Friday, January 11, 2019

A Civil War-Era Christmas Party for the 2018 Season (Celebrating Christmas in the Past Part 3)

Yes, yes, I know that Christmas Day has been over for a few weeks now. But the actual season itself ended very recently: 12th Night and Epiphany (January 5th & 6th), only a week ago as of this writing, signaled the end of it all. So Christmas 2018 is past, 12th Night was the last. And now it is time to take a gander at the final historical holiday celebration for this season

You know, methinks Christmas may have something to do with my passion for the past...for fueling the flame in my love for history. Especially growing up watching the different versions of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" every year on TV, which ultimately helped to put a bug in me to recreate Christmas past. But at such a young age I had no idea how to do something along those lines. The idea, however, of having guests dressed in the Victorian clothing of Dickens' time celebrating the events of December 25th simply enthralled me.
It took two things - the Holly Dickens Festival and then Civil War reenacting - to help me bring this wonderful idea to fruition.
Victorian England came to, er,
life before my eyes at the
Dickens Festival.
It was on this past Christmas Day that I watched "The Man Who Invented Christmas" - the 2017 movie based around how Charles Dickens came to write his wonderful book, "A Christmas Carol." Of course, we know that Mr. Dickens didn't necessarily invent Christmas, as the title suggests, for, as I show HERE, this holiday was celebrated for decades and centuries before. However, I will give him the credit of revitalizing it -  giving the holiday the fire needed to become the celebration it has grown into today.
So it was while I was watching this movie that something in my memory banks was triggered that brought me back to my youth, to a time in my life when Victorian England would surround me with each watching or reading of the Dickens story, and my want to being a part of that time would sometimes just engulf me. And the part that made me revert back strongest was when Mr. Dickens read a portion of what he had written to one of the servant girls in his home:
Tara the servant girl: "How do you do that, sir?"
Charles Dickens: "Do what?"
Tara: "Make a world come alive. I could almost see and hear them people."
And as a living historian, that's what it's all about. Making a world of another time come alive.
In my case, the world of Christmas past.
This recent holiday season I not only celebrated Christmas with my extended family (siblings, nephews & nieces, etc) on December 22nd, as well as with my family (wife, kids, grandkids, etc) on December 25th & 26th, but also:
~with my 1860s reenacting family on December 1st
~with my colonial living history group on December 29th
Please understand, each of the historical period-dress celebrations were real - we were not pretending. Yes, and because of our period clothing and our immersive surroundings, the festive ways in which we celebrated Christmas past were real.
Yet Christmas past still wasn't over; we still had one more to go, on January 5th (12th Night), with the Civil War reenacting group I belong to, the 21st Michigan.
So, we, once again, utilized our senses to help make the past come to life, and here is a collection of pictures taken that evening, showing how our final period Christmas festivity went.
First let us use our sense of sight by way of our surroundings to launch us back in time.
Our Christmas parties are unlike nearly every one in our area, for we insist on wearing period clothing and hold it in an 1872 school house to help give it the right atmosphere, thus, utilizing the sense of sight as well as the echo-y sound.

Your hosts with the mosts.
I first put this party together back in 2005, 

and it's been going strong ever since. 
Of course, it helps that so many in our unit also enjoy participating in it.
And just this Christmas season, I put together the same for my colonial living history group (click HERE)

A few of the ladies of the 21st Michigan.
I believe I work with some of the finest reenacting talent around, for we can be serious and create immersion scenarios, or we can sometimes just let loose 
and enjoy ourselves...

...such as when Beckie and Larissa show off a couple of white elephant gifts they received...

...especially when Larissa opened up her
favorite campy 1980s mini-series, "North & South."

The sounds of the past enhanced the visuals greatly:
Period music sets the tone every year. And Pearl Jones,
along with her musical friends and students, do a wonderful
job at utilizing our sense of hearing to bring us back to 1863.

Ian also gave us a treat by performing on the bagpipes. 
He played "O Come All Ye Faithful" beautifully.

And with the fiddlers playing, we were able to
dance a reel and a waltz.

The reel we did was the Virginia Reel, a favorite
among the 21st Michigan members

Another favorite was the Spanish Waltz. The Lynch's
helped us to remember the steps to this beautiful dance.

Both dances were greatly enjoyed by all who participated.
It was such an enjoyable time. And, I must admit, it was a great opportunity to let loose a bit.
Please understand, the 21st Michigan Christmas party is not a full-immersion gathering like our Christmas at the Fort reenactment, and it is definitely not a 1st person affair, for conversations of all kinds abound, whether it's on movies, reenacting, current events, and, yes, even history. And when Beckie and I got together to dance, well, I must admit, shenanigans overcame us, and so did a bit of goofiness!
Hey! We're allowed, right?
In fact, I was honored when Jim Lynch mentioned that they felt this was probably as close to a period-correct party as one could get in our modern age. As for the goofiness, he replied that people had goofy fun in the 1860s, too.

After the party at the school house ended, I had my annual afterglow. It's unfortunate that I can't invite everyone, for my home is not very large, but a goodly amount of friends came. Since I have a room in my home that is decorated largely in a mid-to-later 19th century manner, it is always nice to have it filled with period-dressed people.
Especially at Christmas time.
Lighted candles, decor' of a time long past, and even a feather tree (which is more suitable to the late 19th and early 20th century) helps to make a dream of mine come true for me.
Well...except for Beckie, who did a quick 'modern' change!

Here I am, dressed in my 1860s finest while sitting upon a sofa from the 1850s at Christmas time with friend, 21st member, and fiddle player Pearl next to me. 
Like I said, my long-ago dream of having a period party now comes true, annually.
In the Civil War reenacting world, I am blessed, for I have found the greatest group of people who love to bring the past back in such ways not found elsewhere in my area. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that I can be a part of Christmas past and "make a world come alive." For during the short time of our gathering, I have become, along with my other living historian friends, a part of a past that an outsider "could almost see and hear."
Thank you to all who make it possible.

So, may I be the last one for this season to wish you a Merry Christmas!
And a Happy New Year!

Until next time, see you in time.

~   ~   ~

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