A local look at Christmas, past and present

by Tina Cole-Mullins

The Christmas season is here again and family, friends and community prepare to join as one to celebrate. Jack Frost is nipping at our noses as the weather turns cold and we get our first taste of winter. But this does not deter true Michigander shoppers from pushing through the hustle and bustle. All seem filled with holiday cheer as they search for that perfect gift of a popular toy or the latest technology.

Despite these busy times, some Christmas traditions continue. Community celebrations such as the Stockbridge Festival of Lights, Stockings on the Square, and Highest Praise Worship Center hosting a visit from Santa bring joy to young and old during the holiday season.

We can capture it all on our phones in an instant and share photos around the world just as fast as Santa’s sleigh ride each year on that magical night. Technology creates a world far different from that of our parents and grandparents. For them, Christmas was a much simpler time.

The first settlers to the area of White Oak, Stockbridge, Gregory, Hell and Waterloo included the Smith, Lowe, Walker, Williams, Reeves, Davis, Dewey, Siebold and Realy families. Depending upon one’s heritage, the celebrations would differ. With the fallout from the American Revolution, many English customs and celebrations of Christmas were outlawed in Boston, similar to the story we know as “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

If these families followed in a crusade to celebrate Christmas before it was declared a federal holiday, they had what would become a traditional celebration. They may have followed the lead of Washington Irving’s short story in 1819 with his portrayal of an English manor celebration focused on the meaning of “Christ-Mass” and family. The popular Charles Dickens’ work called “A Christmas Carol” also may have influenced celebrations, as it was written soon after this area was founded.

Maybe one of our forefathers would have been seated with children by the fire, where stockings were hung with care, reading the poem “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” now known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

One can only imagine and speculate how first settlers celebrated the holidays. Christmas would not become a federal holiday until 1870. By the end of the 1800s, Francis Pharcellus Church, the editor at a New York newspaper would answer a little girl’s question stating “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Looking for a way to celebrate a simpler, old-fashioned Christmas?

Consider visiting the Waterloo Farm Museum to experience its 26th Annual Christmas on the Farm, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4 and Sunday, Dec. 5. Tour the 1880s Realy farmhouse decorated for the holidays. Enjoy drinks and baked goods at the bake house. Listen to musicians, carolers and storytellers on site.

At the same time, visit the Christmas Market to purchase any needed last-minute Christmas gifts. Wool socks, candles, crafted ornaments, quilts, pinafores, aprons, pottery, goat milk soaps, lip and hand balms, and wooden toys are available to name just a few. Wreaths and holiday decor are for sale and can provide the finishing touches on your seasonal decorating. Many gifts are locally sourced from Waterloo-area artisans and vendors.

It’s Christmastime, and whatever your traditions, old or new, take time to enjoy them during this special time of year.

Sources: History.com and local archives.

One of the barns at the Waterloo Farm Museum. Photo from Facebook: Volunteers of Waterloo Farm and Dewey School

Learn about Christmas of Yesteryear at the 26th Annual Christmas on the Farm. Dec 4 and Dec. 5. 10am to 4pm. Photo from Facebook: Volunteers of Waterloo Farm and Dewey School

Santa takes time out during his busy season to meet visitors in a cabin at the Waterloo Farm Museum. Photo from Facebook: Volunteers of Waterloo Farm and Dewey School

Celebrating a modern Christmas includes Stockings on the Square, December 16, 6-8pm. Photo Credit: Ryan Wilson of Karmooney Photography.

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