the present. My mindset is somewhere in between, so I can incorporate the best of all eras into my life. From where I sit, I can take the best from the 1860’s and the best of the 21st century and apply it to my life today. Unfortunately, I am stuck with all of the CRAP of today’s leftist, socialist society without a choice.
And that’s why I reenact and decorate the way I do.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
If you have the same interests as me, you might like to see what I have to say about some of the product available to enhance your historical (and some non-historical) passions.
(I hope it works)
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Actually, December isn't really too bad. I spend my weekends up in Holly dressed as a Dickensian character at the annual Holly Dickens Festival (it's nowhere near authentic as in CW, but we give a fun impression). This year one of my portrayals will be Mr. Charles Dickens himself!
Another way to keep me from pulling what's left of my hair out is to write. Last year I began to write a story for the first time since I was in high school (too many years ago!) - it's a time travel story and it involves my family and I. Without getting too deep into the story line, I will say that I am making the attempt to write it as if it actually happened. This forces me to research, very deeply, every little part of life as lived in the 1860's. By doing this, I have found that my social history knowledge has grown immensely! I have been having loads of fun writing this little tale, trying to show me and my family's reactions to this major change in our lives. No, I don't become a CW hero or anything like that - the story just shows how we attempt to adjust to a very antiquated lifestyle, with attempt being the key word. As much as I love history, you see, in my story I/we have a very rough time with day-to-day activities, especially my wife.
I have consulted many "schooled" historians to get their thoughts and opinions of accuracy in my story, lest one day I let it go beyond the extremely few eyes that had ever seen it.
Monday, November 5, 2007
I belong to a Civil War reenacting unit where I portray a civilian postmaster. I wear not only accurate clothing of the era, but I also study the speech and etiquette as well, as does my wife. And we both find ourselves enjoying stepping into the lives of our ancestors very much, and do it as often as possible. We found that the more research we do for our 19th century persona, the more we find that we identify with that era in so many ways. It's almost scary. It's very much a kind of time travel, at least in the way we make the attempt. When in our period clothing, we try to fully immerse ourselves in our portrayal. And every so often, you get that certain magical split second where you really are "there...
This subject will be continued...