Apparently, celebrating Christmas 150 years ago wasn’t all that different than it is today. Except for the fashion... and the food... and the carols. OK, so it was pretty different.
At least that’s what I learned while attending Jacobsburg Historical Society's Victorian Christmas Open House this weekend.
The John Joseph Henry House, which is located at the Boulton Historic Site of Jacobsburg State Park, was built in 1832 and is furnished year-round with belongings of the Henry family. William Henry I is one of America's pioneer Pennsylvania rifle makers, according to www.jacobsburg.org.
For the Victorian Christmas, the historical society decked the Henry House with wreaths, bows, flowers and, of course, a Christmas tree.
Carolers gathered in the parlor and sang near the Henry family’s Chickering piano, believed to have been brought to the house in the 1880s.
Other volunteers wore period-appropriate dress and discussed the 19th-century way of life while patrons walked through the home and out to the Nicholas Hawk Gun Shop behind the house.
In the summer kitchen alongside the Henry House, volunteers prepared food and drink -- including deliciously warm apple cider -- using tools and a hearth more than a century old.
Lyndsey Brown Frigm, the director of the Jacobsburg Historical Society, commented on the timeline of the house by saying, “It’s set up close to the 1880s to 1890s, but [the house] is decorated with items from the Henry family… you get things before that, and things after that.”
Overall the items in the house span most of the 19th century.
A group of nearly 10 women from Fashion Shows By Miss Lorita joined the historical society’s efforts in masquerading as 19th century Christmas visitors. Miss Lorita, who is based in Bethlehem, has been helping the society run Victorian reenactments for six years.
“We’ve been collecting for 25 years,” said Lorita Musselman while wearing a vintage Victorian coat and wide hat. “I’ve always liked history and themes.”
The program that was distributed for the event included an excerpt of holiday remembrances written by Mary Henry Stites, who was born in 1907. In it, she recalled a Christmas Eve of church service followed by a family gathering and an oyster dinner.
“Christmas was… cakes and cookies, pies and puddings, visitors and visiting!” Stites wrote.
Family, food and gifts -- maybe Christmas hasn’t changed that much after all.