Wednesday, December 22, 2021

A Picturesque Journey Through Christmas Past...and Present



~This is a time of joyfulness and a merry time of year...

The line above is from the very old carol  "All You That Are Good Fellows"  and it sort of epitomizes my feelings toward this wonderful Yuletide season.  Due to my strong ties to the past - long past and my personal past - I spend much of it celebrating in ways most people don't:  reenacting,  performing,  long-time traditions,  visiting historic museums,  and recreating the past in my own home.
Shopping?
Who has time for shopping?
I've been doing it in this vein for decades.  I remember as a child when I used to dream of having an old-fashioned Christmas,  just like the ones I used to see in the movies.  I wanted to have a candle-lit tree,  sing the old carols,  be in Victorian surroundings,  and wear a top hat and be with others in old-fashioned clothing.  
In other words,  my dream,  even as a young child,  was to experience a Dickensian Christmas from  long past.  Well,  guess what?
I now do...and have for over a decade!
At the  Christmas at the Fort  event,  which takes place every year in early
December,  we recreate an 1860s family celebrating Christmas Eve,  and we have 
a candle-lit tree,  sing the old carols,  and I get to wear a top hat and be with others -
all of us in old-fashioned clothing.
All while immersed in Victorian surroundings.
By celebrating  Christmas at the Fort  in this manner for all these years,  I feel I've come as close to experiencing a Christmas of the mid-19th century as one from modern times can.
However,  it would never happen if it weren't for the wonderful living historians I am with - those who have the same passion for the past that I do.  I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Our 1860s Christmas Eve dinner.
Yes,  we truly do celebrate Christmas Past at  Christmas at the Fort.


Another tradition,  this one more from my own personal past,  is setting up the original manger scene that I purchased during our first Christmas together all those years ago.
However... - - - ...
while shopping in an antique shop about a decade ago,  I found the very same nativity collection my parents had originally bought back in,  I believe,  1949 - their 1st Christmas together.  Their original,  unfortunately,  was long ago destroyed by the yearly packing and unpacking,  for it was made of cardboard.  So,  here I came across the exact same one,  only this one in the antique shop was in mint condition.  I absolutely had to have it!
Here it is:  the same make and year as my parent's nativity - over 70 years old. 
The figures here are from my grandparent's as well as my parent's originals.
My visiting siblings all reacted virtually in the same manner when they first saw it:  "Hey!  That's mom's!"  Lucky for me my mother still kept the tiny Mary,  Jesus,  and Joseph,  as well as multiple kings,  angels,  shepherds,  and manger animals from her original set even though the manger was ruined.  Many of these figures also belonged to my grandparents as well,  their manger set up also long gone.  Oh,  the figures are a little chipped,  but wonderfully intact for the most part.
We still have the set we purchased when we first got married,  but have not set it up in years - pretty much since I got this one.


Santa Claus also visited the rustic
Western's Tree Fam.
Christmas,  for me,  was always more than gifts.  Oh,  I am not saying I didn't enjoy getting presents on Christmas morning.  I still do - who doesn't? - but I mean to say is that Christmas has always been more - much more - than the materialistic side that has taken precedence over the years.  So when I moved out of my parent's house to be with my bride,  we started on our journey to create our own Christmas,  much of it staunchly rooted in the past,  but keeping with the spirit my parents had.
But Patty and I looked forward to find our way back to the past,  if that makes sense.
We have four kids,  and they,  too,  had taken part in our style of celebrating while growing up.  I mean,  they really didn't have much of a choice!  And now that they have all grown into adulthood,  they've begun their own Christmas traditions,  and,  thank God,  we are included in a number of  'em.  And they still take part in the old traditions my wife & I began decades ago such as cutting down the Christmas Tree.
Yes,  we still travel out to the country to the tree farm to hand-cut our tree.  We travel about an hour and 45 minute drive to the  "thumb"  of Michigan to a place called Western's Tree Farm.  It's almost like a family holiday for us now;  we've been doing it for 37 Christmases,  and probably 35 of those have been at Western's!
My sons now cut down the Christmas Tree,  whereas I did it in years past.
This was one dream/fantasy I had as a child,  especially after watching the original Walton's Christmas movie  (the pilot for the TV show),  and now this dream has also come true and is as much a tradition as gift-giving or decorating.. And we not only cut down our tree,  usually a spruce,  but light the candles placed upon its branches.  I've seen candle-lit trees on TV shows often and they just seemed so magical...so Victorian.  I knew I wanted to experience such a thing,  and the first year my wife and I spent Christmas together,  you know what I did.
And now I've been doing it for 37 years.
There is little so beautiful as a candle-lit Christmas Tree.

In days of old,  the trees were only lit for about ten minutes...
and there was always an eye on it while lit.

My oldest son and my two youngest grandkids enjoy the 19th century
specialness rarely seen here in the 21st century.

And earlier in the month we lit a freshly cut table top tree at our Christmas at the Fort  reenactment that I mentioned toward the top of this post.  I asked the person in charge,  who was very leery at the idea initially.  However,  I assured him I'd been doing it for nearly forty years and I knew what I was doing.  He finally relented,  so before he could change his mind,  I grabbed the opportunity and lit the small tapers on the edge of the branches,  carefully and strategically placed. 
"I have been looking on,  this evening,  at a merry company assembled 
round that pretty German toy,  a Christmas Tree.  The tree was planted 
in the middle of a great round table,  and towered high above their heads.  
It was brilliantly lighted by a multitude of little tapers;  and everywhere 
sparkled and glittered with bright objects. 
Now,  the tree is decorated with bright merriment,  and song,  and dance,  
and cheerfulness.  And they are welcome.  Innocent and welcome be they 
ever held,  beneath the branches of the Christmas Tree,  
which cast no gloomy shadow!"
(Charles Dickens~)

Silent night...holy night...
The ghosts of Christmas Past were certainly with us.
Imagine seeing a real candle-lit table-top Christmas Tree inside the front parlor of a house from the 19th century while wearing period clothing and singing  Silent Night  with friends.
Wow---!
Again,  "magical"  is the only word I can think of  in our Victorian Christmas experience as we gazed at the candle-lit table-top tree.


Another much repeated,  ahem,  ‘fact’  about Christmas is that it was invented by the Victorians,  and Charles Dickens in particular.  While there is no doubting the fact that the Victorians,  partly inspired by Dickens,  were fascinated by the celebration of Christmas,  they didn’t invent it.  Rather,  they reinvigorated it and brought together the many Christmas customs of Britain and threw themselves into the season in a way not seen before.  There were many colonists in America,  and citizens in Europe,  who certainly celebrated the holiday before Mr. Dickens and the 19th century.
Knowing that a good many of our colonial ancestors did indeed celebrate the Christmastide has me wanting to try to recreate and reenact the Yuletide of that period as well,  so we,  oftentimes,  will  "dress"  period-correct and head to Greenfield Village,  either on a day directly following Thanksgiving while it's still open during daytime hours,  or during it's amazing Holiday Nights event during December evenings.
Or both. 
Colonial Charlotte and Jackie in a festive Christmas-y scene.
This is a small vignette placed inside the Village Store at Greenfield Village.

While at the Village at the beginning of the Christmas Season,  we were happily blessed with a snowfall,  sometimes falling gently while other times becoming very heavy.
"Did you hear we Colonials never celebrate Christmas?"
"Oh!  That's just one of those pesky myths that never seem to go away!"
"I'll bet Ken celebrates the Christmastide!"
"Well,  here he comes.  Let's ask him..."
"Yes,  ladies,  'tis only a myth from the wretched misinformed
 who care not to seek the truth."

(A Gary Thomas photograph)

During the snowfall,  I scurried along to my favorite house inside Greenfield Village,  the Daggett House,  and the quickest way from where I was just happened to be along a sort of country path near a pond of water tucked along the backside of the historic homes.  
Unbeknownst to me,  my photograph was being taken as I
made my way through the falling snow.
This country scene has become one of my favorite pictures.

A winter scene from the 18th century opened up as I looked out the back door of the Daggett House and spied the little red Plympton House a ways away,  also from America's colonial period.
I also have a colonial Christmas gathering - a party,  actually - usually occurring on or near 12th Night.  But you'll have to wait until mid-January for that posting.


As you may know,  I head up a period vocal group called Simply Dickens.  We perform the old-world carols - the kind of carols rarely,  if ever,  played on the radio or put onto a Holiday CD/album.  
I like to try to pose Simply Dickens a bit differently than what is normally seen
from vocal groups of our type.  We're not so prim & proper  (lol).
Since we are dressed as Victorians and are at the Holly Dickens Festival,  well, 
it only makes sense to utilize a bit of the 19th century that the
Village of Holly has to offer.
Take advantage!!

Not quite looking like a Ragged Victorian,  Jessica does
give a good impression that she is dogged
in this pose.

We were singing inside a store when I saw this old mirror.
So...what else should I have done but to photograph the group.

Built in 1891,  the Holly Hotel has courted such guests as notorious as
pro-temperance leader Carry Nation in 1908,  as famous as President
George Bush in 1992,  and as invisible as ghosts throughout its years as
Holly's most stately  (yet haunted)  dinner destination.
And here we are,  Simply Dickens,  performing for a surprised audience inside
the historic dining area.

Though Blackthorn Pub has been in this building since 2011,  I am not sure how old the structure itself is.  It is a part of the attached buildings along Main Street so I imagine it is late 19th century.  No matter because the inside has the looks and feel of being much older,  with its brick-lined walls and wood flooring.
We had a ball performing inside this pub!  After getting approval to sing,  I had the group perform more interactive carols,  where the audience can clap with us  (All You That Are Good Fellows is one such song),  or carols of a drinking nature such as Deck the Hall  (original lyrics speak of adult beverages - "fill the mead cup,  drain the barrel"  and  "laughing,  quaffing all together"),  and The Gloucestershire Wassail,  where a warm bowl of wassail,  which includes rum for  "extra warmth"  is begged for door to door from Mummers or Wassailers  (now known as carolers).
Singing these songs inside a pub where folks are more than willing to  "Fa la la la la"  along with us while  "quaffing"  an ale as glasses clink just brings the old days to life.
Oh what joy indeed!

Virtually every store in Holly is decorated for the holidays beyond most in other
villages or cities.  But Blumz seems to take it the extra mile.  It is a continuous
stream of holiday d├ęcor'  that is the perfect setting for our kind of Christmas carols. 

However,  the ladies of Simply Dickens had to take great care while in their
hoop skirts to not knock anything over!
Note the set up of this photo with the three crosses on the wall,  and the almost reverent look upon the faces of the group members,  none of which was planned.

Horses and carriages are always a fitting backdrop to a Victorian setting - especially
for one that is based around Charles Dickens  "A Christmas Carol."

Yes,  that's me standing and talking to the audience.
Simply Dickens are street performers first and foremost,  and I work the crowd in an attempt to keep  'em with us for a bit by explaining the history of the carols about to be performed,  or,  as inside the pub,  try to have them clap or sing along.
It's all very festive. 
(An Ian Kushnir photo)

Yes,  we work the street,  but are also a stage act and put on somewhat of a show that includes not only the carols from days of old,  but skits and even attempts at humor  (usually I get sympathy laughs or groans,  but sometimes I can hit a funny bone or two).
Here we are,  the closing act on the main stage area at Holly.

We don't only perform in Holly - for instance,  we performed in Troy at Motor City Church.  We also got to meet with Santa Claus,  a couple of his elves, 
and even a reindeer!

And we did a livestream for our end of the season performance, 
which was done at my house on December 23.
Jessica took to my 1760 hunting musket.

Here is our livestream - for the first few seconds the camera is sideways,  but it was corrected quickly - just copy and paste the link below into your task bar:
https://www.facebook.com/tgiorlando/videos/969902703937498

And the people you see while out and about in an authentic Victorian village such as Holly at Christmastime is wonderful,  especially when they know how to dress properly for the times:
This is me with my friend Rebecca.  She,  of course,  does living history. 
She began her time-travel adventure working as a  "costumed presenter" 
at Greenfield Village  (yes,  she was at the 1760s Daggett House!),  then she
found her way to the 1860s doing Civil War reenacting.  A few years ago
the 1940s grabbed her and since then that era in history has been her favorite. 
However,  that doesn't mean she won't try other periods in time,  such as
what you see here:  in honor of the Holly Dickens Festival 
(being the 1840s and all),  she made herself a dress from Dickens 
Christmas Carol  (1843)  era,  and she looks so authentic.  I mean, 
she never halfs-at-it,  you know?  
In the above picture you see she and I together.
The picture below shows Beckie with her beau,  Patrick 
(who also does WWII).
By the way,  Beckie also used to sing with Simply Dickens.


Here is a little vignette in my own home.
The morning sun had just risen high enough to let the dawn in, 
but a candle was still needed to give clarity to the objects.


So,  beginning last year  (2020),  my wife started a new tradition:  having our Grandkids come over the Saturday before Christmas to make and bake Christmas cookies.  Oh,  Patty does not do all the work while the kids play - - oh no...she puts  'em to work so they can take pride in what they've done.  And have fun while doing it!
Ben gets into his work!  

Addy pats her's down while Liam rolls the dough-ho-ho-ho!

Did they have fun!

Liam enjoyed hearing Christmas music coming out of my tiny
replication of the Wurlitzer 1015 jukebox  (the full-size original
was from 1946/47). 
Of course this one only plays music from the 1930s and 1940s 
(via a built in cassette player!). 
It was the first thing he asked me to do,  to play the jukebox!

But then,  we also had time to take a grandchildren/grandparent photo in front of our Christmas Tree.
Yes,  I lit the tree candles for this picture - of course I did!
While our grandkids were over helping to bake Christmas cookies,  we decided to wear our Christmas-y clothes and hats  (there's my top hat I've always wanted!)  to take a grandchildren/grandparent photo.  I think it’s a  “best ever”  picture:  a little Dr.  Seuss,  a touch of modern...somewhere,  and a lot of 19th century-Victorian  -  the couch you see here is an antique from the 1850s,  and my grandpa's clock on the wall is from the 1890s!  I like to think of what their memories will be like when they are grown,  thinking back to the times they spent with their Nonna & Papa.

Christmas is what you make it.  If  you want it to be about the gifts,  you'll find yourself in a mall or on line spending loads of money.  If you want to complain about the cold,  the music,  the Nativity,  celebrants like me,  people who put up decorations early or radio stations that you normally don't even listen to playing carols too early  (in your opinion),  or anything else Christmas,  then I suppose you'll be miserable.  Perhaps you don't like when people constantly post all things Christmas on their own Facebook page and it angers you to have to scroll past.
You'd hate my page  (lol)!
At the very top of this posting I wrote:  this is a time of joyfulness and a merry time of year.  Yes,  this ancient lyric from the mid-1600s is exactly the way I feel.  And,  like Ebenezer Scrooge's nephew said to the miserable miser:  "There are many things from which I might have derived good,  by which I have not profited,  I dare say,"  returned the nephew;  "Christmas among the rest.  But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time...as a good time;  a kind,  forgiving,  charitable,  pleasant time;  the only time I know of,  in the long calendar of the year,  when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely,  and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave,  and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  And therefore,  uncle,  though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket,  I believe that it has done me good,  and will do me good;  and I say,  God bless it!"
And so,  as Tiny Tim said,  "A Merry Christmas to us all;  God bless us,  every one!"


Until next time,  see you in time.

To learn more about a colonial Christmas,  click HERE
A decade of celebrating Christmas Past through living history,  click HERE


























~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~



Monday, December 13, 2021

'Twas a Magical Time in the 1860s at Christmas at the Fort 2021

As living historian civilians,  I really am not sure if we can call what we do at Christmas at the Fort  'reenacting.'  I believe it might be more accurate to say we are actually celebrating an 1860s Christmas rather than  'pretending'  to do so.
What would you call it when we are in a period-correct home and have created a family setting to spend the day and into the evening participating in such holiday pastimes as decorating a small table-top Christmas tree,  singing ancient carols,  visiting neighbors,  spending the daytime hours in natural daylight,  then spending the waning late afternoon light and early evening hours in candle light & oil lamp light,  and gathering together in the dining room as our domestic servant serves us a fine repast of ham,  green beans,  stuffing/dressing,  breads,  pies,  and other Christmas dinner delights for our Christmas Eve meal?
What about lighting our table top Christmas Tree as the Victorians once did?
In other words,  even knowing the fact that we are not a real family of the 1860s,  the way we respond and present ourselves to each other and to visitors very strongly gives off the intended impression to not only us but the touring groups as well.
We were there...Christmas 1863.
And so were the visitors.
In fact,  the only hint of 21st century life is when the tour groups come through,  and even then most of us are unaware of these ghosts of Christmas future,  for only one from our group will step out to speak with them as to not disrupt our holiday celebration.
And,  after about eight or so hours,  the day is done,  and we retire for the night  (in other words,  we all go to our own respective homes).
I would harbor to bet that our time in the past celebrating Christmas is pretty close to the way the people we represent who actually lived  "back then"  also celebrated.
So,  no - - I do not believe this is reenacting...for we are actually  celebrating,  just as we have together for over a decade.  And the one year we could not,  due to the pandemic,  more than one from our group stated that it would not be Christmas for them without participating at Christmas at the Fort.
Now that's special.
My 1860s family~
The group of finest living historians I've ever had the pleasure to work
with  (yeah,  one or two are missing,  but we'll get  'em here next year).
From left:  Jackie  (portraying my sister),  me,  Larissa  (portraying my wife),
  Charlotte  (portraying Larissa's sister),  and standing in the back is our
servant girl  Carrie  (portraying Agnes)  with her daughter...who, 
dare I say,  kind of almost seemed like mine and Larissa's granddaughter.

Jackie spent some of her time knitting.

Charlotte had never seen a stereoscope before and enjoyed looking
at the magic of eyeing two photographs to make one...and give it a
3-dimensional depth.
(Okay, so in real life she has seen stereoscopes before...lol)
I spy an undecorated table-top Christmas tree there as well.

It was in our front parlor that we decorated the table-top Christmas tree.
It's freshly cut and smells wonderful.

Little Nadia did help us to decorate the Christmas Tree.

She also eyed the decorations.

My wife and sister-in-law listened as I read from Dickens' novella,  "A Christmas Carol in Prose,  Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas,"  which was originally printed in 1843 and has remained one of the most popular and enduring Christmas stories of all time throughout the 19th,  20th,  and now 21st century.  The book I read from is a replica of the original from 1843.

 
Larissa sort of played a grandmother role in showing Nadia knitting.

We took a tintype of the little one.

Larissa and I about to go visiting.
We always try to see others who participate in the tour.

There were a few folk representing the Revolutionary War.

We saw a few Union soldiers inside one of the bays inside the historic fort.

The Confederates also had a stop on the tour.

Over in the Spanish-American War area
we made yet another stop.

We see how the inside of the guard house was set up for the
men portraying the era of the 1898 Spanish-American War.

Also on the tour was a representation of a poorer family during the Civil War.  They were poor due to the circumstances of the war,  while the Ladies Aid Society  (below)  had a meeting to pack things up to send to the fighting husbands,  brothers,  and sons.  
"We all watched our community suffer from this war so we all want to do our part to cheer them up and provide them with necessities."   

Amy and her daughter were there to do their part as well.

Larissa walking toward the Detroit River.
What you see on the opposite side of the river is Windsor,  Canada.

We were greeted by our sisters upon returning.

Fresh baked pies and bread made by our servant,  Agnes.

Our Christmas Eve table setting in the dining room.

Since 2013 we have been able to eat our  "Christmas Eve"  meal inside the
dining room of this historic house.  Out of everything we do throughout the day, 
this may possibly be our biggest highlight.  Or,  after this year,  tied with the top, 
as you shall see.

Agnes,  our servant,  serving her mistress,  Larissa.

Me,  a-waiting the pumpkin pie.
With  homemade whipping cream!

Jackie - my 1860s sister

Charlotte - Larissa's 1860s sister


Positioning the candles for safe lighting positions.
I have been lighting candles on our Christmas Tree at my
modern home for 37 years now.  
This was my first all-period lighting.

Then the highlight of the evening...of the entire day...came about when we lit the candles on the Christmas Tree:
The moment captured here and in the following two pictures was indescribable. 
This just may have been the most  "Victorian"  we have ever become during any of our
Christmas excursions.  I cannot even begin to express the feeling we each had.
It was,  simply put,  one of those unforgettable moments.

And to make it even better,  we had the tour group - the last group of
visitors for the night - sing  "Silent Night"  while watching the tree all
aglow.  A true immersion  you are there  feeling overwhelmed us. 

Many many thanks to the powers-that-be for allowing us to
celebrate an 1860s Christmas as real as could possibly be done. 
We have been doing this together - Larissa & I - since 2009,  and over
the years we've had other wonderful living historians come
and go in our  "family."  I am very proud of what we have been
able to accomplish with each person who has joined us as far as
having a sort of time-travel experience.

Our small group of living historians has a private message page where we work together to make our time-travel excursions the best we can.  It's here where we pull it all together to make it work  (yes,  we have one for our cabin excursions, too).
So,  within a day or two after the Christmas at the Fort event took place on Saturday December 4,  we all wrote quick  "reports" - a line or two each - to summarize our opinions of  how we felt it went.
Here's what each of us wrote:
Carrie - (L)ast night was a great time.  The tree was the highlight of the evening for me.  Magic.

Charlotte - ‘‘Twas a lovely day”  spending time with my  “history family”  at historic Fort Wayne Detroit for their Christmas tour.  We were privileged to occupy the commandants quarter’s as a Civil War era family.  We laughed,  dined,  decorated and sang Silent Night around a Candle lit tree.  Thank you Ken,  Jackie,  Carrie and Larissa.

Jackie - I don’t think we can top last night,  but knowing all of you we probably will.  What a special moment.

Ken  (hey! that's me!) - I spoke with Tom B.  tonight - - he was absolutely thrilled with what we did,  as he usually is,  but the candle-lit tree just put it over the top.  He said,  just as we all have,  that it was magical.
Yes...it truly was - - I've never lit candles on a tree while in my period clothing before...while surrounded by others wearing clothing of the same era.  And definitely not in an authentic period home - a home that Tom says did exactly as we did a hundred and forty years ago.
Just wow-----

Larissa - We had a very special moment lighting the candles on our Christmas tree with a group of visitors at Fort Wayne last night.  It was magical.

And  'neath my posted picture I received a few very nice comments as well:
Kimberly - Beautiful! This makes me think of my Great Great Grandparents and I wouldn't be surprised if they had Christmas trees just like your beautiful Christmas tree. 

Vicki - Absolutely gorgeous!

Joyce - What a great picture!!  Merry 1800's Christmas.

Susan - Oh my goodness.

Linda - Beautiful!  That’s a Christmas card right there!

Sharon M. - It’s simply beautiful Ken.  Thank you for sharing. 

On a sad note,  we lost a very important member of our 1860s Logan   "family"   - Larissa's mother,  Violet,  who joined us nearly every Christmas here at the Fort,  passed away in August,  so it was much tougher for Larissa - and all of us - to take part.  Violet portrayed my mother-in-law,  and I was proud to call her that,  even if for only a short few hours each time.  And when  those who portrayed mine and Larissa's children could join us,  they happily called Violet  "grandmother,"  and she took them on as her grandchildren.  Most of all,  however,  Violet added to the Christmas cheer and celebration by playing and singing Christmas carols at the pump organ there in the parlor.
Larissa pulled through,  and she even noted to us that:
"(This was)  something very special that I won’t forget.  Thanks to you all for making a hard but wonderful day perfect."  
We were very happy to do so,  my good friend.
Very happy to do so.
So I dedicate today's blog post to Violet Kyryluk - a wonderful lady to all who knew her,  wife to Nick,  mother to Larissa and Marcus,  and grandmother to Zane & Titus...and actual mother-in-law to Mike  (Larissa's husband).  You were all blessed...and we who knew her were blessed as well.
Here is a link to see a sort of  "Best of"  posting about my spending Christmas time in the past - click HERE

























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