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Heritage Holidays

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

To experience the yuletide season as it was observed many years ago, plan a holiday visit
to a restored or re-created living-history museum. Many are populated by costumed docents
and reenactors who will help you feel as though you have truly stepped back in time. Stroll
through Columbia, California, by lanthorn (lantern) light and be transported back to 1867,
where you will witness a shootout over the differing politics of the times. Even though
gold was becoming harder to find, there was no shortage of merriment and excitement.
Afterward, enjoy a light supper of soups, chowders and desserts; (209) 532-8324. Sea
chanteys accompany daytime and lantern-lit night tours of restored buildings and boats, all
decked out for the season in Mystic, Connecticut. The seaside village, populated with
actors portraying historical characters, reflects life in 19th-century America. Journey
into Pinellas County’s past at Heritage Village in Largo, Florida. Seasonal decorations add
festive color to 23 historic structures, including an early 1900’s mercantile, a
mid-19th-century log house, a doctor’s office from the 1920s, a 13-room Victorian home and
a one-room schoolhouse. Yuletide Season at Westville, “a working 1850 town” in Lumpkin,
Georgia, is a time of holiday cheer. It has period decorations and festivities that include
a Christmas Workshop where visitors learn to make natural decorations; a yule-log ceremony;
a tree-lighting; and finally the burning of the greens; (888) 733-1850. Prairietown, the
fictional village created at Conner Prairie living-history museum in Indiana, represents
the year 1836, when the holidays were not uniformly celebrated in the United States.
Reenactors portray settlers who brought their diverse holiday customs from their homes back
east; (317) 776-6000. See a re-creation of New England’s first Christmas tree at Old
Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts, learn a 19th century dance for the New Year’s ball and
hear a fireside reading of The Night Before Christmas. On December 31, two gala meals are
served at the Bullard Tavern: a First Night Buffet, followed by town-wide First Night
Sturbridge festivities, and a New Year’s Eve Celebration Dinner, which includes a champagne
toast at midnight. The next morning there’s a New Year’s Day brunch; (508) 347-5383.
Relocated homes in Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan, are decorated to represent the
periods in which they were originally occupied. Traveling by horse-drawn sleigh, visitors
can stop at homes decorated in simple, patriotic or opulent styles, and sample hot
gingerbread and freshly-made candy; (800) 343-1929. In 1766, Salem, North Carolina, became
the center of the Moravian Church. Today, an Old Salem Christmas (c. 1790-1830) is heralded
with the traditional Candle Tea, when the putz–a model of the nativity scene–is made.
Other demonstrations include the baking of sugar cake and ginger cookies, and decking the
halls with greens, fruit, decorated Bible verses and candles. Christmas Candlelights
provide the glow at Historic Roscoe Village in Coshocton, Ohio, where aged brick buildings,
hoop-skirted women and quaint shops bring the canal era of the 19th century back to life;
(800) 877-1830. Christmas at the Newport Mansions gives glimpses into the extravagant
holiday celebrations of the Vanderbilts and their wealthy contemporaries in Rhode Island.
The Breakers, Marble House, The Elms and Chateau-sur-Mer are bedecked for the season and
filled with holiday music; (401) 847-1000. Visitors to Nacogdoches, the “Oldest Town in
Texas,” relive the history of the Lone Star State during the Nine Flags Festival, which
features the American flag this year. Highlights are: holidays in an historic village,
reenactments from the period; an old-fashioned Texas-style tea in the home of the man who
drilled the state’s first oil well in 1866 and a candlelight tour of homes; (888) 564-7351.
The Grand Illumination begins the holiday celebration at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia,
with 18th-century-style fireworks, music and entertainment. Lavish period decorations grace
the historic buildings, costumed carolers stroll through the streets, and traditional food
is served in the inns and taverns; (800) HISTORY.

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