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.

~   ~   ~

Thursday, January 3, 2019

My 2018 Celebration of Christmas Past (Part 2): The 1770s

You will note that the title of this posting says "part 2." That's because "part 1" of my Christmas Past celebrations took place back on December 1st (click HERE if you would like to see how that went), and you will read about "part 3" in the next posting.
Today's blog is actually a 'two-part-er': the first part brings you along with us on our visit to the Holiday Nights event at Greenfield Village, and the second centers on something I've been wanting to do for a few years - have a 1770s-era Christmas party.
And you are invited to join us on both time-travel excursions.
Of course, there is always a history lesson to be learned...

A few years back I wrote about how colonials celebrated Christmas (click HERE), dispensing the myths that our 18th century ancestors absolutely did not celebrate the holiday, and I did this by way of primary sources, proving quite the opposite to be true: a very large populace of the colonies truly did celebrate, and quite heartily at that!
And they also celebrated New Year's as well (click HERE).
Well, in today's posts you will see how a few of us living historians of the 18th century enjoyed the holiday season by way of our own form of time-travel, including the 1st annual Citizens of the American Colonies Christmas party.
But first, come with me as we travel to Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village, where we can spend time amidst buildings from the era of our founding generation:

So, two days following Christmas, my son, his girlfriend, and myself visited the Holiday Nights event at historic Greenfield Village. Holiday Nights is unlike any other Christmastide celebration you've ever experienced. It's here where guests can visit nearly 200 years of holiday history, from the 1760s all the way through the 1940s.'s pretty amazing.
However, with the three of us dressed in our 1760s/1770s clothing, our first stop was to visit the Giddings House, originally built around 1750 by shipping merchant John Giddings.
Here I am being greeted at the door of this wonderful representation of an 
upper middle class colonial home.
During Greenfield Village's Holiday Nights events, the Giddings House 

is presented as preparing for a New Year's Eve gathering of friends.
(I wrote a posting about 18th century New Year's celebrations HERE)

Even though we, as living historians, know and continuously research our history, we can always learn more from the presenters, and they from us. All adds to a 
more well-rounded understanding of history.
We enjoyed hearing presenter Kendra tell us of the food served during the New Year's Eve party that was about to commence.
By the way, the Giddings Home was quite a bit darker than the 

picture above taken with a flash shows:
This one is a bit more accurate - - - more of a dull light with dark shadows.
Because Mr. Giddings had wealth, he could afford to burn more candles than the average 18th century homeowner.

Inside the Giddings House kitchen we find
the chocolateers working their craft and
making a hot chocolate drink in the same
manner as was done in the 18th century.
My friend and historic presenter, Roy, here, whose knowledge in history is remarkable, shows and teaches about making 18th century chocolate:
Roy is grinding raw or roasted and shelled cacao seeds (called beans) on a warm lava stone called a Metate stone. 
A metate, also known as a mealing stone, is a type of quern - a ground stone tool used for processing grain and seeds and, in this case, the cacao seeds for chocolate making, an art he has mastered quite well.
The grinding changes the crystalline structure of the seed which has to be done so it will melt into what is called a chocolate liquor. That liquor is put into a form or tin which then solidifies into a solid chocolate mass that then will be grated into powder which is then added to hot water after it had been boiled to make it safe to consume. The hot water and chocolate powder was made frothy by mixing it in a chocolate pot with a stick called a dasher.
Some of the ingredients for making chocolate:
the large white cone is a sugar cone, while the tool laying next to it is called
a sugar nipper (to "nip" off the bits of sugar needed). 

The three spices seen here are cinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne. 
Oh, and one of those small bowls has sugar in it.
On the small wooden plate left center are the shelled cacao seeds. 
By the way, during fall harvest, chocolateer Roy also shows the colonial way to brew beer. 
You can see that process HERE.

Thank you, Roy, Kendra, and everyone at Giddings for being such welcoming hosts!
We left the Giddings place to visit what is my favorite structure inside Greenfield Village, the Daggett saltbox/breakback House:
This picture was taken last year when we were lucky enough to have a bit of snow on the ground. We had no such luck this year...
But this beautifully ominous structure built back in the mid-18th century by 
Samuel Daggett just wreaks of the good old colony days, does it not? 

Just as in the Giddings images earlier, it was actually much darker inside the Daggett Home than this top picture shows (as you can see in the photo below):
Contrary to popular myth, activities such as reading, writing (either in diaries or letters), mending, any paperwork for business transactions (bartering/selling), and doing necessary textile chores by hearth and candlelight actually was the way of the 18th century world during the evening hours. They did not go down when the sun went down (except maybe in the summertime when the sun set much later).
I plan to do a posting soon on night time activities for those who lived in the pre-electric era.
I was able to capture a more accurate candle light image in this photograph. Sometimes my camera works very well with such lighting (or lack thereof), while other times - most times - it does only so-so.
Anna Daggett, by the way, would never have used so many candles at once; 

numerous are, understandably, lit here mainly for the safety of the guests.

Bonfires placed sporadically around the Village
were a fine reprieve from the night's dampness
and slightly above freezing temperature. 

The old school house you see in the background 
was made of logs originally from an
18th century barn in western Pennsylvania.

I am standing in the doorway of the William Holmes McGuffey Birthplace - the man who wrote the McGuffey Eclectic Reader series for school children of the 19th century. The cabin was originally erected around 1780 on the frontier of western Pennsylvania, in the same area from which the logs in the previous picture came.
We did visit most of the other wonderful buildings all decked out in their period glory for the Christmastide, and enjoyed ourselves immensely (as always). I highly recommend for you to give Holiday Nights a go, should you be in the Dearborn, Michigan area around the time of Christmas. I do attend this extravaganza annually, and have since the event's inception.

It was a few years ago, after writing my posting on Christmas in colonial times, that the idea of having a party of that nature first came to me: to have a period Christmas gathering with correct clothing, food, and, most of all, attitude was very enticing to me.
So, after thinking about it and talking about it, I finally tried my hand at hosting one. I purposely kept the number of guests invited low, for I just wanted to get my feet wet (so to speak) to see how it would be. I only invited active members of my "Citizens of the American Colonies" living history group - those civilians who attended reenactments under our "Citizens" name this past year - as well as s few members of our military partners, the Michigan version of the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment.
Methinks it turned out pretty darn good for a first year.
Although it was patriot-oriented, a few loyalists came as well - - there were no riots (lol).
A group image of the celebrants
The party was held in the same 1872 school house that the Civil War reenacting group I belong to also uses. In Michigan, an actual 18th century building that one can use for such a gathering is pretty much impossible, for there are, I believe, only four structures from that time period here, and three of them are up on Mackinac Island. The fourth one is in Monroe County, not too far from where I live. There are also the relocated structures now inside Greenfield Village. But all are inaccessible for a private party. So we work with what we have, and the old school house in my hometown works very well indeed.
And this is how the room looked. I brought in a variety of lanterns and candle holders from my own collection to sit upon the tables, as well as a few extra replicated period accessories to add to the ambience.
Oh! To have been able to use period-correct furniture!
But we worked with what we had.

I hired a fiddler to perform period-correct
Christmas tunes, and she certainly did! We
heard t
he Wexford Carol, the Gloucestershire 
Wassail, Joy to the World, Greensleeves, 
the Holly and the Ivy, Bring a Torch 
Jeannette Isabella, and many other carols 
correct to "our" time.
It set the tone to the party perfectly.

Click to see a short clip

Dr. Benjamin Franklin joined us for the affair. He
seemed to enjoy himself, for he wrote in his 

Poor Richard's Almanack:
"If you wou'd have Guests merry with your Cheer,
Be so yourself or so at least appear."

I met my living history friend, Susan, years ago at a Civil War reenactment. I asked her recently about how she got into history and reenacting. She replied by telling me that she was a seamstress in her younger days while growing up on a farm in mid-Michigan, where they raised rabbits. Some of her mother's friends were "getting into angora bunnies which are a fiber breed."  Before long, her mother and her friends "bought a few Shetland sheep, and they quickly came to reside at our farm. At the peak, we had about 53 sheep, a dozen goats, and 3 llamas.  There have been about 150 rabbits at one point, also."
That means quite a bit of opportunities to spin with a spinning wheel.
So when she and her mother began to reenact, she'd "watch mom spin and thought that it couldn't be that hard."
I brought along a few accessories to help with the period feel, including my walking wheel. Susan, on the right, and her mother are spinners and expertly know their way around spinning wheels, fiber, and yarn.
It wasn't long before Susan "saw the farmhouse being swallowed up by bags and boxes of roving and quilt batts, it was time to help mom get some of that figured out. We found there was a good market for socks!"
So they created the Carrot Patch Farm sutlery (click HERE) where they could sell their homespun goods.
Susan said, "I've always loved the history aspect and found that spinning was not an impression that was being actively done.  It was hard going from Reenactress to Sutler, because I wanted to keep one foot in each camp."
She loves the history of textiles, and labor, and that was the reason, she says, our country got into so many conflicts. "Resources,  materials, production, etc. I'm trying to present a microcosm of that by having my wheel out. We have gotten so far away from our history that we don't know where our fabric comes from, barely know what it's made of, and certainly don't know how it's made."
She now sets up her little sutlery and nearly every event, whether it's RevWar or Civil War, and is known for her quality work and presentations.
On a side note: after she and her mother left the party, the two ladies stopped at a Meijers store while in their period clothing to make an exchange & get printer ink. "A guy stopped us to ask questions and at one point, asked if Abe Lincoln was (at the party)," Sue said.  "I replied 'nope, we're a century earlier,' and Mom piped up and said 'Ben Franklin was there!'"

I mentioned that this party leaned toward the Patriots rather than the Loyalists, and so I brought along a few other items to reflect this, such as a replicated teapot. As we all know, the Stamp Act that was passed by the British Parliament on March 22, 1765 required American colonists to pay a tax on all printed materials—from documents to playing cards. This was the first direct tax on the American colonies and provoked an immediate and violent response throughout the colonies.
This teapot was made in England about 1766-1770, possibly by the Cockpit Hill Factory, Derby, England. Inscribed on one side of the teapot is “No Stamp Act” and on the other is “America, Liberty Restored,” both within flowerheads and stylized scrolling leaftips in black. The cover is painted with a matching border.
With the Stamp Act and the ensuing Stamp Act Crisis of 1766 being so crucial to the shaping of the political landscape in the U.S., teapots such as this were made for sale to the American market soon after the 1766 repeal.
And here is the replication that I own, though it doesn't have "America, Liberty Restored" on the other side. It sat prominently front and center of the room 
for all to see at the party.

And for those who would like to read,
I brought in "Common Sense" by Thomas Payne.

The Gadsden Flag and the Betsy Ross
Flag were both displayed as well.

There was plenty of time for friends to gather together and catch up on the latest local occurrences of the day.

These two ladies spoke mostly of fashion and fabric. It can also be said that Rae, on the left, actually went to the Fetes Galantes at Versailles in Paris in 2018.
Upon asking her about it, she explained, "Some friends and I started planning a Marie Antoinette 18th century fashion project after my wedding five years earlier, so the Fete popped up on our radar.
When I knew our group travel dates, I checked the Versailles website and found the Fetes Galantes would be held our last night in Paris. It really felt like fate at that point."
Rae and her friend made two silk ballgowns "and their undergarments, accessories, wig, and we were able to bring it together."
Yes, that is Rae on the right in this picture at theFetes Galantes at Versailles in Paris in May of 2018.
Rae continued, "(At the Fetes), my travel partner and I agreed on the feeling of being surrounded by ghosts the entire evening. It was probably the closest I have come to actual time travel. And I met some amazing people. One woman was a French reenactor and she said the Fetes Galantes was the best event she has ever attended just due to the grandeur of the setting as well as the lack of spectators."
I do believe she plans to return later this year...this time with her husband!

The food served was period-perfect; all delights from 18th century recipes...well, as close as can be done from over 200 years in the future. We had chicken, cake, bread & coffee, hot chocolate, pasties &amp, cookies, venison stew, wassail, and a cabbage, potato & sausage dish - each made by utilizing recipes of the time (modified for modern cooking).
With the potato, cabbage, & sausage dish eaten, the leftover of a chicken leg, venison stew, a pastie, and bread, along with hot wassail to drink, I most certainly ate like an 18th century farmer who had a fine harvest!

I spy gingerbread there in the middle.

Period-correct glass, tin, and pottery ware were used as often as possible.

Meg is pouring hot chocolate made like
you've not had least from this century!

Would you have thought a chocolate mousse cake
was period-correct?
George Washington was a huge fan of chocolate,
and according to a Mt. Vernon cookbook, it's said that
Martha Washington would make a cake like this.

Our conversations were appropriate in that we did not speak of the modern world in terms of technology or politics. Instead we centered our conversations on our reenactments, our period clothing and accessories, history, and future-past plans.

I did not ask for a 1st person dialogue, for none of us has yet to practice this era's language beyond the basics, and I am sure we would not have come off very well at all. Doing 1st person in the 1860s is much easier, though maybe one day...

Dr. Franklin regaled all with his stories and games.
Bob Stark does an amazing presentation as Benjamin Franklin, and I have learned much from him for when I come out as Paul Revere. 

Three members of the 1st Pennsylvania regiment - two pictured here - also joined us. The conversations were quite the learning experience. The knowledge shared was wonderful.

I brought various games to play, including cards, Shut the Box, dice, and checkers.
Mr. Bertera and I enjoyed our game.
It was unfortunate for me that I lost.
He is good!
Checkers was played throughout Britain well into the seventeenth century by members of nearly every class. As the century progressed, more and more people decided to emigrate to the new colonies which were being founded in America. Many of these people took Checkers with them, continuing to play the game in their new homes far away from Britain. Meanwhile, back in the mother country, as the seventeenth century came to a close, the game once known as Checkers, for the checkerboard pattern on the game board, was becoming known as Draughts, because the game pieces were dragged or moved over the board. By the turn of the eighteenth century, the name Draughts was in common use across all of Britain. However, in the American colonies, those who played the game still called it by its original name, Checkers. Thus originated the divergence of the two names between what would become two separate countries.
By the way, the first known game of checkers was played in the city-state of Ur in 3000 B.C.
Yes, it is one of the oldest games still played today.
The game board you see here I am quite fond of, for a friend of mine, who was also a former co-worker, made the board out of an old teacher's desk made of oak wood. Since the desk came out of one of the schools that I attended as a youth, I like to think it may have originally belonged to a former teacher of mine. You never know...but it's well made and almost like an heirloom piece.
We originally planned to have a checkers tournament
but time seemed to get away from us, so we decided to
shelve that until next year.

Though the party began in mid-afternoon, it continued on until the early evening, and as the gray sky darkened was when the full-effect, for me, took place, for the room was lit only by the glow of the candle-lit lanterns. A period atmosphere...
Is she really churning butter?
But of course! We needed butter and cream
for a variety of the food served!

Rae & Charlotte enjoyed the soft glow my lanthorn gave. 
The lanthorn utilized cattle horn as its luminance rather than glass panes. The horn was heated and flattened thin enough to permit light to pass through, and these thin sheets of horn glazing were used to protect a candle or other flame against wind, similar to a pane of glass in a lantern. Hence the name lant-horn.

Surrounded by a few of the lanterns, we took another picture of the members of Citizens of the American Colonies, including our guests from the 
1st Pennsylvania Regiment.
No, the lanterns did not give off such light (lol) - this was the only time we 

turned on the most famous invention to come out of Thomas Edison's 
Menlo Park laboratory!
I thank everyone here for their participation, for all of us together made it the success that it was.
And there you have part 2 of my Christmas celebrations.
I plan to have another Citizens of the American Colonies membership party next year and hopefully it will be expanded, because that means our membership will be growing!

Until next time, see you in time.

Checkers information came from THIS site
Stamp Act Teapot information came from HERE

~   ~   ~