Christmas by Candlelight: A Celebration of the History on Holiday Traditions

Old Sturbridge Village hosts Christmas by Candlelight
Celebration of favorite holiday traditions, music & food
Nine evening events set for Dec. 7-9; 14-16; 21-23

The legend of Santa has complex origins, blending diverse tales of magical gift givers with Christian beliefs. Dutch settlers in 17th-century New Amsterdam (New York) brought with them the legend of Saint Nicholas (Sinter Klaus), a 4th-century Christian saint from Turkey known for his generosity to children.

Take a break from the overwhelming wave of commercialized holiday “spirit” that the post-Thanksgiving season brings – visit Old Sturbridge Village for Christmas by Candlelight, which offers an incredibly wide variety of family-friendly holiday activities, performances, demonstrations, readings, crafts, and more!  Villagers dressed in period costume will share holiday traditions from early New England – many of which formed the foundation upon which modern day holiday celebrations have been built!  Families can learn about the roots of traditions such as yule logs, roasting chestnuts over a fire, building gingerbread houses, and even having a Christmas tree!

Friday-Sunday evenings from 4-9pm through December 23rd, the village will come alive with performances by Victorian carolers, Celtic music groups, handbell choirs, chorus groups and fife and drum corps.  Visitors can view an exhibit of exquisite handmade gingerbread houses or see a miniature New England village decorated for the holiday, a model train show, or a 100+ piece nativity scene.  There will be hands-on ornament making (using tin, and utilizing basic skills used by early New England metalworkers), as well as other holiday crafts.

A visit to the village can become a new holiday tradition for families, and is also a fantastic way for families to learn about history – hands-on!  Each of the traditions being practiced and/or demonstrated throughout the village is specific to a particular period in American history, and families can work together to place each of their activities into a broader historical context.  Visitors can actually see “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” and hear why they were a favored treat in early New England. They can also learn the origins of candy canes, mistletoe, fruitcake and how poinsettias were introduced to this country.

For more information on Christmas by Candlelight, call Old Sturbridge Village at 800-733-1830 or visit  Admission includes a free second visit within a 10-day period and any guests of second-day visitors receive a 25% discount on their admission. You could also inquire with your local library to see if they have a museum pass to OSV to lend.  Monson Free Library,  Westfield Athenaeum Library and Wilbraham Public Library all have passes to lend.  Check with the nearest library near you too.

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.

 (Source of Facts & Photos: Old Sturbridge Village)

Experience a Holiday Season from the Gilded Age at Ventfort Hall

Gilded Age Christmas in the Berkshires

Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum will kick off its 5th annual “A Home for the Holidays” program, an exciting full month of festivities for adults and children alike. Starting Friday, Nov. 23rd from 10am-5pm, the day after Thanksgiving, the 1893 mansion will have been lavishly decorated for a Gilded Age Christmas by a host of volunteers, among them the Ventfort Hall Flower Ladies.
In addition, throughout the month of December, there will be theater performances, concerts, dances, tours, viewings of Les Petites Dames de Mode, Victorian Holiday Teas, and a Museum Shop stocked full of gift ideas for Christmas. (Courtesy photo)

Along with the strong spirit and traditions of the holiday season comes the challenge to celebrate apart from the commercialism and consumerism we’re deluge with via advertisements and conspicuous consumption. There are, however, safe havens at which to celebrate the holidays non-commercially – and Ventfort Hall Mansion and Guilded Age Museum‘s Mansion and Gilded Age Museum’s holidays programs in Lenox perfectly illustrate such a space. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season, the museum will offer a wide variety of programs for kids and family alike – everything from museum exhibits to traditional Victorian tea, an evening of dancing to a hand chime lesson!

DANCE & FOOD: On Sunday, December 2nd at 4pm, dancers from the American Dance Institute will perform Classical Ballet Highlights in the museum’s Great Hall. Following the performance will be a Victorian Holiday Tea, at which families can enjoy delicious treats and learn about Victorian foods and etiquette. ($$)

MUSIC: On Sunday, December 9th at 3pm, become an instant hand chime master and member of a hand chime choir! Director Jane Holland will teach participants to play the chimes as an accompaniment to Christmas carols. Families can learn about how the chimes work as a multi-player instrument and can learn to better understand how to read basic sheet music. A Victorian Tea follows the chime tutorial! ($$)

STORYTELLING: From December 27th-30th, puppeteer Carl Sprague will present a marionette production of the classic Brothers Grimm tale, “Hansel and Gretel.” After the show, kids can meet the antique puppets used in the show at a Victorian Tea, and there will also be an opportunity to learn about the puppeteer’s methods. ($)

PARENTS’ NIGHT OUT: For parents, the museum hosts a couple of evening highlights worth getting a babysitter for! The opening reception for the Lenox Caroling Festival on Friday, December 7th from 6-8:30pm ($$). The event will feature a performance from MCLA’s Allegrettos, last year’s 2nd place winners. Enjoy hors d’ouvres and a cash bar. Or, if you feel like dancing, on Saturday, December 8th, the Greg Caputo Quartet will play at the museum! From 7:30-10:30pm, there will be dancing, food, and a cash bar ($$).

NEW YEARS EVE: Finally, from December 26th-31st, the museum will host one-woman performances of, “Paris 1890 – Unlaced!” which features actress Anne Undeland as five different women navigating the Belle Epoque age of late-19th century Paris. The New Year’s Eve performance will have a champagne reception and meet-and-greet with Undeland ($$).

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