Friday, December 21, 2012

A Mid-19th Century Christmas Celebration

As written in previous posts, I have had numerous opportunities to celebrate Christmas as our ancestors might have done over a century ago. I have researched many aspects of the celebrations - from decorating to gifts to the holiday feasts - and my co-living historians have done the same, and together we have been able to put together what we feel are fairly accurate portrayals of Christmases past.The best part of it all is that we truly have a wonderful time in our "faux celebration," mainly because it isn't fake at all: we really are enjoying this time spent as if it actually were Christmas 1860! It's because of this that I can say - we can say - that we have experienced Christmas past as close to one can get without stepping through the literal port hole of time.
I suppose as Christians we are lucky that we celebrate the most splendid of all our holidays in the gloomy darkest time of the year. And it makes sense, too, when you consider that Jesus Christ is the Light - a Light when daylight is at its rarest! Here in southeastern lower Michigan December certainly has been rather dark and gloomy with thick grey clouds looming overhead. No snow, though lots of rain.
Oh, I know that the chances of Christ being born on December 25th are slim. More than likely He was born in the spring or the fall. But since the bible does not give us a specific date of His birth, our anti-pagan ancestors of many centuries ago blended the winter solstice celebrations with the Christian story of the Nativity, and through time, turned it into the Christmas we have come to know and love. Anyhow, being that we celebrate His birth in the way we do, I will present here for your reading pleasure words written over 150 years ago describing the way our 19th century ancestors observed this joyous holiday (with a few modifications and additions). The photos accompanying this posting are from recent reenactments, as well as some that I took at Greenfield Village and my own home. To see the images in a larger size, please click on the picture itself.


The Christmas Tree by Lizzie M’Intyre
(from Godey’s Lady’s Book December 1860)

“Won’t it be fun to dress the Tree?”
“Oh, how I wish it was to-morrow!” cried Eddie, the youngest, a boy of eight years old, the pet and darling of all the five sisters.
“To-morrow evening!” said Fannie, the next in order, “to-morrow evening. Oh, such fun. A Christmas tree!”
“Won’t it be fun to dress it?” whispered Grace.
“Oh, Marian, will it have my work box?” cried Hester.
“And my doll?” said Fannie.
The younger set play a game while the adults prepare the tree for dressing
“And my set of china tea things? You know you promised me a new set.” And fairly started, all the children joined in the list of demands, making a perfect Babel of the parlor.


     The little mantel clock struck nine. As the last stroke died away, Marian pointed with a smile to the clock, and the youngest children rose and went merrily to bed.
“There is much to do to-morrow, Gracie,” said Marian, as the chamber door closed, shutting out the sound of the merry voices, “there are so many things to attend to that I think we will dress the tree this evening. We can shut the folding doors and keep the children from the back parlor tomorrow.”
“Oh, yes, we will dress it now. I’ll call father.” And the young girl danced off, humming a merry tune.
The tree was a large evergreen, reaching almost to the high ceiling, for all the family presents were to be placed on it.
With the house dressed, I took the opportunity to catch up on the latest news from Harper's Weekly
The process of dressing commenced. From a basket in the corner, Marian drew long strings of bright red holly berries threaded like beads upon fine cord. These were festooned in graceful garlands from the boughs of the tree, and while Marian was thus employed, Grace and Father arranged the tiny tapers. This was a delicate task. Long pieces of fine wire were passed through the taper at the bottom, and these clasped over the stern of each branch and twisted together underneath. Great care was taken that there should be a clear space above each wick, that nothing might catch fire.
The tapers are lit!
Strings of bright berries, small bouquets of paper flowers, strings of beads, tiny flags of gay ribbon, stars and shields of guilt paper, lace bags filled with colored candies, knots of bright ribbons, all homemade by Marian’s and Gracie’s skillful fingers, made a brilliant show of a very trifling cost, the basket seeming possessed of unheard of capacities, to judge from the multitude and variety of articles drawn from it.
Meantime, upon the wick of each little taper, Father rubbed with his finger a drop of alcohol to insure its lighting quickly. This was a process he trusted to no one else, for fear the spirit might fall upon some part of the tree not meant to catch fire.
Dressing (or decorating) the Christmas Tree

At last, all the contents of the basket were on the tree, and then the more important presents were brought down from an upper room. There were many large articles seemingly too clumsy for the tree, but Marian passed around them gay colored ribbons till they formed a basket work, and looped them over the branches till even Hester’s work box looked graceful. Dolls for each of the little girls were seated on the boughs, and a large cart for little Eddie, with two horses prancing before it, drove gayly among the top branches, as if each steed possessed the wings of Pegasus. On the moss beneath the branches Marian placed a set of wooden animals for Eddie, while from the topmost branch was suspended a gilded cage ready for the canary bird the Doctor had purchased for the pet-loving Lizzie. Various mysterious packages, wrapped in paper and marked Grace, Marian, or Papa, were put aside, that all the delicious mystery of Christmas might be preserved. At length all was ready and, carefully locking the doors, the trio went up to their respective rooms.


Christmas Day 1861
(from Godey’s Lady’s Book December 1861)

Our home looked splendid and was ready for Christmas to commence!
I must tell you that grandmother Moore is going to give a grand family party. All the children, grandchildren, aunts, cousins, from far and near, are to be invited to spend the day.
We had arranged that all the gifts were to be sent to grandmother’s to be distributed. 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 servants were kept quite busy on Christmas Day!
The servants received useful gifts on Christmas morning; the rest were reserved for evening of Christmas Day during the social gathering.
The company, nearly forty in all, assembled to dine at four, and darkness came on before they left the table.
Such a feast!
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. 
And the desserts were beyond compare!
When the meal was finished, the little ones were directed to amuse themselves in their own way. The whole house was thoroughly warmed and lighted, and every room opened. They bounded away in merry glee, with Uncle Frank as leader in all their sports and frolics.
The piano was opened and, after many modern pieces and songs, Auntie was urged to play some old tunes. “Please play the first march you ever learned.” “The Bugle March” was played, followed by “Auld Lang Syne” and “Adeste Fideles,” with variations. Then we sang hymns, in which all joined.
At length the little ones came into the parlor thoroughly tired.
In the center of the room stood the Christmas Tree which reached from floor to ceiling and branched out on each side almost touching the walls. All the gifts were upon the tree, and much of our weeks’ worth was explained in the little labels which fluttered from each one. Every gift has an appropriate line or verse attached to it.
Gracie’s wand had a hook on the end, and was long enough to reach every part of the tree. After all had been sufficiently admired, the distribution of gifts began. Walter stood under the tree and received the articles as Gracie unhooked them, then read aloud the verse attached, and passed them to Harvey or me, and we distributed them in the proper order. 
Sisters telling secrets on Christmas Day!
 It was strange, for the old family clock that had for seventy years been a perfect timepiece pointed only to nine. On looking at watches, it was found to be half past ten; there was much winking and laughing among the children, but no one would tell who persuaded the old clock to stop precisely at nine. 
Notice the hands pointed only to nine o'clock!
“Now we must hurry and get home soon as possible.”
“Before separating, let us unite in prayer.”
We knelt while Uncle Ellis 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 had this day been celebrated. After cloaks, overcoats, hoods, and furs were on, 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 kissing, a cheerful “good night,” and then the merry sleigh bells sounding in different directions told us that the loved ones were going to their homes.
The oil lamp gave off just enough light to have our image taken and realistically colored
 ~   ~~ ~~   ~~ ~~   ~

Since this will more than likely be my last posting until after Christmas Day, I would like to wish my readers and followers the Merriest of Christmases. May your day be filled with all the joys of the past, the present, and the future.











Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Celebrations 1862: Country and City - Waterloo Farm and Historic Fort Wayne

From the time I was a tiny tot throughout my adult-hood I had made the attempt to replicate Christmas's from times past,  whether through the old stories such as "A Christmas Carol," or through period Christmas movies, or even the old traditional music.
I just didn't know how to actually take part...to live it.
Mr. Tennies enjoys the simple Christmas Tree
But now that I am a living historian and have learned (and I'm still learning) how to bring back to life an era of which no one alive today can say they have personally witnessed, my Christmas Dream is coming to pass.
Though instead of Dickensian England - "A Christmas Carol" is my all-time favorite story - it's mid-19th century America that has taken a hold of me.

CHRISTMAS in the COUNTRY
Recently a few of us participated (again) in the Christmas on the Farm event in Waterloo, Michigan, portraying family and friends during December 1862. As a good friend of mine noted, "It was like being in a Christmas card!"
Our farm
Yes, it was that good.
We did the same sort of living history presentation as we have done in previous years here, and once again I believe it came off very authentic, very real.
Yeah, I know, there I go again. But it's true - there were times I almost felt I was back in 1862.
Mind-travel.
 
In other words, it almost seemed as if we were there, back in that second December of the Civil War on a farm enjoying the period after harvest time where, though plenty of work still needed to be done, it also was a more relaxing time of year. You see, Once we completed harvesting our crops I worked very hard on banking up my home and farm by insulating the north sides of the house and each outbuilding against the coming winter, and preparing our sleigh and its runners to ensure its readiness for travel over hill and dale. Of course, my daughter shined the jingling bells up nicely, and I can just see them glistening in the rare sunlight - or even moonlight - this coming January and February when they will jingle as we glide along the snow-covered roads. Many folks believe that the jingle bells are a Christmas delight because of the ever-popular song written in the mid-1850's. That is truly not the case: jingle bells were put on sleighs for safety reasons. The horse's clip-clopping usually heard along the roads during the other three seasons are muffled greatly by the snow-covered ground of wintertime, and the head gear folks wear also muffle the sound of the on-coming beasts and carriages, making the pedestrian pert-near deaf. This could be a dangerous situation, except for the sounds of the jingle bells warning the pedestrian to move out of the way. Just as horns are required on the modern day motor vehicles, bells were once a must for winter travel on sleighs. "Keeping to the Right" upon hearing the jingling of a sleigh was the rule then as it is for automobiles today.
Lest you think of "Jingle Bells" as strictly a jolly Christmas carol, this little bit of social history should give you a different perspective upon hearing this winter song.
And I will speak to the 'visitors of the future' about this so they have a better understanding of my life in 1862.






Spinning wool into yarn to make the necessities for the coming winter months was as important a task as any, and my wife presented a pleasing picture of 19th century womanhood as she sat behind her wheel. Many visitors from the future passed through "our home" and had numerous questions about our lives from a time long past, and my wife's spinning was quite the curiosity to those modern folk, especially the children.







 Our good friends Larissa and her mother joined us on this festive occasion and entertained us by playing carols such as Silent Night on the pump organ. I need to ask: have you ever heard a pump organ played while inside of a home? If you haven't, you certainly are missing out for it is an experience for the eyes and ears.

And our two youngest children kept themselves quietly busy playing the game of Pick-Up Sticks.
Even with a constant flow of tour groups coming through, celebrating Christmas on the farm is "just like the ones I used to know."
W-e-l-l...at least in the way I have read...
But it is a Currier and Ives print brought to life.

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CHRISTMAS in the CITY


Mrs. Root decked the halls with boughs of garland

Only one week later, on December 8, I jumped from being a farmer to becoming a well-to-do city man - again on Christmas Eve of 1862 (ahhh...the pleasures of time-travel!). This celebration took place at Historic Fort Wayne in downtown Detroit - an actual fort built on the banks of the Detroit river in the 1840's.
As we've been doing for several years now, a number of us donned our Sunday-best period clothing and brought Christmas past to life for a few hundred tourists. These visitors were put into several tour groups and then followed their guides to different areas on the expansive grounds on the site; they visited the barracks where Civil War soldier reenactors were participating in the same activities their 1860's counterparts would have done a hundred and fifty years ago. From there, the guide then lead them to a home to show what it was like for poor southern families in a battle town during that time, then to another home - set in Fredericksburg, Virginia, to show a house turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers of that battle.
You know, for being in Detroit, our reenactors did a tremendous job in these south-centric scenarios.   
I was part of a group stationed inside a very elegant commander's home, though our scenario wasn't about the commander; it was to show how a well-to-do northern family would have celebrated Christmas Eve.
Our house was as ornate and elegant as any Victorian home I have seen, and we got to call it "home"! 
The parlor of my "sister's" elegant home

My 1862 "family"
There were seven of us that put on this presentation and together we planned out our scenario for the visiting public, something that would be realistic. You see, it's easy to have a bunch of reenactors hanging around in period clothing looking like...well....a bunch of reenactors hanging around in period clothing! But it takes time and effort and a special want to transport themselves - by sight, sound, touch, and action - to a long ago past...to actually be there. And, thus, present a fairly accurate depiction of history. I believe our group was one such group of time-travelers.
(I'm not trying to sound big-headed here. It's just that everything went so well...pert-near perfect!)
Here was our scenario:
Agnes serves my "wife"
Sarah Root was my sister and this was the home of she and her husband, a lumber baron away on business, Nora was our cousin visiting for the holidays, Larissa became my wife, and she & I, with our two children Christina, our eldest daughter, and my for real daughter Rosalia, were in from out of town to spend the holidays with my sister. Also, we had the young lady who portrays our domestic servant at a number of our normal reenactments there and she became my sister's servant at this event. And this young domestic was given by her employer, without choice, a new name - the name of Agnes, for it was felt Agnes would be an easy name to remember. This was a common practice at the time.
Later in the evening, a second domestic was 'hired' on to help Agnes with all of her duties while the rest of us prepared for and enjoyed the Christmas frivolities.

The celebration of Christmas then commenced, and the ladies all pulled the greenery from the trunk, as well as the feather tree, and did a fine job in their decorating, as you can see my "wife" and "daughter" in the photo on the left. Afterward, both of my daughters spent the afternoon crocheting and playing the game of dominoes while my wife and sister took turns entertaining us by playing Christmas carols on the organ, our cousin singing along in a most spirited voice. Though I spent some of our celebrating time by reading aloud from Mr. Dickens' novel "A Christmas Carol," every-so-often I took time out from that wonderful story to read also of the latest news of the War from Harper's Weekly, including the reports from a battle which took place in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
 

As the day turned to night, parlor games were played by all of us and much laughter was heard. One such game involved each participant to make the sound of a barn animal of their own choosing each time said animal was mentioned in a story told by an agreed upon story teller. Such hilarity made a fine Christmas Eve game!

We all enjoyed playing parlor games in the evening

All in all, this was a unique presentation, for the group of 21st century visitors in the tour groups were not allowed to roam throughout the home and speak to the various living historians as they may normally had done at other museums or at reenactments. They, instead, were able to witness, while standing in the doorways of the various rooms, everyday life from the past, as if peering through a portal through time. Upon noticing the tour group in the doorway, a member from our group of living historians would inconspicuously get up from our activity and move over to where the visitors were to speak of how we were celebrating this special holiday in a combination 1st and 3rd person manner.
Here I am, stepping out of the past to speak to the future...
The rest, still in 1862, were oblivious to these apparitions from the future. And then, when our presenter had finished their talk, they re-joined our group and continued as if they had never left.
It was almost an ethereal way for the visitors to peek in and see Christmas Eve 1862 in action while hearing a live narration of the Christmas customs from the time.
Three of us would switch off as presenter.

But it didn't stop there; for the most part, we stayed in our first person mode even while no visitors were about: ringing the bell for Agnes when we needed water or something else, playing our games, singing the carols, reading, and speaking to each other in an 1860's manner.

My two daughters (the one on the right is my actual daughter).
Folks, this Christmas at the Fort event was probably one of the very best of any reenactment I have participated in; top five definitely. And it was for certain number one out of all the living history Christmas events I've done.
Yes, we were there, of this there is no doubt.
That's how good it was.
Christmas 1862
Upon reading the above two scenarios on commemorating Christmas farm and city in 1862, I take pleasure in my assumption that there was not much of a difference in the way we as living historians celebrated in our reenactment as compared to the way our ancestors celebrated.
That's what happens when one researches the minute details in history.
I'm proud...and happy.

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As mentioned earlier on in this post, there were two other houses at Historic Fort Wayne that were open to the public - one showing a home-turned-hospital directly after a battle, and the other depicting a poor southern family. Remember a few minutes ago when I wrote that it took special living historians to transport themselves through time - by sight, sound, touch, and action - to a long ago past...to actually be there, and, thus, present a fairly accurate depiction of history?  Well, here are two other groups that did a wonderful job in bringing the past to life.
As I had little to do with these scenarios, I'll let the photographs tell the story:
This young lady helps a wounded Union soldier while a Confederate lays right next to him. The nurses saw no blue or grey, only men who needed medical help.
A mother tends to her severely wounded son
The ladies tended to these men by day...
...and by night.
A poor southern family who have lost most everything they own tries to make this as good a Christmas as their means will allow
The group depicting a poor southern family after Fredericksburg
It is my hope that more reenactors and living historians take the time and research holidays such as Christmas to show the celebrations our ancestors held so dear.
Oh what fun one can have...
Merry Christmas 1862!




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Friday, December 7, 2012

A Look Back at the WWII Generation


I have visited World War II reenactments here and there and, although I have been to these events before, I've noticed that lately this era of the early 1940's seems to be gaining greater interest amongst visitors as well as reenactors, especially the younger set - those in their twenties.

I think it's great to show (hopefully accurately) another important era in our country's history, which is so important.

And for the reenactors - both soldier and civilian - who portray people from the early '40's, the information directly from those that lived it is right at their fingertips. These reenactors can actually speak to and hear first-hand just what it was like at home and across the ocean straight from the mouths of those who lived it. First hand accounts such as: The first torpedoes hit the Oklahoma with a crump and a boom. One sailor later remembered a phonograph playing the popular song "Let Me Off Uptown."
The battleship's lights went out; emergency lights flickered on, went out, came on again. The big ship started to list. Within twenty minutes it started to roll over.

(From the Time-Life History of World War II)

My father in 1945
My mother and father are/were part of that "Greatest Generation" - that group of people who lived through the Great Depression and WWII. I'm sure that moniker irks some who feel that this generation is not the greatest. But, I have to disagree, for I feel they truly were the epitome of America at its best. Think about it, after the 'high' of the roaring twenties, life came crashing down, literally, for millions. But, for the greater majority of Americans, they persevered, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and working two, three, and even four jobs to eke out a living; my mother told me how her mother, a divorce', would sell apples at night after the kids were put to bed. She also told me of the Christmas present she and her three sisters received one year: two sisters received a baby doll, and the other two received a baby doll carriage. That was it. And now the four girls were forced to play together if they wanted to enjoy their gifts. 
During the anniversary date of Pearl Harbor my mother will tell us where she was when she first heard about the attack (playing jump rope on her front walk). She'll explain the details of how she and her sisters ran throughout the neighborhood to collect tin, rubber, grease, and newspapers for the "war effort." And then the 'home-y' stories of listening to her favorite radio shows, playing games such as 'kick the can,' and working at the local 5 and 10 cent store.

My mother at the end of WWII

Then there is the music she (and my father) used to listen to: Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Kay Kyser, and all the great band leaders, along with their main singers such as the Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Ginny Simms, Johnny Desmond, Peggy Lee, Anita O'Day, and so many others. Music that, because my parents were of the era, I heard almost as often as The Beatles when I was growing up.
One would think that with all of this first-hand information readily available that someone like me - a social and living historian - would be jumping at the chance to participate in such a time-travel opportunity.
Heck, I even live in one of those WWII houses - built in 1944! And with mid-20th century Americana collectibles easily accessible, I could quickly and accurately convert my house to look as it did when it was first built.
Although I dearly love the early 1940's era - the movies, the music, and the patriotism - I have absolutely no interest in recreating that time. I have no interest in 'becoming my parents.'
When you think about it, except for television and music, the year 1967, for instance, was not very far removed from 1944, for many of the same things existed between the two eras: radio, records, movies, style of cooking, the electric light, photography, the nuclear family, plastic, automobiles and all that goes with them: gas stations, traffic jams, buses...also, airplanes, refrigeration of food, bicycles, fans, even some clothing styles...I could go on and on.

All were in existence in very similar forms in both years.

Besides the memories we hear/heard from our parents and/or grandparents, we also have the original movies and newsreels readily available to help us learn of the era in even greater detail. Movies we grew up watching, such as Casablanca, Meet Me In St. Louis, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Citizen Cane, and even Dumbo, are as familiar to us as any modern movie. And, as I mentioned earlier, the houses so many of us lived (and still live in) were built during (or shortly before) the WWII era.
In fact, due to our parent's, aunt's, and uncle's stories, their music, and the classic movies we grew up hearing and watching, those of us who are the children of WWII parents - baby boomers is what they call us, right? - almost feel as if we, too, lived through that era as well, don't we? I mean, it literally surrounded us as children, didn't it? And until the counter-culture revolution of the early 1970's we also held most of the same values and mores of our parent's time as well.
I guess what I am trying to say is that the life I lived growing up in the 1960's and early 1970's was much closer to the 1940's style of living when compared to the 21st century way of life filled with smart phones, home computers, Blue Ray, CD's, DVR, ipads, GPS's, and satellite or cable TV.  All three time periods (1940's, 1960's, and 2012), however, are of the "electric era" - therefore, modern in their own way.
And that's why I have no interest in reenacting the WWII era. It's just too close to my own early life, and I have no interest in reliving that - been there, done that!
Attempting to live in the 1860's, to me, is far more interesting and exciting. To learn how to recreate a world where none of the things mentioned above exists today, save for a few antiquated items, is a pleasurable challenge that I can't seem to get enough of. And the way of life is far enough removed that every time I read a new book about the Civil War era, or speak to one who has studied the era much more extensively than I, or even when I attend a reenactment, a whole new (old) world opens wide for me.

And I love that!
Like I said, I am very glad that we have WWII reenactors and living historians to keep that moment-in-time alive, and I enjoy visiting the WWII reenactments, but that's where my interest ends. I guess I am a true Victorian in my living history sensibilities, and that's where I plan to stay.




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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Journey Through Christmas Past 2012

As you know, I try to replicate the days of old through my reenacting of the Civil War era as often as time will allow. I've been lucky that it's been quite frequently. I also visit historic homes every chance I get, whether in a town setting such as Greenfield Village or a single free standing structure owned by the local historical society.
However, it's at Christmas time that these homes really shine. Especially when the curator has done their research and knows how to decorate authentically.
I thought for today's posting I would show you a few photos that I took of decorated Victorian homes which may help to put you in a Christmas mood. I have made the attempt myself to bring a bit of Christmas past into my own house, and a few of those pictures are here as well.
I'm not going to go into too much depth here into the history of each decoration, but I would like to present a snippet of Christmas past to whet the appetite.
A show and tell of sorts. I hope you enjoy it.

Let's begin with the Crocker House Museum in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, run by Kim Parr. Ms. Parr is well-known locally (and not so locally) for her social history knowledge of the mid-to-late Victorian era. A number of years ago she was the 'house lead' at Greenfield Village's Firestone Farm and also began their mourning program at the Adams House which still runs annually over Memorial Weekend. Kim is now in charge of the Crocker House Museum, an Italianate home built in 1869, where she continuously keeps the house's history at the community forefront by holding historical teas, having guest speakers, and, of course, shows the house as it would have looked 'dressed' in mourning. Christmas, however, brightens the place like no other season. In fact, Kim has each room showing a different Christmas scene:
The 1869 Crocker House in Mt. Clemens, Michigan
From the sitting room with the large tree...
 ...to the parlor with the feather tree.
And the dining room is set for a feast!
 Okay, I don't care for the mannequins either, but try to look beyond that bit of kitsch and notice the beauty of the holiday season in this 140 year old home. Kim and her helpers do a fine job in bringing the ghosts of Christmas past to life at Crocker House.

Next I'd like to bring you to my favorite place of solace, Greenfield Village. Being an internationally known open-air museum - on par with Colonial Williamsburg - you know the curators have done their research, and it shows.
This is the doorway to the 1822 home of Noah Webster and his wife Rebecca
The tasteful light Christmas greenery shows how Rebecca Webster may have decorated her home. Being of a religious nature, the Websters would not have gone to too much an extreme at Christmas time. Of course, during their time, most folks did not go to any great extreme for Christmas. Yes, that's her husband, Noah, in the painting above the mantel.


The front porch of the 1860's Susquehanna House

Here is the fireplace mantel in the parlor of the 1860 Susquehanna Plantation, originally located in Maryland. Christmas can't be far away.
What a magnificent spread of food for the Holiday visitors!
Here is a closer look at the extravagance that a wealthy family can share with their family and friends. 


Welcome to the home of Henry Ford


Welcome to Christmas 1876
Look at all of these wonderful desserts!
The Ford sitting room fireplace mantel is probably my favorite decorative mantel in all of Greenfield Village.



The Eagle Tavern is a fine place to dine on food one would have eaten had they lived in Michigan in 1850. Each dish is prepared according to the season of the year. Notice the snow flurries - helping to give us that Christmas-y feeling!
My daughter wait patiently for her fare.
Our friend, Mrs. Cutcher, studies the menu while deciding what she would like. The Eagle Tavern truly gives one that feeling of being "there" - back in the mid-19th century.

Welcome to the home of the Adams Family (no! Not THAT Adams family!), built in Saline, Michigan in 1833
The ladies of the Adams House prepare for the family coming to celebrate Christmas
What a fine Christmas Tree the Adams set up. During the mid-19th century, decorating the Christmas Tree was also called "Dressing the Tree."

Here we are at Firestone Farm, originally built in 1828 and updated in 1882, all decked out for Christmas!

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care...On a cold December's day, sitting near the hearth of the fireplace is the only place to be!

The Firestone parlor: Can you hear the strains of "Silent Night" coming from the pump organ? It was she was playing when I took this picture. It sounded beautiful. By the way, using the American flag in this manner was not only acceptable but encouraged, for it showed that you were a patriotic citizen of the United States.

A finer Christmas dinner you shan't find elsewhere.
And the dining room table is bedecked with the delectable delights of homemade desserts!

Now we're at the home of the grandparents of Thomas Edison, built in sections beginning in 1833. For Christmas they show the year 1915.
Holiday greenery criss-crosses the sitting room ceiling.
A festive atmosphere reigns in the Edison home. Note the feather tree on the table, still popular after the turn of the 20th century.
Look at the dessert table!!

The 1870's boarding house of Sarah Jordan also celebrates Christmas for her customers who are far from home.
Wait - what's that? Why, it's another feather tree!

Over at the Wright Brother's House, the porch is decorated with roping and people!
And on the inside of the Wright Home, the Christmas Tree is beautifully decorated as it was in ca1903

Let's head to a more rural part of Michigan, out near Jackson in a little area known as Waterloo, where Christmas is held at an 1880's farming complex once owned by the Realy family.
Every year a few of us that do living history will "take over" the farmhouse and bring the past to life for the visitors that tour the home. We'll practice a combination of 1st and 3rd person as the folks walk through and that seems to draw them into our time-travel experience.
Welcome to the 1880 Realy Farm House in Waterloo, Michigan
A peak in the front window shows the Realy's are preparing for Christmas
Here is the inside of the above window scene
Like many homes in the 19th century, a feather tree - made of real goose feathers - adds the perfect Victorian touch.
Here we are, ready to become the ghosts of Christmas past. Note the roping on the door behind.
The front door of a replica 1840's log cabin. Yes, pioneers did what they could to celebrate the Christmas Holiday, even a little greenery on the door.
Inside the cabin, a grand Christmas Tree, no doubt cut from the forest behind, stands ready to greet Santa Claus. It is decorated with whatever ornaments they could make with what little they had. Even dried fruit was used to add color. And the fruit could be eaten come Christmas Day!
Christmas in a log cabin gives as cozy a Christmas look as one could have!

I have always loved the look and feel of the Victorian Christmas and envied not only the historical home curators that were given the opportunity to decorate in such a way, but our ancestors who actually lived 'back then." So I studied their manner and style and tried to replicate it in my own 1944 bungalow. Crazy, huh? Well, I believe I made it work. But, at first it was a more subtle version of higher-end mall decor. Then I began to pay closer attention to what I saw in these historic homes rather than what the stores told me was Victorian.
So I began to find and purchase more period-correct decorations - some replicas and a few originals.
It just takes a little at a time and patience, you know?
So here are a few Christmas photos in my own home:
Here is a close up of our fireplace mantel.
Fruit was a welcome gift at Christmas, and apples, oranges, pears, even pineapples were a big treat for our Victorian ancestors.
Stealing ideas from numerous historical homes is how I came up with our mid-to-late Victorian Christmas decor. Understand, the fire you see in the fireplace is not real. I did a little trickery on this photo and "stole" the fire and firebox from the Firestone Farm fireplace by way of Paint Shop Pro. The fireplace in my house is only an electric heater with no flame and is not the real deal - but it has a fine look to it and keeps our room toasty! Everything else in my photos are as you see them.
For some reason, candles and oil lamps seem to present the perfect Christmas lighting, adding greatly to the whole ambiance of the room. A feather tree tops off the period look.
Here you go! Candle and oil lamp lit!
Speaking of candles...yes, this is our 2012 Christmas Tree and, yes, it is candle lit. We have been lighting the candles on our tree every year for 27 years. Believe me when I say we take all precautions to squelch any danger. Great care is taken that there should be a clear space above each wick, that nothing might catch fire.

Merry Christmas from Independence Hall! No, not really. This is actually a replica of that most important of all historical American buildings standing in Dearborn, Michigan. You are looking at the main entrance way into the Henry Ford Museum, which is adjacent to Greenfield Village. Henry Ford built it to exact original specs. Pretty amazing, huh? And, yes, it is decorated for Christmas...
The decor is very colonial in nature on the Independence Hall replica facade.
A Christmas greens lot is set up outside the museum front. As you can see, all is very traditional to a Victorian style greenery while the building behind retains its colonial spirit.
The Village staff have done a fine job to help those that would like to decorate their own home in a Victorian manner

I hope you enjoyed this little journey through Christmas Past. I have been very bless'd to have a wife who shares my historical passions and allows me to not only visit the past (and joins me while doing so!), but to bring it to our own home.
And if I gave you any ideas on decorating your home in a period style, well, then my little plan worked!





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