Friday, November 28, 2008

A Journey Through Christmas Past (or How to Have an Old-fashioned Christmas)

If you haven't figured it out by now, I absolutely love the Christmas Season. And I do my best to make it what I want it to be. This means, to me, giving it that old-time look and feel that people only dream (or sing) about.
Just like the ones I "used to know."
Well, not really.
My youthful Christmas's were wonderful, but they weren't like the songs you hear. Nor were they old-fashioned.
But, as fine as my Christmas's were when I was young, it was the "Currier & Ives" Christmas's that I always wanted.
So, now, as an adult, I have an old fashioned, traditional Christmas - I am doing my best to make the lyrics of the Christmas songs come alive.
And, so far it's been working - for the last 20+ years, it's been working.

I have been able to do this through a number of different means.

First off is the music. As I have written in a previous blog, I choose period-sounding old-world Christmas music, usually performed on authentic antique instruments such as a forte' piano, hammered dulcimer, fiddle, music box, traditional vocals (no divas please!), and the like. Cd's of this type are readily available at Amazon.

Simply Dickens performing Old World Christmas carols

Click below to read my blog on Christmas Music.

Sounds of the Season

Next comes the atmosphere - and this means candlelight. When I was a child, my mother would begin to light candles right after Labor Day. It gives any home - no matter how recently built - that old-time-y look. We carry on the tradition of lighting candles at my house throughout the season, beginning on Thanksgiving. We burn the tall, thin, beeswax real candles - not the fat, perfume-y, over-priced Hallmark ones.
Yes, we always eat our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners strictly by candlelight during the darkened evening hours, and our Christmas dinner this year will be in the same way, as will numerous meals between now and then.

Decorations...this is a tuffy. We have a mix of 19th and 20th century in our Christmas decor: garland around the ceiling with tiny (electric) lights tucked inside, for instance, hangs in our living room and kitchen. Also, on our computer desk we have an old (circa 1950) nativity scene. I also have a few of my Dickens Department 56 lighted houses on the piano - modern, yes, but they have that old, traditional look and feel - they show the various scenes of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol," including the major characters of that story along 'brick' and 'cobblestone' roads.
I normally set up four tables for my Dickens lighted houses display, but I have no room at this time to do that.
Now, in our back gathering room, we have our electrically lit (with real candles attached to the branches as well) spruce Christmas tree, freshly cut down with help from my children. Yes, we go - as a family - north to Western's Tree farm in Sanilac County and get a horse-drawn carriage ride out to the trees we like, chop one down, then get picked up by said horse and cart, and ride back to the log cabin to pay for it. On the way home we stop for lunch - usually the old time period food This year it was the traditional A&W hamburgers. Very Victorian.
Once home, the tree is placed in the stand and then we all decorate it with period-looking decorations, including popcorn (not real but very real looking) and old-time-y bulbs. We also have all sorts of odds and ends upon our tree. It's fun to look at for the first time visitor.

Our 2008 Christmas Tree

I put up greenery (traditional cedar) without any sort of lighting attached throughout this room, and have my beeswax candles with the glass globe coverings on our table and mantle. Another manger scene, a wooden Noah's Ark set, a nutcracker, and an old world Santa Claus completes the picture.
It all blends in well with our antiques.

Our 'gathering room' during the holidays

There are so many "Hallmark" Christmas decorations out there that many woman (sorry - not sexist, but that's who I have seen purchase most of them ) just have to buy. Items like singing Christmas Trees, wreaths that speak, or the silly flags that show a snowman hanging from the front porch do not make for a traditional Christmas. I'll be honest, I personally do not even consider them cute. Now, I will admit to having a singing Christmas Homer Simpson, but he is kept near our very modern TV. And that's where he stays. And next to him is a lighted Department 56 "A Christmas Story" (Ralphie and the Red-Rider bb gun) house.

So that is how we decorate our house.

Now, there is much more to do if you want to have an old-time Christmas (or even if you just want to enjoy Christmas period):

Greenfield Village has a wonderful tradition of presenting "Holiday Nights," where folks can visit the open-air museum at night and see homes of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and how they would have been decorated (or not decorated, in some instances) during their time. (hint: this is where so many of my ideas have come from).

A Christmas scene from the past at Greenfield Village's Firestone Farm

To see these old homes as they would have looked way back when is a site for sure. And the Christmas lessons taught in each are fascinating. And the smells of the food being cooked is mouth watering. The main street area is just bustling with people - the whole Village makes you feel as if you stepped into a Currier & Ives picture print.

The hustle and bustle of Christmas Past at Greenfield Village's Main Street

There are free carriage rides, Model T rides, and carousel rides to add to the evening.
They also are open during the day on the weekends for those who choose not to go at night (or missed buying the tickets - every night sells out quickly - get you tickets now!)

The Holly Dickens Festival is a fun way to spend a day as well, cavorting with the characters right out of Dickens' story and hearing Christmas music new and old performed by small chorale groups and full choirs. And the authentic Victorian setting of the beautiful Village of Holly cannot be beat. This festival is absolutely FREE! It takes place the three weekends in December before Christmas. Yes, and yours truly is Charles Dickens himself!

In fact, in one skit, I write the story of "A Christmas Carol" and the characters of Scrooge and Cratchit come alive (see above photo). We also put on the "Christmas Carol" skit as well, although it is a bit different from what Dickens originally intended. It's great fun!

The Crocker House in Mt. Clemens (built in 1869) has a Wallow and Wassail every year, with a minimal cost, that brings Christmas "home," so to speak, by way of roasting chestnuts on an open fire, live music (including a traditional pump organ and singing and the vocal music of Simply Dickens), great traditional food, homemade sugar plums, and, once again, a period atmosphere.

Kim Parr makes sugar plums at the Crocker House in Mt. Clemens

There are also Christmas festivities in many of the towns throughout lower Michigan: Waterloo, Lexington, Rochester...and others.

If you do not live in the Detroit area, I would bet there are similar events that take place in your area as well. A quick search of your newspaper or a call to some of the city halls in your area can direct you. Or, start one of your own. Yes, it is a lot of work, but the end result can be quite satisfying.

Christmas shopping does not have to be a chore. In fact, it can be quite fun, especially if you shop on line. You can get great items at a very low cost. We have been able to get twice as many things for us and our kids than if we went to the mall. And, that's the best part - you don't have to go to the mall!!
Here's my blog (written very recently) about Christmas shopping:

Christmas Does Not Have To Mean Overspending

Another tradition, modern in a traditional sense, is to watch classic movies. I especially love Dickens "A Christmas Carol," (of course) and watch several versions AND read the book yearly. Great Victoriana.
Other favorites include The Waltons "The Homecoming," "It's A Wonderful Life," "The Santa Clause (the 1st one)," "I'll Be Home For Christmas (the one with Hal Holbrook and Eva Marie Saint from 1988 - an excellent Christmas movie set in WWII)," "The Gift of Love," and so many others.

As I said earlier, we eat our Christmas dinner by candle light. Being that we are Civil War reenactors, many times we will eat while wearing our period clothing. Talk about having the "look"! But, even without the old-time clothing, the candle-lit dinner certainly is an awesome atmosphere. And, having soft hammered dulcimer music playing in the background (the stereo is in another room) adds greatly to the desired effect. And, try some period food and drink - it wouldn't be Christmas at our house without my wife's traditional wassail, a period Christmas/12th Night drink. You can add 'spirits' if you desire, for a more authentic taste.

Our 'gathering room' table on Christmas Night 2006

Having good friends over will make your Christmas that much more special. Invite your friends over to celebrate with you, whether it's for dinner, dessert, or just to visit.
And if you have re-enactor friends, well, wearing period clothing will make it even better!

Oh, one more thing- do not be afraid to say "Merry Christmas."

And when gift opening time comes around, take your time and take turns, allowing one person to open one gift at a time per round. This way, everyone has the opportunity to enjoy everyone else's treasures. Yes, this can work with young children as well. Be a parent to them and insist that this is the way it will be done.

Don't forget the most important part of the Holiday: please take time - whether you attend church or not - to spend with the One who's birth we are celebrating. Yes, yes, I realize Jesus was probably not born on December the 25th, but we are still celebrating His birthday, are we not? Read the biblical passage of Jesus' birth (Luke 2: 1-20), if for no one else's than for your own sake.

Christmas can be what you want it to be, with minimal costs. Yes, you may initially get a few off-handed remarks (especially from family members), but they, too, will learn to appreciate what you have done for yourself.

I have been told that I live in the past (thank you!), that I live in a fantasy world that either never existed or hasn't existed in many years (thank you again!). OK. So what's the point? I am living out what folks just think about doing.
Or what singers sing about.
And I'm having a blast!


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Message Update

The following is a blog I wrote last year with some additions:

Quite a few years ago, around 1993 or '94, we had a discussion at my previous job about the Thanksgiving Holiday. A co-worker made a comment that of all the holidays of the year, he loved Thanksgiving the best because it was about eating and family and only about eating and family. I threw in that it was also about giving thanks to God, hence the name Thanksgiving. He adamantly denied this, stating that religion had absolutely nothing to do with this holiday. I asked him who did he think the pilgrims were giving thanks to, of which he replied, "To the Indians!"
I told him that, yes, in a round about way. Being puritans (advocating strict religious discipline), the pilgrims would not have given thanks to the Indians themselves, but rather to God for sending the Indians to them to ensure their survival.
Well, other co-workers stepped in and, as usual in this day and age, I found myself in the minority in my belief - even with all the proof I had - and pretty much smiled and nodded and said, "You can revise history all you want, but the truth is there to be found if you'll search for it. But, I know you won't, so you'll go on believing what you perceive to be correct but in reality, is false."
Pretty much shut them down with that.

Now I even have the History Channel to back me up:
Although this feast is considered by many to the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops.
Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America.
Historians have also recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America, including British colonists in Berkeley Plantation, Virginia. At this site near the Charles River in December of 1619, a group of British settlers led by Captain John Woodlief knelt in prayer and pledged "Thanksgiving" to God for their healthy arrival after a long voyage across the Atlantic. This event has been acknowledged by some scholars and writers as the official first Thanksgiving among European settlers on record.
Whether at Plymouth, Berkeley Plantation, or throughout the Americas, celebrations of thanks have held great meaning and importance over time.

And this, by the way, from President Lincoln 1863:

"I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."

Abraham Lincoln

Most, if not all, of our older holidays have religious beginnings of some sort. It's the newer Hallmark holidays (such as Sweetess day - a "holiday" my wife and I refuse to celebrate) who's beginnings are mainly secular.

So, that being said...
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

If You Seek History, Look About You

What people never seem to consider when they think of Detroit or southern lower Michigan is history.
Well, what most folks don't realize is that we have plenty of history all around this area. More than you may know.
In fact, I would put our collection of historical institutions against most other states - well, except maybe for the east coast. They seem to have the corner on pre-20th century American history. But, for the north central region of the U.S. (sorry - I don't consider us the 'midwest' - north central is more accurate), I don't believe you will find another area with more history.
First off is Greenfield Village the open-air museum in Dearborn. It's probably the most famous in the U.S. - right up there with Colonial Williamsburg. I have written plenty of GFV so, if you are interested, please see my blog dedicated to to the museum at

Connected to Greenfield Village is the Henry Ford Museum, second only to the Smithsonian for historical artifacts, including the actual chair Abraham Lincoln sat in when he was shot by Booth at the Ford's Theater. It also has hundreds of old-time cars, a few full size locomotive trains, many carriages, period guns, furniture from long ago, wood stoves, a 1940's diner, camping gear once belonging to George Washington...

...there's so much to see - it's a full day's visit or more to just visit the museum! I will eventually have a blog on the Henry Ford Museum. (for more on the Henry Ford Museum, please click here The Henry Ford Museum)

About an hour and a half north of Detroit, in Flint, is Crossroads Village. Crossroads is another open air museum, although on a much smaller scale, but, in many ways, more accurately depicted than Greenfield. It has dirt streets rather than cement paved streets, wood-plank sidewalks rather than cement paved sidewalks, and is more accurate in its portrayal in that it has a very rural, small-town atmosphere. It has a 'downtown' area, numerous Victorian houses, a working gristmill, an icehouse, a carriage barn, church, school, a working blacksmith shop, and a 45 minute train ride.

A worthy trip back to the 1880's. Here's my site in progress dedicated to Crossroads

A little closer to Detroit - Mt. Clemens - has the Crocker House Museum. Run by Kim Parr, this shining example of Victoriana at its best is a very busy place indeed. Ms. Parr, historian extraordinaire, keeps this beautiful and authentically furnished 1869 house hopping throughout the year as numerous activities, including Wallow and Wassail at Christmas time, a mourning presentation in the late summer/early fall, teas, home tours, and a number of other events take place that bring the past to life.

Folks in period clothing help to keep the atmosphere correct at many of these events here at the Crocker House. Kim has a passion for history and it shows. Please check out the Crocker House site at:

Historic Fort Wayne, in downtown Detroit, is a true gem in the heart of the city that very few folks think about, much less visit. Built in the 1840's, this actual fort never saw any battles; however, it was the place that most soldiers in lower Michigan, from the Civil War era through Vietnam, were mustered into service. Imagine being able to visit a place right here in Michigan that has a major Civil War connection! The officer quarters, the barracks, sallyport, guard house - all are still there as they stood in the old days, ready for visitors to take a walk through. The sallyport is my particular favorite part.

Some restoration is still needed but many local historians and preservationists have donated their time and money - and continue to do so - to keep this true historic gem alive. You, too, can donate to keep this part of Detroit history alive.
By the way, during the summer, a Civil War muster takes place.
Here is a link to visit the Fort Wayne site:

Traveling about an hour and a half west of Detroit, another small collection of historic buildings are waiting to be visited by the public, Waterloo Farms. A log house, a bake house, an icehouse, a granary, and a mid-19th century farmhouse (among a few other buildings) help to show what farm life was like in Michigan 150 years ago. Throughout the year the group that runs Waterloo Farms holds various events, including one for the American Indian, a pioneer days, and a Christmas gathering. Visit the informative web site here:

Near Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum is the Dearborn Historical Society collection of buildings, including the Commandent's Building, restored to its 1833 - 1875 appearance as well as the Gardner House, built in 1831 and is the oldest structure built in Dearborn that is still standing. It is furnished to a mid-19th century appearance.

To visit these buildings will cost you nothing but donations are accepted. It is worth the trip to see these few original Dearborn landmarks - my wife and I did and the tours of each building together totaled about two hours. The historical society has done a fine job in the restoration of these beautiful old structures.
Here is another link where more information can be found:

Traveling two and a half to three hours outside of the metro-Detroit area is another historic village called Charlton Park, and this is located in rural Hastings, Michigan. Similar to but smaller than Crossroads Village, Charlton Park is home to mid-19th century Michigan structures, including a 19th century few houses with period furnishings, a barber shop, a general store, a church, bank, school, a cooper shop, a blacksmith shop, and a small mainstreet collection.

As I have only visited the Charlton Park during Civil War reenactments, I don't know if the docents are in period clothing or not, but don't let that stop you from visiting this place. The (mostly) 19th century homes and buildings are well worth the scenic drive.
Check out there informative site:

If you enjoy driving, taking a ride on US 12 from Detroit to Chicago - heck, even Dearborn to Jackson - is well worth your time and gas. Traveling through authentic 19th century towns where many original structures still stand gives one the opportunity to see this stage coach road as it once a way. It is a modern street now, with modern autos zooming by. But, while driving along, stop and visit some of the Victorian towns along the way. One of the best restored buildings on the trip is Walker Tavern, at the junction US 12 and M 50. This restored 1836 tavern, still in its original location, is open for walk throughs telling the story of all taverns and stage coach stops along US 12 - well worth it. It is a part of the Cambridge Junction Historical Society collection of farm buildings as well as the Inn itself.
US 12 has other historic stopping points as well. And if you love antiques, these small towns have plenty of antique shops.
Visit the site dedicated to this "Chicago Road."

Traveling about two and a half to three hours north along the very scenic shoreline of Lake Huron, near the tip of the thumb, you will find another small but authentic historic village called Huron City, where most of the original late 19th and early 20th century buildings are still there as they stood a hundred plus years ago, including the seven gables house, a general store, a log cabin, a church, and the nearby Point Aux Barque lighthouse, among other structures.
Tours are given during the summer season. I have never taken the tour, but I have walked around the buildings and, I believe, the next time I am out that way I will take the official tour.
Their official website is:

Now, I know that throughout the local communities there are many historic structures - train depots (Holly and Mt. Clemens have two beautifully restored depots), schoolhouses, log cabins, and other pieces of history - that belong to (or are cared for by) the various historical societies, and they are very happy to give tours. And, many of the smaller towns and cities throughout the area, such as Romeo, Mt. Clemens, Port Huron, Saline, Holly (the list could go on), all have beautiful original historic structures (Wolcott Mill in northern Macomb County comes to mind ), Victorian homes and even mansions still standing and restored. One town, Marshall, Michigan near Battle Creek, even has a yearly historic home tour. I have never taken the tour myself but friends who have say it's excellent! Here's a site in case you want to get more information

I realize I haven't even touched on the northern towns and villages of Michigan, such as Mackinac Island and the town of Mackinaw at the tip of the mitt. I haven't been there in many years, but I am centering today's blog on places I have personally visited within the last few years. When I do travel that far up north, however, I will give a full report.

I also know there are many historical places in the area that I have missed, and I apologize if I missed your site (especially if I've been there!).
I hope this has helped some locals to visit their local history and may entice out-of-town history lovers to come to Michigan for a historical visit. Or even seek out historical sites in their area.
No, I don't work for a travel agency - I just like to pass along historic info and places to visit for those interested.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Christmas Does Not Have To Mean Overspending

The Holidays are upon us once again; the advertisements on TV went from political to Christmas shopping in a heartbeat. Thanksgiving is next week and just a scant few weeks after will be the Big Day itself.
To many, the Christmas Season is not the joyous time that we would like it to be. I'm not talking about the seasonal depression that many get (although that could be included here, I guess). I mean that folks tend to concentrate too much on the gift-giving aspect of the holiday rather than enjoying the season for what it is.
Yes, we all know that, although Jesus was not born on Christmas (more than likely He was born in the springtime), it is the day that most Christians celebrate His birth only because that's the way it's been for close to 1700 years, since the mid-300's. And the way we celebrate it today is a somewhat successful blending of religious and secular festivities.
Yes, this blending angers folks on both sides of the issue. The secularists and Pagans want Christ totally out of the picture, while the Christian purists look to blot out all aspects of non-Christianity in the celebration.
Where I stand, as a Christian, is, well, kind of on both sides of the issue. It is true that the Christians took over the solstice celebrations of long ago, with its greenery, singing, and merriment-making, and turned it into a Christian celebration which, at one point in many areas was a very solemn occasion. Of course, the merriment would continue to sneak in until the puritans had all but wiped out the celebration that we all know. It was the 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Clement C. Moore, and especially the early Victorians, such as Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" that brought Christmas back in full force. And it was at this time that the Christmas Carols of old ("The First Nowell," "Deck The Halls," and "Here We Come A-Wassailing" for example) became popular once again.
And, as the 1800's turned into the 1900's, the holiday and celebrations grew.
Of course, now it's as big as ever, and the stores and society in general have come to depend on people spending their paychecks and racking up credit card bills in gift purchases: $300, $400, and even $500 or more per child or per family member is not unheard of.
But, I have to say, in my family it's not like that. First off, we spend just over a hundred bucks per child (maybe $125), as well as that amount on each other. So, for my wife and our four children we spend no more than $800 total. Throw in the the name exchange (about $20 to no more than $25 per person), plus the Christmas Tree and we're still under a thousand bucks.
You may say to me, "I could never buy what my kids want for Christmas for $125!"
One Christmas, about 13 years ago, I changed jobs in the fall and took a pay cut to do so. Because of this, money was at an all-time low, and my wife and I, who previously would spend the large amount of cash on our kids, could not do it that year. So, we bought our children the two or three things each that we knew they would be happy with. Come Christmas morning, they were every bit as excited as if they received five times as many gifts! Honest to God! But, how we opened the presents helped here as well: one present at a time. Child "A" opens his and we all watch and enjoy what he received. Then it's child "B's" turn to do the same, and so on and so on. This way, everyone was able to see what everyone else got and get excited with them. This also made the gift opening ceremony last longer and increased the anticipation.
Let me tell you - it WORKS!!! And we continue in this manner to this day.
And, just so you know, we have not used credit cards to purchase Christmas gifts since the 1990's. Yep - everything is paid by cash or debit (no credit cards at all!). We put the amount we plan to spend aside when we receive our income tax refund in the spring and do not touch it til late October, when we're ready to begin the shopping.
And, if you really want to get more bang for your buck, shop on line. We do most of ours' that way and have been able to buy more for less. Check out - they're my favorite place to shop.
No malls or Kmarts...ahhhh....
Give this a try, if only once, and see if I am right.

Now, there is much more to the Christmas celebration than opening of gifts. In an upcoming blog, I will update one I wrote last year on how to get the most out of your Christmas celebrations at minimal costs.

Monday, November 10, 2008


I had a very interesting discussion the other day on how far one should go when they reenact. No, I don't mean travel-wise - I mean in your total make up. Specifically underdrawers.
There are those who feel that they shouldn't have to wear period correct underdrawers because, well, no one sees them. It is true, however, that no one sees them (hopefully!). But, if you are a female, by not wearing proper underpinnings can take away that Victorian silhouette that was so prominent in the era.
Dressing to the nines (as they said) is so very important to the Victorian shape of a woman that it is easily to spot one who is not wearing correct underpinnings.

What about the men? Well, I was surprised to hear during a recent conversation while at an event that more than I thought in our unit wear period correct underdrawers - you know, the kind that button up the front and are ankle length.

My 19th century bvd's
But, does it make a difference?
You bet it does!

In my opinion (and it's just my opinion, mind you) one cannot fully experience that "you are there" feeling with fruit of the looms squeezing your mid-section. One cannot know what our ancestors felt when they really had to "go" and had to unbutton their pants and drawers to relieve themselves. One cannot truly experience the past ("seeing the elephant") without having the same feel of clothing that those we are emulating felt.
Might as well wear a polyester sack coat.
I know I know - I can hear many now telling me that I'm an extremist. Yeah, maybe I am. But, I feel that if you want to do it right, then do it right. And, at least I know that I'll be ready when I suddenly find myself transported back to the 19th century!
Anyhow, this is my two cents.


Sounds of the Season

Am I rushing the season? Some folks may think so but, well, as I write this, we have about a half inch of snow on the ground and it's still coming down; Thanksgiving is just over two weeks away and, well, in this dreary time in our country's history, a little Christmas music can't hurt.

Last year I wrote a blog about how a local radio station had begun playing Christmas music 24/7 by this time (and they're doing it again), as well as a bit about my favorite types of Christmas music:

Christmas Music

So this year I thought I would write a little more in detail about my favorite music of the Season. First off, the old world Christmas music (European and American) is what I consider to be the best. As I wrote last year, this includes such well-known carols as 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,' 'Good Christian Men Rejoice,' 'Here We Come A-Wassailing,' 'Silent Night,' 'Jingle Bells,' 'The First Nowell,' 'It Came upon a Midnight Clear,' and more.
But, mixed in with these somewhat popular songs are the lesser known carols of old, the ones that, at one time, were very well-known throughout out Europe and early America, such as 'The Gloucestershire Wassail,' 'The Holly Bears a Berry,' 'A Virgin Unspotted,' 'Riu Riu Chiu,' 'The Boar's Head Carol,' 'All You That Are Good Fellows,' 'In The Bleak Mid-Winter,' 'Bring A Torch Jeannette Isabella,' 'Past Three O'Clock,' 'On Christmas Night,' 'Seven Blessings of Mary,' 'Cherry Tree Carol,' 'Wexford Carol,' and so many others.

When one mixes in the known with the unknown what you get is a wonderful mix of traditional carols that you never tire of hearing, hence the reason I begin listening to the music in mid-November.

I have been collecting these once popular traditional Christmas carols for over twenty years. It began at (naturally) Greenfield Village when my girlfriend (who I eventually married) and I were there for an evening's Christmas meal at the Eagle Tavern. While waiting for the carriage to take us to the Inn, Christmas music was being piped into the room. Imagine, here we were, sitting in a shadow-filled old fashioned room, fireplace a-blaze, candles glowing, greenery placed strategically about, and a Christmas Tree decorated traditionally setting in the middle. Heard in the background were the beautiful sounds of the hammered dulcimer playing the sounds of the season - some familiar and some not so familiar. I told my date that it just didn't get any better than that. I knew I wanted to replicate the look and feel of that moment and, in order to do that, I would need to find the music they were playing.
Since I worked in a record store, I searched for anything hammered dulcimer or traditional sounding. What I found was "On This Day Earth Shall Ring," by Anne Hills and her group of vocalists. I bought it just from the description on the back cover of the album (CD's were just coming out at that time - albums were still the product of choice).
The first song was, of all things, a round called 'Christmas Is Coming.' Following this was a beautiful hammered dulcimer instrumental rendition of 'What Child Is This.'
This was a great album!

It also included a capella versions of 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlmen,' and 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas,' and wonderful instrumentals that I had not heard up until that time, such as 'Blessed Be That Maid Mary,' 'Kommet Ihr Hirten,' a medley of old carols played on a guitar.
This was a great album!
I was hooked - I had to find more. Unfortunately, it was nearing the end of the Season so it was nearly impossible to find and order any more.
The next Christmas...well, it was right after Hallowe'en, I began my search, remembering the fine LP from the previous year. This was 1984 and this instrumental group I was not familiar with put out a collection of Christmas music like no other: Mannheim Steamroller Christmas. I must admit, the first cut - a very modern sounding 'Deck the halls' turned me off. But, what followed was amazing: very pure and European sounding versions of 'We Three Kings,' Bring A Torch Jeannette Isabella,' 'Wassail Wassail (Gloucestrshire Wassail),' and a modern plus a traditional rendition of 'God Rest Ye.'
Oh, man! This was so cool!!
From there, each year I began to search earnestly for more - I couldn't get enough of this stuff! I found one called "An American Christmas" by Folk Like Us, Liona Boyd's "A Guitar For Christmas," "A Victorian Christmas" by Robin Petrie - nothing but hammered dulcimer instrumentals - The Chieftains' "Bells of Dublin" (where I first discovered 'The Boar's Head Carol' and "Holly Bears a Berry') and on and on. I eventually amassed over a hundred CD's of this old world style carols - I never knew there was so much great unheard Christmas music! It was much better music, I felt, than the mostly secular tunes of the 20th century, although I do love 'Do You Hear What I Hear,' 'Little Drummer Boy,' and some of the other more contemporary songs. And, yes, I do like the secular tunes as well - "Santa Coming To Town' (but not by Bruce Springsteen - ugghhh!), 'Winter Wonderland,' 'White Christmas,' 'Tennessee Christmas' and even the Pogues "Fairy Tale of New York' and The Ramones 'Merry Christmas I Don't Want to Fight Tonight.'

But, what you will hear most often in my house are the old world carols as described above. These are the songs my kids refer to when asked about Christmas music. Of course, they usually get a resounding "HUH???" when they tell their friends what their favorites are. And I think it's pretty cool to hear my seven year old daughter sing

"The boar's head in hand bear I

Bedecked with bays and rosemary
And I pray you my masters be merry
Quot estis in convivio

Capri apri defero
reddens laudis domino"

Here are some of my favorites that can still be purchased (except for one) through

. On This Day Earth Shall Ring: Songs for Christmas
by Mannheim Steamroller
The Bells of Dublin by The Chieftains
American Christmas by Folk Like Us
A Victorian Christmas by Robin Petrie
A Victorian Noel by Robin Petrie
Christmas at The Eagle Tavern by Opera Lite (Greenfield Village singers!)
Celtic Christmas by Katie McMahon
Colonial Christmas by Linda Russell
A Scottish Christmas by Bonnie Rideout
Sounds of the Season, Vol. 1 by Maggie Sansone
The Christmas Revels by Various Artists

There are so many more that I haven't listed: Madeline MacNeil, Holiday Nights by the Greenfield Village Carolers (only available through the Village), Joemy Wilson, Silently the Snow Falls, Un-Reconstructed's "Christmas 1864,"...

So when you find yourself bored and tired of the same old same old, yet you enjoy Christmas music, you might want to experiment a little on something new/old. I don;t think you'll be disappointed.

(I do not know why this blog entry has gone haywire with my font sizes. If anyone knows and can tell me, I would certainly appreciate it. Thanks.)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Thoughts on Civil War Civilian Reenacting

More interactive than a book and more accurate than many movies, reenactments allow visitors to not just glimpse history, but to step back and experience a moment in time.

It's sad, now, knowing that the living history/reenacting season is over - my main solace from 21st century life. Oh yeah, I know that the Christmas Season is within arm's reach, and that makes me glad. But, still, I enjoy my excursions into the life of an 1860's citizen immensely. As I said, it's my solace.
I've had a few reenactors ask me why I do not portray a soldier. In the citizen/civilian realm of the reenacting world, there are very few of us males - most men prefer the military. Personally, I just have no interest in reenacting that part of history. I am not - and never have been - a military person (although I have nothing but respect for soldiers - actual and the reenacting "teachers"). Instead, since I have always loved social history, reenacting gives me the opportunity to pursue my 'fantasy' of living in the past as an ordinary citizen of mid-Victorian society.
You see, at the reenactments I portray a postmaster. I have period correct replica stationary, pen and ink, and a small post office set up for my impression.

During a number of events this year I have encouraged reenactors from multiple units to write letters and bring them to my "post office" where hopeful recipients can stop by to see if they received any mail. What I do is ask folks from many of the different units to write letters to soldiers, friends, and even family. They drop off their letters to my post office to hopefully be retrieved by folks knowing they may have mail (house to house mail delivery was a relatively new concept in the 1860's and was a rare occurrence - America was too rural of a country for home delivery. One went directly to the post office to get their mail). I also encourage the letter writers to use pen and ink. So far, it has been working great! My first time out I had dozens of letters in the slots, waiting to be picked up. By weekend's end, I ended up with only two pieces of mail that no one claimed - I located those people at the next event and told them they should visit my post office. They did and were happy.
At one particular event, my very good friend, Mike Gillett, who portrays a Chaplain with the 21st Michigan, read letters to the soldiers who were "illiterate" - an actual very touching (and historically correct) scenario.

Because of my post master impression, I have become known in the local reenacting scene. In fact, one veteran citizen reenactor told me that I was helping to make it more like an actual community.
I couldn't be happier. It sure beats camp sitting, this "having a 'purpose' while at a reenactment." And now I have an answer when I am asked by visiting patrons what my purpose is for being there, other than wearing period clothing. Now, I can give a short history lesson.
What fun!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Prayer and a Hope

I hope and pray that every American will one day open their eyes and ears to what our country was founded on and why.
I pray that they read and understand the true meaning of the U.S. Constitution and its Amendments.
I hope that they find and read a copy of the Declaration of Independence and understand that those who signed it put their lives on the line for what they believed in.
I pray that they understand why the Revolutionary War was fought. And just how tough that War was to fight.
I hope that every American will read the true history of the colonization of America and realize that, yes, for the greater majority of the colonists, religion was a major reason (and a way of life) for their settlements on these shores.
I pray that modern day Americans have not become so complacent that they are willing to forgo our freedoms so they can "have more."
I hope the new president realizes that, yes, he may have won the presidency but their are still millions who do not like nor want his socialist policies, for they go against every grain of our forefather's founding documents. I pray that those who voted for this man will see this before it's too late.
I pray that Providence will step in and guide this new president in the right direction - Providence being God and not the likes of Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Louis Farrakhan, or Jesse Jackson

Monday, November 3, 2008

My Other Historical Blogs

I have been trying to add a couple of houses every week to my Greenfield Village blog.
I look up each house (or other historical items) in virtually all of my GFV guidebooks (going back to the 1930's) to try to give as complete a description of a particular item as I possibly can. I also have info from Benson Ford Research Center, and will look up information on the internet to use as well.
I am pretty happy about the way it is turning out.
Won't you check it out? I'm nowhere near done - I have so many more buildings and other items to add to it. I eventually plan to show different scenes and include photos taken at Christmastime and at Hallowe'en, as well as some of the other events that take place in the Village.
Check back every-so-often as I continue to add, in order of appearance in the Village, more and more historical houses and artifacts to the blog.

(I have also started a blog for Flint's Crossroads Village
I must admit that I haven't been working nearly as much on this one. Finding good information for the structures at Crossroads is nearly impossible (although it is a beautiful and very accurate Village), which is probably why I haven't been putting in as much effort. Some nice pictures, though. Keep checking back.)

A Strong Reason for my Passion for the Past

The following was sent to me by my brother:

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as: Knowing when to come in out of the rain; why the early bird gets the worm; Life isn't always fair; and maybe it was my fault.
Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).
His health
began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.
Common Sense
lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an Aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.
Common Sense
lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.
Common Sense
finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was
promptly awarded a huge settlement.
Common Sense
was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust his wife, Discretion
his daughter, Responsibility
his son, Reason
He is survived by his 4 step brothers;
I Know My Rights
I Want It Now
Someone Else Is To Blame
I'm A Victim
Not many attended his funeral because so few realised he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing.