Celebrating holiday preparations from the past


By Charlotte Patterson

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Today I was shopping in local stores for items to use in upcoming museum programs. I was surprised to find that some of the holiday items on my list were already sold out.

Stores seem to be putting out holiday items earlier and earlier each year. Understandably, crafters and people that must ship things overseas need more time to make their items.

In this age in which we live, everything is moving at a fast pace. When I was a child, we always decorated our home on my birthday, Dec. 22nd. I doubt that anyone waits that late anymore.

At the museum we must have all our decorations put up before Thanksgiving due to the large number of school groups that are scheduled to attend our “Christmas at Who-Seum-Ville” program. In a nod to Dr. Seuss, characters from history that are represented in the “Our Story” exhibit are drawn in Seussical style. A fun scavenger hunt we have planned will match the characters to the historical person in our gallery.

Our annual Holiday Open House is Saturday, Dec. 7th, and everything will be in full swing by then. The Gingerbread House workshop is Friday, Dec. 6th. On Saturday, Dec. 16th, Designers’ Workshop participants will be making a snowman family out of wood, cloth, paint and other materials.

The mere mention of the word “Christmas” conjures up an image of color and sound, music and food, and families and celebrations. The 2019 American Christmas is a result of many changes since the early settlers. In early preparation for the holidays, here is a brief description of holiday preparations from the past:

In 1766, the Virginia Almanac indicated home celebrations “tis fit that we should feast and sing, and merry be: keep open house, let fiddlers play.”

Moravians of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, decorated trees in the early 1800s.

Also in the early 1800s, Washington Irving wrote “hanging up a stocking on the chimney on St. Nicholas eve.”

Dolly Madison was hostess of the first White House Christmas party in 1811.

Dr. Clement C. Moore wrote “A Visit from St. Nick” to entertain his children in 1822.

President Andrew Jackson’s French chef made a sugar-frosted tree for the 1835 White House Christmas party. Jackson invited young relatives to come and hang stockings.

President Franklin Pierce had the first White House Christmas Tree in 1856.

In 1870, German ornaments cast in lead and wax ornaments cast in molds and decorated with gilding and ribbon appeared in stores.

In 1878, German silver foil icicles were sold in America, followed by spun glass angel hair in 1880.

Two years later the world’s first electrically lighted tree decorated New York home of Edward Johnson, a colleague of Thomas Edison.

Flour “flocked” trees were the rage in 1883.

In 1939, Colonial Williamsburg began decorating for holiday visitors in a style made famous by Luca della Robbia, a style that continues today.

From the introduction in the 1950s of the “aluminum tree,” coordinated decorations in the 1960s, and the 1980s’ “golden age for Christmas retailers,” decorating has evolved to the multiple styles of the 21st century. Whatever your favorite style is, join us this holiday season and enjoy our decorations and the holiday programs offered.

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