Friday, October 30, 2009

Christmas at Greenfield Village: Holiday Homes Tour

Enjoying a warm by the sitting room fireplace in Firestone Farm
Just as nice but not nearly as popular as the Holiday Nights event, the Holiday Homes Tour at Greenfield Village was always a wonderful opportunity for the fan of history and of Christmas to visit the Village in a much more subdued manner, having the opportunity of seeing and studying the celebrations of Christmas past more intently during the daylight hours.
The Birthplace of Henry Ford

Christmas 1876 at the Ford Home
Although during the daytime Holiday Home Tours were are no outdoor vendors hawking their wares or ice-skaters as during Holiday Nights, the homes nevertheless were beautifully decorated in the era of which they represented, and the ability to ask questions in a much more relaxed atmosphere, without throngs of people waiting their turn gave the visitor the chance to learn about Christmas past more in depth than during the evening Holiday Nights.

Sarah Jordan's Boarding House is decorated for an 1870's Christmas

The Firestone Farm is ready for Christmas - inside and out!

Firestone Farm during the mid-1880's Christmas Season proved to be very festive indeed!

The Adams Home's Christmas Tree
It was also during the day visits that one was able to stay longer in each home and truly get the feel of what Christmas actually was like, without having the long lines behind you waiting their turn. If you were lucky and visited when the afternoon skies were dark and dreary, the oil lamps and candles were usually lit and would give an even cozier experience.
All of the same structures that were open during Holiday Nights were also open during the Holiday Homes Tour. In fact, there was a beautifully decorated home - the Firestone Farm - that one who only visited during the daytime Holiday Homes Tour was able to see, for it was closed during Holiday Nights.

Sadie treats the visitors in Firestone Farm to period Christmas music on the 19th century pump organ. This is something that does not happen during the evening Holiday Nights since the Firestone Farm is only open during the daytime hours.
On a personal note, I have visited the Village for both the Holiday Nights and Holiday Homes Tour multiple times each Christmas Season and it had always been a wonderful experience - different enough to attend each.
Food was of the utmost importance in an 1860's Christmas celebration, as you can see here at the Susquehanna Plantation (above).
Going back to the 1820's at the Noah Webster Home (below) we can see that even then the most festive part of the Christmas Season was food.



...I was informed in 2009 that beginning in 2010 the Holiday Homes Tour would no longer take place, for it was said they simply could not afford to remain open with so few patrons visiting during the day. As was written in a response to a letter I wrote expressing my disappointment in their decision:

While I understand your being upset with the fact that we will close the Village earlier for daytime hours next year, we find ourselves, like all companies in this economic climate, faced with tough decisions in order to maintain our budget and stay viable.

I understand your enjoyment of the village in December, but reducing those expenses means we don’t have to stop having new exhibits in the Museum, don’t have to cut any of our summer programs in the Village and, hopefully, don’t have to cut staff.

The letter writer went on to explain that they will have new events for the upcoming year in hopes of increasing the amount of visitors.

The Civil War soldiers play a period game of the 1860's era. It's a much more relaxed atmosphere during the daytime Holiday Homes Tour

My opinion: Although I understand the state of the economy at this time, I must vehemently disagree with the closing of the Village during the daytime hours during the month of December, thus doing away with the wonderful Holiday Homes Tour. It was always a wonderful opportunity for visitors to experience Christmas Past much more intimately than the Holiday Nights event. I believe if the daytime event was advertised and promoted more, the visitor traffic would increase dramatically.
Here's hoping that the future will find the Village once again open throughout the month of December.

A few visitors warm up at the fire near the McGuffey School. No, they were not part of any presentation - these folks enjoy visiting Greenfield Village at Christmas time while wearing their period clothing

The Wright Brothers home & shop along festive Main Street

Inside the Wright Home, decorated as it was Christmas 1903

A Christmas scene in front of the Adams House


On a final note here is a snippet from youtube on decorating your home in a 19th century style:
Christmas Decorating


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Christmas at Greenfield Village: Holiday Nights

Walking in a winter wonderland
(Forty photos -more or less- accompany this article.
I hope you enjoy it!)

 ~ Before we get into the current Holiday Nights event, I'd like to give the reader a little history of Christmas celebrations at Greenfield Village~

The celebration of Christmas has been a highlight of Greenfield Village for many years, and the Village has always taken the opportunity to show visitors just how the Christmas Holiday was celebrated in years past.
And for this lover of history and Christmas, the season is just not Christmas without attending at least twice a season.
We shall discuss here some of the various ways Greenfield Village presented Christmas in years past and how it presents it today.

It's Christmastime in Greenfield Village! Let the festivities begin!
Unfortunately, I have very little on how the Village celebrated Christmas before the 1980's. Since I had not gone there during the Christmas Season before 1983, the only information I have to go on is from the old souvenir books I have acquired, and they only have a few pictures - taffy pulling, crafts of Christmas such as wreath making, wood toy carving, and cedar & holly roping, and a dining room exhibition set up inside the museum called "Home for Christmas," that included a pseudo Victorian dining room with mannequins standing near a table. I have also seen photographs of the Village homes decorated - outside and in - in more of a country style rather than in an accurate historical manner.
As near as I have been able to find, Greenfield Village began to raise the bar of celebrating Christmas in the late 1970's or early 1980's when the Eagle Tavern began serving Christmas dinners during the holidays. My future wife and I attended our first Eagle Tavern Christmas dinner in 1983.
Sing-a-longs on the horse-drawn wagon rides are always a treat!
We waited inside the visitor's center, which, at that time, welcomed patrons inside the building and allowed everyone to sit by the roaring fire burning in the fireplace while the sounds of a hammered dulcimer playing period Christmas music - sometimes live and sometimes recorded - could be heard. We were then taken by horse and carriage to the Tavern where we were served a magnificent repast of traditional mid-19th century Christmas fare. During the course of the meal, musicians roamed the dining area, stopping at each table to perform Christmas music.

A Christmas scene at the Logan County Courthouse

Sometimes a sing-a-long would ensue, creating quite the festive atmosphere. Actors portraying Calvin Wood the proprietor and his wife would also roam the room, giving 19th century etiquette lessons and regaling us all with stage coach Christmas and winter stories of long ago.
Once the evening ended, the guests would then take a lantern guided tour back to the visitor center.
The Eagle Tavern, by the way, still has the Christmas meals and traditional entertainment.

It was around 2001 when the decision to open up the Village in the evening for a special Christmas extravaganza first took place. Initially known as "The 12 Nights of Christmas," the name was changed a few years later to "Holiday Nights" when they increased the number of evenings the event would take place.
Whatever the name, this is the one time of year where visitors can wander the open-air museum at night, stepping into the world of the Victorian Christmas that folks from the 21st century rarely have the chance to experience.

Can you ride side-saddle?
Since this is, perhaps, Greenfield Villages' shining celebration, I will describe in some detail my personal experiences of how these evenings play out:

Our first stop upon walking through the entrance gate is the home of Henry Ford, where the scent of fresh-baked bread and pie fills the air as we enter the home. I enjoy watching the presenters cook on the old wood stove while they explain about the Christmas food preparation.

One can see the 19th century nighttime world through our ancestors eyes - no electric lighting!
The house is decorated as if it were 1876, and the first thing one notices is the eye-catching American centennial decorations that adorn the Christmas tree.

A Festive Ford Living Room
From there we visit the Wright Brothers home. Again, the house is ready for Christmas, only in this house it is Christmas 1903. On one particular evening that we were there - December 23, 2008 - the presenter let it be known that it was the 105th anniversary of the Wright's return from Kitty Hawk. "On this very night, Wilbur and Orville walked through that same door (see photo below) filled with the news of their first airplane flight."

It gives one chills.
Shown in the parlor is an original period photograph taken over a hundred years ago of that very same parlor all decked out in its holiday splendor the way the Wright family decorated it.

The curators of Greenfield Village have done a remarkable job replicating the photo - it's almost as if you were there when the photo was taken.

From the Wright Home we walk through the busy Main Street part of the Village

- Currier & Ives come to life -
where there is no shortage of food and treats, with vendors selling roast beef, chestnuts,

hot chocolate & cider, and other Christmas goodies that are set alongside the road, just like in the old days.

And townsfolk of the past spring to life, such as the chimney sweep, covered in the soot of the village chimney's. There are also peddlers of lanterns, Christmas greens, and newspapers.
These young farm girls are selling their greenery
The Dodworth Saxhorn Band plays carols on their period instruments in the middle of the hustle and bustle.

We then find ourselves sauntering into the Porches & Parlors section of the open-air museum, and our first stop here is the Adams House, where they are celebrating Christmas of the 1870's.

This is perhaps one of my favorite homes during the Holiday Nights, for it's where one can truly get the feel for just how dark the nighttime homes were for the Victorians, as the only light comes from the oil lamps throughout the kitchen and dining room.
A festively decorated table in the Adams dining room
The aroma of a spicy Christmas drink similar to Wassail fills the darkened rooms, giving the visitor a true sense of the way the Victorians lived on a December's evening.

From one parlor looking to another parlor
The rooms are draped in greenery, and the decorated Christmas Tree in the back parlor has a Noah's Ark scene (built in Germany in the 1830's) underneath.

This home is a wonderful example of a Christmas celebration of an average middle-class Michigan family of the mid-to-late 19th century.

Now, let's cross the road to the McGuffey Schoolhouse, where a contingent of Civil War soldiers have set up winter quarters.

The re-enactors do a super job presenting what life was like for the northern soldiers stationed in Virginia on a cold Christmas night.

Lit only by candles and warmed by the fireplace, the reenactors bring to life the homesickness the Civil War soldier felt so far from home.

They speak to the public and help us to understand just what the guys went through all those years ago.

Christmas treats in the Edison Home
The home of Thomas Edison's grandparents is our next stop, and it is 1915 in this house. An old Edison phonograph plays tinny Christmas music, while a beautifully decorated feather tree stands atop the table set for Christmas dinner.

Note the feather tree on the table
The living room area is strung with greenery and includes a kissing ball - a popular decoration from the Colonial period through the early 20th century. Treats cooked earlier on the wood stove are now laid out on the side tables in the dining area.

Over at the Cotswold Cottage it is the time of World War II, and the American soldiers stationed in England are doing their best to have a Merry Christmas so far from their loved ones across the ocean.

The mistress of the house and her children are there, stringing popcorn to help give the guys the best Christmas they can. WWII re-enactor soldiers are placed throughout, telling stories of how the locals in England would take the Americans into their homes for the holidays.

The 1822 home of Noah Webster is next, and it is decorated, inside and out, as it might have been in Mr. Webster's time.

But instead of concentrating on December the 25th, this home shows New Year's traditions, which seemed to be a more family oriented holiday than it has become in our modern age.

The New Year's feast is set up in the dining room, waiting for the visitors with calling cards to come a-courting the Webster daughters,

and the musical instruments wait to be played in the parlor.

The Susquehanna House shows a Christmas from 1860 on a slave owner's plantation in Maryland. The home is decked out beautifully and the "owners" are preparing for a New Year's Day wedding. Again, the sights and smells of foods from long ago permeate the air as the family prepares for the big day.

It seems that in the 19th century New Year's was typically celebrated with food and games rather than drink as we do in our modern day.

The next couple of houses ~ Giddings and Daggett ~

"Welcome to our home. Is Mr. Daggett expecting you?"

Both of these 18th century homes show how certain religious denominations did not celebrate the Christmas Holiday during the colonial period of American history. Many folks often wonder why the Village presents the non-celebrants during this festive time of year when it is supposed to be Holiday Nights. Well, remember that this is a historic museum and part of their job is to show history as it was, including those who did not celebrate Christmas.
One can see just how dark it was in the saltbox-style Daggett home.

Not that Giddings nor the Daggetts were anti-religious, mind you; they felt one should not celebrate Jesus Christs' birth without knowing the actual date of His birth. But, if one listens to what the presenters have to say, very interesting stories of the times abound. I love entering the darkened great hall of the Daggett saltbox house, where it is 1760, and the room is lit only by a fireplace, a lantern, and a rush light.

Though it would be difficult for someone in our day to live like the Daggett's did in 1760, it sure is beautiful to experience as a visitor
And the kitchen is no brighter but, because of it's lay out it is the warmer of the two rooms. We were told that the Daggetts would have spent many a winter's night sleeping in the kitchen because of it's warmth.

Knitting in the warmest room of the Daggett Home - the kitchen

It's in this structure where one can not only imagine, but literally see and feel how it would have been to live here during a colonial winter's night. The docents enhance our senses by bringing to life the period of the 1860's America with their stories of what it truly was like for the Daggetts in the 1760's, no matter what holiday was being celebrated.

This colonial structure from the 18th century warmly welcomes visitors...but not for a Christmas celebration
Across the road we travel to the more prosperous Giddings Family home...

The Giddings family home is from the same era as the Daggetts, but there wealth was greater, and the style of the structure shows this. An interesting addition in 2010 was showing a 'chocolateer,' - one who makes chocolate. And to do this, they opened up, for the first time in my memory, the kitchen of the Giddings home to visitors to show how this colonial treat was made 250 years ago.

The 'Chocolateer' works his craft in Giddings House Kitchen

But, like the Daggetts, Giddings did not celebrate the Christmas Holiday. Instead, tales of Mummers and the lost art of mumming are told.
Lighting and writing apparatus in the Giddings Home

Mummers are/were (usually) men who dress(ed) up in costumes and masks and travel house to house, putting on skits for the owners, singing songs, and bestowing blessings upon the owner as well in hopes of receiving money or food, or perhaps a bowl of hot wassail for their efforts. If the butler or owner closed the door on them, the mummers would try to find their way inside of the home and take for themselves the meat and drink they desired.

Mummers at Greenfield Village

Many times a mummer was a neighbor, but because they wore masks and disguised their voices, the homeowner did not know who these people actually were.
The following is a verse that was typical of the times of Giddings and Daggett:

Come butler come fill us a bowl of your best
and I pray that your soul in heaven may rest
But if you do bring us a bowl of the small
may the devil take butler bowl and all

A wonderful learning experience from nearly 250 years ago.

There is a special surprise for the little ones in the Porches and Parlors section of the Village: Santa Claus stands atop of the balcony of the Robert Frost home, shouting "hello!" to all the children crowded around by name (just how does he do that??). The man in the red suit always brings a few of his real live reindeer for everyone to see.

And then there is the live music performed by Picks and Sticks inside the "Sounds of America (Stephen Foster) " house.

Over the Ackley Covered Bridge and on the way toward the Sarah Jordan Boarding House we travel, stopping by the gazebo to listen to more carolers,

then on to the other side of the Village where there is an ice skating pond - a real ice-skating pond - and patrons (along with talented presenters) can skate to their heart's content.

Horses and carriages, along with Model T's, are available for free tours of the Village. And brass bands, wandering minstrels, vocal quartets, a colonial fife and drum group, a dulcimer player,

a lone fife player, and other musicians are posted throughout the entire Village, entertaining the visitors with the sounds of Christmas.
The evening ends with a sing-a-long on the Village Green followed by a fireworks display.

I cannot say enough good about Holiday Nights. When folks who do not care for the modern commercialized Christmas Season tell me that attending Holiday Nights puts them in the 'spirit,' well, that just about says it all.
It brings Christmas home...

~ Click HERE to see a short clip of Holiday Nights on You Tube ~
~ Click HERE to read about the now defunct Holiday Home Tour - the daytime Christmas at Greenfield Village celebration that is no longer held ~
~ Click HERE to purchase tickets through Greenfield Village/The Henry Ford