Christmas Past

Last night, Colette and I made our traditional trip to the “Christmas by Candlelight” program at Old Sturbridge Village to enjoy a Christmas past.

The program’s focus is on showing you what a Christmas in a small, New England village in the 1800′s might’ve been like. In truth, Old Sturbridge Village is supposed to be set in the 1830′s-1840′s, but some of the traditions displayed belong more to the later Victorian era. But that’s fine with us, because we love the whole of the 1800′s!

Our first stop of the evening was in the Small House, where chestnuts were roasting over the fire. It was here that I learned the most!

The American chestnut tree used to be the “redwoods of New England”. These tall trees covered the countryside! In the spring, their long, white blooms would make the hills look as though they were covered in snow. In the autumn, you could drive your wagon into the woods and pick them up by the shovel full and toss them into your wagon…many times over. Then a disease struck them, and they become nearly extinct. Through a conservation effort, they are being reintroduced to New England!

When I asked the interpreter (not the one pictured, but a man who is just bursting with enthusiasm for his job!) if chestnuts were used in baking, he responded in the following manner. In the middle of summer, a farmer was too busy farming to go socializing. Even if he did have time, by the time he got to his friend’s farm, his friend was too buy farming to visit. Plus the roads were rutted and bad during the summer. But during the winter, it was another matter entirely! The roads were icy and frozen, making travel by sleigh easy. And everyone had more time, so socializing was a winter activity. Since homes did not have central heating and sleighs were unheated, once you arrived at your friend’s farm, you wanted to sit by the fire! And a fine thing to do as you sat there by the fire, was to roast and eat chestnuts! So, chestnuts were not usually used in baking, but just roasted and eaten.

He did say that chestnuts might’ve been used in stuffing. And if you roasted a turkey for your visitor, that was a rare and wonderful treat! How could that be a rare treat here in New England, where wild turkeys are everywhere? In that time, the land was nearly clear cut, which destroyed the turkeys’ habitat. Turkeys were nearly extinct in New England at the time! So, if you served your visitor turkey, you had either purchased it or raised it yourself. And raising a turkey yourself is tricky business. They are more prone to disease than chickens. If you start out with 30 turkeys, you may only have 20 full-grown ones. It takes at least 45 minutes to dress a turkey, to serve one meal to 10 people. However, a pig takes four hours to dress out, and will feed a family for a year. So, to serve your guest a roast turkey was a way to honor your guest with an expression of your time or money.

There were carolers singing!

Hot cider heating over the fire, ready for mulling. The mulling irons are on the hearth heating up too.

The small bonfire on the town green attracts groups of chilled visitors off and on throughout the evening.

Colette at the door of the Parsonage. We love going to this program together!

Inside the parsonage, which was beautifully decorated, there was a display of Christmas cards. I was surprised to learn that Christmas cards existed in the 1830′s and even earlier. At that time they were handmade. The first printed Christmas card was made in 1840.

In the kitchen of the Parsonage, they were making fruitcake (the ingredients assembled here).

Then it was on to the tinsmith’s shop, with all its beauty of light…one of my favorite stops.

In the basement of the tavern, there were various types of Christmas foods being prepared, demonstrated, and served. Here a citron, a relative to the watermelon (but mostly rind), is being peeled, chopped, and candied for fruitcake.

We were served “sugarplums”. The original sugarplum was nothing more than a sugar-coated fennel seed, and existed as a treat since the middle ages. Here are the candy-coated fennel seeds that we were served. Tastes just like black licorice.

And this woman was smoothing melting chocolate to a glossy texture. With this she would make hot chocolate.

This is the cocoa plant.

The melted chocolate might’ve also been poured into a puddle (or a mold) to harden and be used for baking. Here is a modern bar of baking chocolate, and next to it a cake of chocolate as you might have used in the 1800′s.

Our last stop of the evening was in a small building where one man’s nativity scene, hand-built over a period of decades, was on display. He made all those buildings…out of styrofoam! Over it all was a velvet ribbon with the words, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill to men” written in Latin.

It was a lovely evening! We’ll be back next year!

Christmas Decorations

Here’s a glimpse at the front doors and other Christmas decorations in our little corner of New England!


In this season of advent, we’ve been reading Douglas Wilson’s new book, God Rest Ye Merry, for family devotions. I love how he writes! His writing style is so crisp! He has a way of cutting right to the heart of the matter in three words or less, but never without thought behind each and every word. Here’s an excerpt:

“The one who spoke the galaxies into existence at the beginning of all things took on human flesh and consented to have his diapers changed. But He did not do this in order to demonstarte how low He could stoop, as though that stooping were arbitrary or aimless. Rather, he ordained that stooping this low would be the means by which He overcame the world. And He ordained that stooping in this way would be the means by which his disciples followed Him into the kinghdom.” – Douglas Wilson

Leaf Raking

Walter, Felicity, Mr. Theo Elbow Patches, and Melissa came over for an afternoon of leaf raking recently.

Leaf raking, leaf pile play, and a little photo shoot took place.

Oh my!  Are they cute, or what?

Thanksgiving Day

I hope all of you had a lovely Thanksgiving Day! There is SO much to be thankful for this year…and always! We began our day by going to Thanksgiving worship service. Then…let the feasting begin!

Colette did most of the turkey basting this year. We purchased an all-natural turkey from that nice new grocery store I told you about. Our experience with all-natural birds is that they tend to be a bit drier than the conventional kind. So I made a compound butter by mixing chopped parsley, rosemary, and thyme, crushed fennel seeds, and some salt with the butter. Then I smeared that between the skin and the breast of the turkey. And we stuffed the cavity with more of the herbs. It did turn out pretty moist, and very freshly flavorful!

Our sweet doggies, for whom we are very grateful. They never strayed too far from the kitchen all day. Hmm…wonder why?

The Thanksgiving table set with our new table runner and my grandmother’s early American-patterned dishes.

I took some time in the midst of cooking to play a few rounds of Jenga with Max.

 My sweet family! So thankful for them!

Thanksgiving Eve

“…It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens…”

from Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation (1863)

Like so many American woman, past and present Colette and I spent the day preparing food for Thanksgiving Day. I love the continuity of this holiday through generations of Americans. I love preparing food for the day, knowing that our Pilgrim mothers prepared food too…and every generation since. A day set apart to thank God for His many blessings and enjoy the bounty from His hands.

Here’s my apple pie, piled high with Winesaps, ready to go into the oven. It’s especially for Max, who doesn’t like pumpkin.

Colette’s Rosemary Olive Oil Sourdough Bread cubed, dried, and ready for stuffing.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Candle Dipping Day

Recently we had some friends over for a day of making beeswax candles. Fun, fun!

We set up outside, using the burner on the grill as our heat source for melting the wax. It was damp chilly that day, but we had hot cider to warm us! We talked about how this would be much warmer if we did it in a big kettle over an open fire. We really must get set up to do that someday!

Starting the dipping.

One dipping done!

Many more dippings to go!

Getting thicker!

Trimming the ends.


A good day’s work! I’m looking forward to burning these all winter!

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