(All photos were taken at this year's Christmas Party)
Many years ago, before our involvement in Civil War reenacting, my wife, Patty, and I had spoken many times about throwing a Victorian Christmas party. The idea was to have all of our friends dress in "costume" and pretend that we were in the 1800's by way of candle lit rooms, maybe reading passages from Dickens "A Christmas Carol," drinking wassail, etc. Of course, we had no idea how to put something like this together, and found it to be nearly impossible to have our friends, most who had not even the slightest interest in this sort of thing, dress in 19th century clothing.
It was a nice thought but never happened.
Then came reenacting.
It was around six or seven years ago, when I was relatively new to living history, that the thought of finally being able to participate in a period Christmas party would come to pass. And, yes, a Christmas party was on the schedule. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend due to previous commitments. I searched on the unit web site for pictures taken at the party, to see the fun I missed. I must say, I was a bit disappointed. Not only was the party held at a sports bar, but everyone was dressed in modern clothing. To top it off, the food served was mainly pizza, beer, and pop (soda to you non-midwesterners!).
One would never know that the gathering at hand were Civil War reenactors.
I then checked out other reenacting units, and I found the same across the board: just plain old modern clothing Christmas parties from each and every reenacting unit I came across.
This was quite the let down for me.
I mentioned to my wife that maybe I could step in and bring our dream Christmas into reality, so later that year I spoke with the unit board of directors and asked about having a period Christmas party. I told them we could use the 1872 schoolhouse in the city where I live and and we could ask members to bring a dish to pass...something that would have /could have been eaten during the mid-19th century. They liked the idea but I would have to take it on. I did willingly, although I did have some help.
That very next December we had our first Civil War Christmas party.
It went off like gangbusters - it was everything I hoped it would be and more. Our members dressed in their 1860's finest, the food was out of this world, and we even had one very talented member play Christmas songs on her violin.
It was the talk of the season! It felt like a period Christmas party should feel like - a Holiday right out of the past!
Of course, the following year followed suit. And every year since. Here and there we have invited guests from other units to join in our celebration as well as having Michigan's very own President and Mrs. Lincoln (Fred and Bonnie Priebe) taking part.
This past January 9 we continued our tradition, and it turned out to be the best one yet. The Christmas spirit was with us, even two weeks after December 25th, and it actually felt more like a time-travel experience than any Christmas party before. One big reason was that our resident fiddler formed a period instrumental group and we held a mini ball, where our revelers spent the evening dancing jigs and reels, including one of my favorites, the Virginia Reel (amongst others).
The evening was filled with laughter, dancing, singing, eating...even a Thomas Nast Santa right out of Harper's Weekly! It was all that one would expect to see and hear at a 19th century Christmas party. The atmosphere couldn't have been better!
I cannot express how much fun this party was - the perfect ending to a wonderful Christmas Season.
You ought to get your unit to give it a try next year!