I heard the bells on Christmas Day,
their old familiar carols play...
their old familiar carols play...
|Going home for Christmas...|
|Elizabeth and I in our dining room.|
And, for the past eight years, I've been experiencing first-hand the kind of old-fashioned Christmas I used to dream about - Christmas in the mid-19th century.
|Christina, our daughter, poses for her |
annual Christmas Eve tin type.
We keep it real.
Are we perfect?
No, not by any means.
But, we do our very best to continue improving ourselves on this time-travel journey and attempt to become more 'natural' each time.
What has really gives us satisfacrion is when we're told that we do a very realistic job in re-creating a Victorian household.
Yeah...that makes us smile. Ha! After all, in our minds it is 1861 - - - -
I am very honored and humbled to have found living historians - people I consider to also be my close friends - who are so willing to immerse themselves in the past and bring it to life in such a manner as we do, as well as have an actual historic setting at Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit, and I thank God for bringing us all together for this amazing adventure through time.
|My 1860s family|
All of this in a one or two day period.
This is what we replicate at Christmas at the Fort.
|The conversations, for most of our time, centered on the themes of any home and family of the 1860s.|
Our moment in time was documented, as were other historic "Fort" Christmas experiences, and I'd like to present here what occurred that day at Historic Fort Wayne.
So, are you ready for an 1861 Christmas celebration?
Well, then, away we go - - - !
|Today is the day before Christmas and Elizabeth and I are preparing to entertain family and friends, so the house must shine for our guests. Candace, our domestic servant, does such a fine job in her duties!|
|Typical of the houses with domestics, off the kitchen was a|
"hidden" staircase leading to and from the servant's quarters
|Candace, was pleased with the room we provided for her, though she missed her beloved husband.|
|The servant staircase looking down.|
|My "sister" and "mother-in-law" look over a memory|
book of tin types taken of family no longer with us.
|Even with heating stoves, there was still a chill in the air.|
The history of Feather Trees being used at Christmas is really just one ornament in the continuing Christmas celebration at large. Feather trees became a matter of necessity in 19th century Germany. Christmas trees had been a tradition in Germany for hundreds of years, but de-forestation was becoming a problem and a new type of tree was needed and the feather tree was the solution to the problem.
|Decorating the feather tree is always a highlight of the day.|
|The ladies certainly did a fine job decorating|
our feather tree!
Tops of trees were cut off for the annual event which left the trees unable to grow and of no use for the timber industry.
The need for another form of tree was necessary. From this necessity, the feather tree was fashioned.
Goose, turkey, and swan feathers were a plentiful commodity on the farms and easily transformed into Christmas trees. Feathers were dyed green and wired to wooden sticks and then drilled into a dowel into the shape of a typical white pine German tree. Artificial red berries were attached onto the ends of some branches and wire candle holders adorned others. The branches were placed some distance apart so ornaments were easily hung and admired and lit candles would not burn other branches. Both round and square bases were used to secure the trees and early trees were all table-top size. Not until Americans really start to decorate was it common for trees to be placed on the floor.
The American market was first introduced to feather trees by German immigrants in Pennsylvania and Texas. These immigrants brought their trees and traditions across the oceans and opened up a much larger scale of Christmas celebrations here in America. In the later 1800’s the Woolworth Company started to import decorations and feather trees to the US market.
Today original feather trees are again popular to collect as their unique and historic value is appreciated.(The above information about feather trees came from THIS site)
|While the ladies put the baubles upon the tree, Violet |
played "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" on the organ.
He looked at me but gave no response.
"You are hearing history. You are hearing something that would have been heard in many of the more well-to-do houses of the era - maybe even this very house we are in right now - and this is what you would have heard. Can you just imagine if these walls could talk the stories they could tell?"
He listened, and then he and his parents all gave me a big smile.
I continued, "History is more than what you read in books; to bring the past to life you must use all of your senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. And right now you are using sight and sound."
They loved it!
|We also read Christmas stories aloud to each other. Of course, for us it was Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol." This was the most popular Christmas tale of the time and was read in many a home on Christmas Eve, just like you see here.|
Being that this was "Christmas at the Fort," it wasn't just about those of us in the '1860s house.'
Please allow me to give you a brief overview of some of the other stops and scenarios on the visitors tour of Christmas Past at this historic location, for Elizabeth and I took a few minutes to try and catch a glimpse of the others who were participating here.
|Elizabeth freshens up upon returning from a visit.|
The thing I like best about Historic Fort Wayne is that the local Detroit area military units during the Civil War (and all wars following up through Viet Nam) all came through here before being shipped off to far away lands to fight.
It is a true Civil War & military gem right here in Detroit, and my hat is off to the Fort Wayne Coalition for all they do to keep it alive and vibrant.
|A former plantation owner awaits his fate as the War begins to takes its toll on the south.|
I am disappointed that I did not take any photos inside this house, but we saw tour groups a-comin' and we had to skeedaddle back to our own house.
And what would a Christmas celebration be without food? Food has been a staple of this holiday since time immemorial, and naturally we continued this tradition.
Have you ever had a fine meal inside a historic home dining room while in period-correct clothing?
If so, then you know it is quite an experience, especially at Christmas time.
|We had a very nice spread for our Christmas Eve dinner, including slices of turkey, cranberries, fruits and vegetables, crackers, and pickles.|
Candace served us very well. I believe we shall raise her salary next year!
|Grace before mealtime. Always give thanks to God for His generous bounty.|
|For dessert we had pumpkin pie and freshly made whipped cream.|
|To some it may seem offensive to have Candace eating alone in the kitchen, but as our servant this was her place to dine.|
|After our meal, Elizabeth surprised us all with small tokens for Christmas. How very thoughtful and kind...|
It is a rarity to be able to see what a bedroom was like after the sun went down while the darkness of evening covered the land in the pre-electric days, for most historic homes are either closed up by nightfall or they do not allow visitors on the 2nd floor without some sort of modern lighting to guide their way. Kristen/Christina wanted that opportunity, so she and I went upstairs and took numerous photographs of her in room lit by a candle.
|The image here makes me think of a melancholy young lady, spending some quiet time in her room, maybe thinking about her betrothed off fighting in the War|
|For those of us used to electric lighting, we don't really consider how truly dark it was in the world of our ancestors.|
Being that we were representing a northern family of the Civil War era, it was only fitting that we were lucky enough to spend some time with the nation's President, Abraham Lincoln.
Because of the many Christmas's I have celebrated in this way, I suppose now I can honestly say "just like the ones I used to know" - - - in a strange sort of way.
You know what would be fun to do sometime?
A colonial Christmas.
Yeah...that would be interesting to try...
In the meantime - - - - - - believe me when I say if you can find a group of living historians that have the same passions in bringing the past to life in such a way as virtually experiencing another time and place, grab the opportunity with both hands! Create a journey to the past like no one else can.
And not just during the holiday season.
Have a very Merry Christmas, no matter what era in which you celebrate. And if you are in the Detroit area during the first Saturday in December, you should make an effort to come on out ti Historic Fort Wayne. It's an amazing event.
Until next time, see you in time.
As always, here are a few links for you to peruse if you have further interest in this subject:
A Journey Through a Victorian Christmas in Pictures: HERE
A Colonial Christmas: HERE
To learn more about events at Historic Fort Wayne, click HERE