Museum Explorations of Christmas

Museum Explorations of Christmas

Local museums are an experiential way to explore the history of New England holiday traditions and how our present customs were influenced by the cultural practices of the past. Whether you’re interested in learning about food traditions from the past, historic decorations or customary festivities, museum exhibitions and demonstrations provide us with tangible examples in their exploration of history and culture. Specifically, living history museums and events are engaging ways to witness firsthand how holidays were celebrated in early New England. Hands-on activities and demonstrations create unique experiences for visitors to learn about different holiday festivities. It’s also a great opportunity to see how the season was celebrated in a non-commercial way; many decorations and gifts were handmade!

Download our Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts to discover winter holiday traditions being celebrated across the region. 

Living History for the Holiday

Historic Deerfield’s Heritage Holiday in Deerfield offers hands-on demonstrations that explore how the holidays were prepared for and celebrated from 1730 to 1850. They offer activities such as hearth cooking, gift-making, lectures, games and other special events.

Every year, the 18th and 19th century buildings of Storrowton Village in West Springfield are seasonally decorated by garden clubs, florists and decorators. There are performances, music, storytelling, old-fashioned craft demonstrations, ice sculpting, a sweet shop and more!

Christmas by candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village brings history alive. Tour this 1830’s village by candlelight and celebrate the holidays the old-fashioned way. Gingerbread, roasted chestnuts, music, dance, and a sleigh ride!


Did You Know?

The old folk tale of Hansel and Gretel, made famous by the brothers Grimm, inspired many Germans in the early 1800s to create model witches’ houses from hard gingerbread. Building fanciful gingerbread houses at Christmastime spread to America by the late 1800s.

  •  Most early New Englanders did not celebrate Christmas.  They saw Christmas celebrations as dangerous foreign (pagan) perversions of pure Christianity and an excuse for sinful behavior.
  • Yule logs began as a pagan reminder of the light and warmth of the sun on cold mid-winter nights. The word “Yule” is derived from the old Anglo-Saxon word “hweol,” which means “wheel” – a pagan symbol of the sun. The burning of a Yule log originated with the Druids, The modern practice of decorating trees and buildings with flashing electric lights seems to be a logical extension of the lighting of candles and bonfires at Christmas time.
  • Christmas trees were pretty much only a German tradition until the 1840s, when Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert, gave her a Christmas tree surrounded by gifts, and the custom began to catch on in the English-speaking world.





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