Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas at Greenfield Village 2008

It was a harrowing journey through the late afternoon snowstorm but, after a nearly hour and a half ride (normally 25 minutes!), we arrived at Greenfield Village. Since we left early, we were there on time for the opening of the gates.
Our first stop, upon entering, was the home of Henry Ford, where the house is decorated as if it were 1876. The smells of bread and pie filled the air as we entered the building. I enjoy watching the presenters cook on the old woodstoves and explain what they are making. Not only is it a learning experience, but it helps to bring the past to life. It gives my wife ideas in many cases for our own meals.

From there we walked over to the Wright Brothers home. Again, the home is decked out for Christmas, only in this house it is Christmas 1903. On this night that we were there - December 23 - we were told it was the 105 anniversary of the Wright's return from Kitty Hawk. I liked the way the presenter told us: "On this very night, Wilbur and Orville walked through that same door filled with the news of their first airplane flight."
Gives one chills.

The Adams House was celebrating Christmas of the 1860's, and the aroma of a spicy Christmas drink (smelled like Wassail to me) filled the rooms. The decorated Christmas Tree in the back parlor had a Noah's Ark scene (built in Germany in the 1830's) underneath. Greens were placed throughout the rooms. This home is a wonderful example of a Christmas celebration of an average middle-class Michigan family of the 1860's.

Across the road from the Adam's home is the McGuffey schoolhouse, now being used as winter quarters for Civil War soldiers. The re-enactors there are my friends from various units in the area and they do a super job presenting what life was like for the northern soldier stationed in Virginia on a cold Christmas night. Lit only by candles and warmed by the fireplace, Mike, the chaplain, told us that this was one of the best times he's had at Christmas, but the heat from the fire did little to truly keep him warm. It helps to understand just what the guys went through all those years ago.

The home of Thomas Edison's grandparents was next, and it was 1915 in that house. An old Edison phonograph played scratchy Christmas music and a beautifully decorated feather tree stood atop the table, ready for Christmas dinner.

Over at the Cotswold Cottage, originally from England, the American soldiers of WWII did their best to have a Christmas far from their loved ones across the ocean. The mistress of the house was there, stringing popcorn to help give the guys the best Christmas she could. WWII re-enactor soldiers were placed throughout, telling how the locals in England would take the Americans into their homes for the holidays to try and give them as nice a Christmas as they could.

The 1822 home of Noah Webster was next, all decorated as it would have been in Mr. Webster's time. But, this home shows New Year's traditions rather than concentrate specifically on Christmas. The New Year's feast is there in the dining room, waiting for the visitors with calling cards to come a-courting the Webster daughters.

The next couple of houses we entered showed what many people may not realize happened in America - how certain religious denominations did not celebrate this holiday. Many folks often wonder why the Village presents this when it is supposed to be Holiday Nights. Well, remember that this is a historic place and part of their job is to show history as it was. But, if one listens to what the presenters have to say, very interesting stories of the times abound. I love entering the darkened great hall of the Daggett saltbox house, lit only by a fireplace, a lantern, and a rush light.

At the Giddings home, tales of Mummers are told. Mummers are/were (usually) men who dress(ed) up in costumes and masks and would travel house to house, putting on skits for the owners and singing songs as well in hopes of receiving money or food, or perhaps a bowl of hot wassail for their efforts. If the butler or owner closed the door on them, the mummers would find their way inside of the home and take for themselves the meat and drink they wanted. Usually a mummer was a neighbor, but because they wore masks and disguised their voices, the homeowner did not know who these people actually were.

The Susquehanna House shows a Christmas from 1860 on a slave owner's plantation. The home is decked beautifully and the "owners" are preparing for a New Year's Day wedding. Again, the sites and smells of foods from long ago permeate the air.

Speaking of food, vendors selling roast beef, chestnuts, hot chocolate, and other Christmas treats were set along the roadside. And sellers of lanterns, greens, and newspapers were also hawking their wares.

On the other side of the Village is an ice skating pond where patrons (and talented presenters) can skate. Horses and carriages, along with Model T's, are available for free tours of the Village. And brass bands, wandering minstrels, vocal quartets, a colonial fife and drum group, a dulcimer player, a lone fife player, and still other musicians are posted throughout, entertaining the patrons with the sounds of Christmas.

There is much more going on than in my description above - more houses to visit, fireworks, Santa and real reindeer, etc. Maybe I'll write a complete descriptive picture on my Greenfield Village blog
in the future.
We attend the Holiday Nights event at Greenfield Village no less than twice a season and I enjoy it more and more each time, especially this last time, on December 23, when we had the snowstorm. The snow, instead of preventing all of the activities, actually helped here - it was only half as crowded as before. Now, that does sound selfish of me, and I apologize for that, but the lesser crowds (and the snow) certainly made for a more festive evening.

To all of you I wish a wonderful Christmas season - as traditional or as modern as you would like.



Mrs. G said...

What a beautiful village! It definately goes on my "places to see" list.


Historical Ken said...

Thank you.
Greenfield Village really is a wonderful place to step back in time. I'm a member so I go often - sometimes weekly - just to get away and clear my head. And, I always seem to learn something new every time I visit.
It is worth a trip here for the visit - you'll want a minimum of two days: one day in the Village and one day in the museum.