Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Celebrating Christmas & New Year's Past at Greenfield Village 2020

Christmas celebrations usually continue in my household until mid-January.
And why not?  We enjoy the holiday and,  with January such a dull gray month,  it adds a bit of brightness.  With 2020 being the year that it was,  brightness is welcome.
So there will be one more Christmas posting---coming up next week.


Welcome to Christmas Past...
As a kid I always looked forward to watching one of the myriad of filmed versions of  Charles Dickens  "A Christmas Carol"  on TV.   In those days before DVDs and VHSs we had no choice but to wait and watch whatever the TV stations scheduled.
No matter,  because whichever version they showed I watched intently,  and fully engulfed myself in the story,  for top hats & bonnets,  horses & carriages,  and candles & oils lamps epitomized the kind of Christmas I sorely wanted to be a part of.  I didn't necessarily dream of a white Christmas as much as I dreamed of finding myself in those earlier Victorian days,  moving about the gas-lit brick or cobblestone streets and hearing carolers or even a loan fiddler performing  "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen"  or  "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"  echoing somewhere in the distance.
That  was what I was dreaming about.
But when one was a teenager back in the 1970s,  it was just that - a dream.
When I met the girl who would one day become my wife,  I told her of this Christmas fantasy I had.  Believe it or not,  she loved  my idea.  We just didn't know how to make it a reality.
It was during the Holiday Season of 1983 when I began making my first attempt to experience an old-time Christmas by taking my date to Greenfield Village for their evening program,  which at that time consisted of a horse & carriage  ride out to the 1831 Eagle Tavern  (presented as 1850),  being greeted by top hat-and-bonnet-wearing presenters,  dining on a scrumptious repast of cornish hen,  vegetables,  desserts,  & hot cider on candle lit  tables,  and enjoying period carols  as performed by a string band.  Then,  when it had all ended,  we walked along a lantern-lit  pathway back to the village gatehouse  (now the ticket building).  The current Holiday Nights event was not even a glimmer in the eye of Greenfield Village at that time.  In fact,  aside from the Tavern festivities and the lantern walk back,  there was no other nighttime Christmas function there whatsoever  (though they did have their daytime Christmas activities back then).
But that night's evening program was enough to fill us with the old-time Christmas spirit like we'd not felt before.  My dream of celebrating this festive time of the year,  in the way I desperately wanted to do,  was finally coming to pass,  and this magical night at Greenfield Village's Eagle Tavern was the initial catalyst of all of my old-time Christmas's yet-to-come.  And here in the 21st century my wife and I not only continue to visit Greenfield Village during the holidays,  which has become a tradition for us,  but,  having been a living historian for nearly 20 years,  I have been able to fulfill  my dream of  not only witnessing,  but participating in Christmas past...
Greenfield Village has over 300 years of history,  and each century is represented.
The early 20th century comes to life as we move past an 1870s farmhouse.

The hustle and bustle of the early 1900s is all around. 
City sidewalks,  busy sidewalks...
Photograph courtesy of Kristin Wells Browning

Holiday Nights is truly like a living picture print by Currier and Ives.
Photograph courtesy of Kristin Wells Browning

Over by the courthouse,  they're starting to unwind...
The Logan County Courthouse from 1840 where
Abraham Lincoln once practiced law.

Photo courtesy of  Kristin Wells Browning

At one end of the Village we see the Liberty Craftworks area where visitors can watch 
as talented artisans weave on 18th & 19th century looms,  work pottery into plates
and mugs,  and create amazing works of art through glass blowing.

Photo courtesy of  Kristin Wells Browning

Continuing on to the far end of the Village,  we come to the section known as Porches & Parlors,  where the houses of the past sit stately in a row.  Our first stop was to the home of John Giddings,  built in the mid-18th century in New Hampshire.
Chocolate was initially a treat for the wealthy,  but soon was available to the every man.
By the early 1770s,  the demand for chocolate in the colonies resulted in the importation of over 320 tons of cocoa beans,  which made drinking chocolate affordable to all classes of people and was available in most coffee houses,  where colonists would gather to talk about politics and the news of the day.
However,  if one had the means,  such as a man of the stature of shipping merchant John Giddings,  one could have afforded to hire a chocolateer,  who would make it right there in the kitchen to impress and entertain the guests for a party…perhaps a New Year’s gathering.

I always have to make a visit to the rural farming home of Samuel and Anna Daggett,  built around the same time as the more urban Giddings.  
The horse and carriage moves past the silhouette of the Daggett house.

The night we were at the Village,  December 28,  was just one day before the moon turned precisely full.  
In other words,  it was a full moon to the naked human eye.  
Photographer Ed Davis saw a beautiful opportunity,  as you can see in his picture below:
I have been wearing my period clothing to Greenfield Village for nearly 20 years,  and I never tire of it.  And since wearing such clothing in the evening there is especially rare,  I enjoy the different aspects the darkness can add to the overall scene,  as you can see one example of what I mean in the following picture:

The 18th century lives...

My camera does not always grab the light like I'd hope it sometimes would.  However,  for many photos,  such as this one,  it's quite alright,  for it amply shows the naturalness of the nighttime in a colonial home.
 I took this picture from the side window of the Daggett Great Hall as presenter Gigi spoke to visitors through the front window.
Due to a rise in covid cases,  no one was allowed inside the houses this year but
could look through the windows instead.

This is the Cotswold Cottage,  which was originally built in England around 1620.
I believe it is the oldest of any structure inside Greenfield Village.

Inside Cotswold Cottage we see American soldiers during WWII who are set up to
celebrate the Christmas holiday while stationed in England.
Growing up with WWII parents,  I personally remember the artifacts the WWII reenactors had set out,  for many of these objects were still around in the 1960s when I was a tiny tot.
Photograph courtesy of Emily Marchetti Photography

The Susquehanna Plantation,  representing the year 1860,   gave off an interesting appearance from the side.
In the kitchen,  a wonderful actress named  Madelyn Porter portrayed a slave who went by the name  (I believe)  Camilla.   Ms.  Porter's portrayal so touches the heart and soul of her audience like nothing else - not even protests - can do.  It is unfortunate that the picture I took of Madelyn did not turn out,  so I have a photo that I took last year here:

And directly below is her telling of her life as Camilla:

Unfortunately,  the door to the early 18th century Plympton House was locked,  but that didn't prevent me from getting a couple of pretty cool pictures.
Every picture tells a story...and if there was a story to tell in this picture,  it would
probably be of me preparing to leave to celebrate New Year's Eve.

Though there were plenty of illuminations about,  it was still a dark evening in December.  I always enjoy when my camera can capture the realness of the nighttime.

A warming fire was blazing near the 1780 McGuffey Cabin - - - 
It was not bitter cold on this evening,  but there was a slight breeze that made it feel much colder than it was.  My wife asked me numerous times if I was cold wearing my colonial clothing and wool cloak,  and I always responded the same:  I'm fine.  My historic clothing I wore on this night - knee breeches,  shirt,  waistcoat,  coat,  and knee stockings -  were mostly wool or cotton,  and my cloak was a thick wool,  so I was pretty toasty. feat inside the leather buckle shoes,  did get a mite cold. 
Patty,  on the other hand,  with her modern coat and clothing,  had a harder time
staying warm.  She should have dressed period...
That all being said,  since we were not allowed to enter the buildings with the
roaring fires in the hearth,  the various bonfires throughout were a welcome sight.

Because guests were not allowed inside the historic buildings,  due to covid,  our stay was not quite as long as usual,  and I did not take nearly as many photographs as I usually do  (many thanks to the photographers who allowed me to use a few of their pictures!),  though it was still a very fine visit indeed,  so I am not complaining.
Alas,  however,  I had to take my leave of Greenfield Village on that December evening... 
My journey home...
It will be my last visit until  (God willing)  April. 

So---my Christmas-past celebrations continue on.  I have yet to celebrate Christmas with some of my 1860s reenacting friends this season;  yes,  that is still on the horizon for a few of us since all of our Christmas reenactments had been cancelled for 2020.
Oh,  but I have a few other time-travel experiences planned for the near future as well.
I must say,  considering how it all could have turned out for 2020,  I have a deep appreciation for the Greenfield Village decision makers deciding to keep the Village open,  not just for Holiday Nights,  but open in general during this virus-filled year.
As for the future:  I gotta feeling '21 is gonna be a good year...
(By the way,  before you get on me about not wearing a mask---I was...except for the picture poses)

Until next time,  see you in time.

To learn how Christmas was celebrated in Colonial times,  click HERE
To learn how New Year's was celebrated in Colonial times,  click HERE
Ten years of Christmas reenacting - colonial and Victorian - click HERE

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Jules said...

Oh my gosh! I haven't been to Greenfield Village since we took a class trip in the early 1980s. Thank you for a trip down memory lane. Although I am sure it has grown since then. I recognized Cotswold Cottage. Someday I will have to get back there (the historian in me is dying to visit again, lol). I haven't been back home since 2016, so hopefully, I can get back soon.

I'm sure you have, but do you visit the River Rouge site? I want to go there someday too.

Unknown said...

A Christmas Carol is such an amazing book. And what's truly amazing is that it is so simple compared to Dickens other works, where the writing is so incredibly sophisticated and extensive that it's somewhat hard to understand. That tells you how insanely skilled Dickens was at writing, because A Christmas Carol was meant to be a light hearted story for the family.
I love Christmas. It is a great part of our heritage. God Bless