Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Time and Reenacting Go Hand in Hand

I can't figure some folks out. As much as they say they love reenacting, they stop as soon as the reenacting 'season' ends, as if there is a beginning and an end. Well, I realize that setting up a camp (and actually using it for its original intent) can be crazy this time of year - especially for those of us who live in the north - and I have to agree. But, that doesn't mean one has to stop taking part in living history activities, especially during the Christmas Season when people tend to look back to the past for their holiday traditions.
For 12 years I have taken part in the Holly (Michigan) Dickens Festival. Unfortunately, with the economy the way it is, those in charge have had to cut back...dramatically. This year I was one of those cut - ha! And I portrayed Charles Dickens himself!! However, I didn't prevent that little set back from dressing period and attending the festival anyhow, bringing along a few reenactor friends as well (It's Beginning to Feel A Lot Like Christmas).
And, it didn't take me long to find other period activities to fill in the gap, like Christmas at the Fort (Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit---
I was with other reenactors - positioned in an actual period home! - and we portrayed a family and friends gathering at Christmastime in 1864 Detroit.

Family and friends at Historic Fort Wayne

What a magical time this event was! The home was candle and oil lamp lit and each of us had our impressions. I, of course, was the visiting postmaster friend and spent time writing letters and spoke of the importance of the notes from home and goodies being sent to the soldiers to keep their spirits lifted, while other members of the home spoke on the activities of women on the homefront during the Civil War, including making bandages, repairing old blankets, and crocheting/knitting socks, scarves, and mittens, all to send to our men fighting in the south. And, in between the visitors (and sometimes during the group visits) we played the old parlor game Questions and Answers.

A busy gathering of the homefront in Detroit 1864

Of course, our table top Christmas tree was a highlight for the little ones who stopped in - they're used to the large floor-to-ceiling trees that most folks tend to have in our modern times.
I cannot express just how wonderful a time we all had and how well we all played off each other when our visitors entered the home...our least for the night. Speaking of how family's of the 1860's lived their everyday lives on the homefront at Christmastime made it all seem so real...

Yours truly writing a letter to son Robert fighting somewhere in the south

And, still, there is more reenacting to come. Without an official event, I like to make my own - so, on December 27th many of us living historians will dress up in our period finest and attend the Holiday Homes Tour in Greenfield Village. Over the last few years my wife and I seemed to have garnered interest amongst our fellow reenactors in attending Greenfield Village while wearing our period clothing, visiting the homes still decked in their Christmas finery, and having lunch at the Eagle Tavern.

Civil War reenactors visiting Greenfield Village during Christmastime

In previous years we’ve had not only members from our Civil War unit, but those from other units as well. The thing that Patty and I have most enjoyed about going on the last day the Village is open for the season (to be re-opened in April) is that the Village is not very busy (for the most part) and we can spend a bit more time with the docents, asking questions and learning beyond what the general public seems to be interested in. We even had the pleasure of hearing some of the ghostly tales of the otherworldly visitors that supposedly haunt many of the structures in the Village.
And it's just a great time to be with others with the same interests in a historic setting.
Then there are those who also participate in the Village's Holiday Nights (Christmas at Greenfield Village: Holiday Nights), where many CW reenactors, including my son Robert, give a scenario of winter quarters during the 1860's while in the William Holmes McGuffey School.

21st Michigan members Mike, Andy, and Robbie at the McGuffey Schoolhouse

The neatest thing is that, once again a number of us that reenact dressed up in our period clothing while attending this past December 4th -like the planned December 27 non-event coming up, we visited just on our own strictly as visitors paying our own way in - and enjoyed the Holiday Nights affair by becoming part of the atmosphere.
Yep - we're nuts! But, we're good nuts.
If you truly mourn the so-called end of the reenacting season, look about you - I'm sure you can come up with a few living history events to take part in, or do as I do and come up with your own and invite others along.
Heck, have a period Christmas party in your own home - even the most modern home will have a taste of the 19th century with folks dressed 'proper' amidst a candle and/or oil lamp lit room.

Patty and Lynn during Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village - dressing period whenever we get the opportunity!

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