~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.
Who has time for 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?
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.
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!
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.
Until next time, see you in time.
|My sons now cut down the Christmas Tree, whereas I did it in years past.
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.
|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.
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.
|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.
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.
|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.
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.
|Horses and carriages are always a fitting backdrop to a Victorian setting - especially
for one that is based around Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol."
|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.
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:
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:
|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!
|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
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