Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ghosts of Christmas Past 2014

"He was conscious of a thousand odors floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten."

I used to work at a record store many years ago. In fact, that was my occupation for nearly twenty years. Though our customers ranged in age from tiny tots through pretty darn old, most were in their teens through early thirties and their tastes would tend to run the gamut of classic rock to hard rock to harder rock to metal to death metal to industrial to punk rock to rap to alternative.
You get the picture - some pretty aggressive music for the most part.
But something funny seemed to occur at Christmas time; those who usually purchased music from the likes of such groups as Sonic Youth, Iron Maiden, Public Enemy, and Metallica were now buying Ray Conniff, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, and Nat King Cole Christmas CDs.
For themselves.
Oh yeah, there were many rock-oriented Christmas music CDs available, and they sold pretty okay, but the majority of the customers wanted the traditional carols to help celebrate their holiday.
Just like the ones they used to know, you know?
The way I understood it then and still feel now is that it doesn't matter who you are, where you live, your age, or musical taste...when it comes to Christmas, the greater majority of us like the traditions we had in our youth, including the music.
And I believe that's why Charles Dickens' novel "A Christmas Carol" is still the most popular tale of the season. Top hats and bonnets evoke memories of Christmas past, even though the age of top hats and bonnets took place a century before we were born!
So how can our memories be of times long past, from even before our grandparent's times in some cases?
Because, as I wrote HERE, "Nostalgia is portable," meaning it is possible to feel a sentimental attachment to a time period one did not personally live through.
And that fits Christmas to a "T."
Listen to the sentimental lyrics of Christmas music. Songs like White Christmas, Sleigh Ride, I'll Be Home For Christmas, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,  Christmas at our House, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (among many others) bring a sense of longing that never really was.
But the longing is there, isn't it?
Yes, it's been for me, too.
My entire life.
And for the last, oh, maybe 17 years or so this Christmas past desire has become a reality for me.
It began back in the 1990s when I first started participating in the Dickens Festival held up in Holly (Michigan).
The Dickens Festival was just that: a festival held out doors where folks dressed in costumes representing the idyllic version of an old London Christmas as Dickens described. It was fun and that's what gave me the bug to wear real period clothing (not costumes) and search out reenacting.
Plus, hey! it was A Christmas Carol come to life! Top hats and bonnets! It's old Fezziwig alive again!
But it just wasn't enough. I wanted more. I didn't want costumes and silliness.
I wanted the real thing.
As regular readers of Passion for the Past probably already know, for the last half dozen years I've played a major role in bringing Christmas past to life in a much more authentic and realistic manner.
(Read All You Have To Do Is Ask to see how this all came about). 
And now the 19th century Christmas celebrations continue on, and have truly become just like the ones I used to know...in a very real sense.
And so now, what I have here for your seasonal enjoyment are photos and even a couple of video clips of our latest time-travel Christmas Eve activity, showing our celebration that took place this year of 1864:
Christmas at Historic Fort Wayne 2014 was a bit different for me. Larissa, who normally portrays my reenacting wife, could not take part this year; she and her real-life husband welcomed their second child only a few weeks earlier and, very understandably, could not participate. Since our scenario here requires for me to have a wife, my good friend, Kim, stepped up to the plate and became my misses (and did a fine job indeed!). Kristen (you know her from the Victorian Needle blog), continues to portray my daughter and does a wonderful job in her role.

Kristen has been my reenacting daughter for something like three or four years now, and she & I have our roles down pretty well. Here she is showing off her new Christmas dress, made from fabric sent to her by her dear auntie and uncle, who own a big city mercantile.

Here is my reenacting sister and her husband. The young lady standing behind is another living history friend who willingly took on the role of their daughter, Laura.

Harper's Weekly keeps us informed on the latest news from the war front as well as having wonderful stories of the season.

My wife and I found it strange to have servants at our beck and call. This is quite different than life on our farm!

The front parlor was buzzing with excitement and activity.

"Oh, dear aunt! Look at the latest style of dress! Do you think my Father would approve?"

My daughter is dressing her aunt's feather tree.

While Christina dresses the tree, the lovely voices of my wife and niece blended beautifully as they sang carols in keeping with the festive Christmas Eve situation. Click to hear Christmas 1864 come to life:

"Cousin, you forgot the cranberry garland! We'll have to remove the ornaments and re-dress the tree!"

"Thank you for helping me, Aunt Kim!"

Dressing the feather tree became a family affair.

Next the two cousins gave the fireplace mantle a festive look.

Here we see Christina and Laura decorating the banister.

Girls! You are showing quite unladylike behavior, and on Christmas Eve!

The two servant girls, Agnes and Candace, set a beautiful table in the dining room.
Here we see Agnes completing the preparations.

Our family enjoyed such a Christmas feast!

Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry jelly, breads, cheese, sausage, preserves, and vegetables. Yes, we really had all of this as part of our dinner here. And that's not even counting the desserts of pies and cakes!

Once our dinner was done, the servants cleaned everything up and were able to enjoy their own feast. In the kitchen, though - not in the dining room.

Remember what I wrote at the beginning of this posting?
"He was conscious of a thousand odors floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten."
This little quote, from "A Christmas Carol" during the scene where Scrooge first enters the past, just about says it all for anyone with an ounce of nostalgia in them.
Or for anyone who understands and studies social history and may practice living history, for it was true for me on this day.


What you have just seen took place on December 6, 2014, at the ever-growing "Christmas at the Fort" event located at historic Fort Wayne in Detroit. I thank all involved for allowing me to set up the scenario that you see here. I would especially like to thank Tom Berlucchi of the Fort Wayne Coalition for his trust in me and my fellow living historians. Can't wait til next year!



Historical Ken said...

Facebook Comment from Fred:
Ken...this was magnificent!! I am teary-eyed watching those videos. What a marvelous portrayal. I am so proud to know you guys.

Stephanie Ann said...

The photos are awesome. I love the feather tree and all of the decorations. I must be the only person who really doesn't like Christmas music.

newrivergraphics said...

Thanks for bring history back to life. Enjoy all of your photos. -Gary M. Wilcox, publisher of HistoryInLivingColor.wordpress.com