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Colonial Christmas at Historic Camden

Posted: November 22, 2011 4:57 p.m.
Updated: November 23, 2011 5:00 a.m.

It’s unlikely that today’s kids will be asking Santa for a “bird on Bellows, Prussian Dragoon, Tunbridge Tea Sett, or neatly dress’d Wax Baby.” That’s what Jackie and Patsey Custis received as Christmas gifts from their new stepfather, George Washington, in 1759. Not from under the Christmas tree, mind you. Christmas trees and Santa Claus weren’t introduced until the 19th century!

While children and slaves often received holiday gifts, in the southern colonies, the Yuletide Season was predominantly a celebration for grown ups. Unlike many of the northern colonies, who considered the observance of Christmas a punishable offense. Southern festivities included parties, hunts, horse races, cock fights, balls, and visiting, highlighted by church services, mainly Church of England, and special customs.

Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site will share some of those customs at its annual Colonial Christmas in Camden and Holiday Toy Train Exhibit on Saturday, December 10th from 2-5 pm. Event tickets, sold at the gift shop, will be $5 for adults, $3 for ages 6-12, and free for ages under six. All proceeds will benefit Historic Camden.

The fun holiday adventure will begin at the elegant Kershaw-Cornwallis House. The halls of the period furnished first floor will be “decked” with Christmas greenery, including holly and ivy, which surviving documentation suggests was strung throughout the interiors of southern homes, along with a bit of prominently displayed mistletoe. Appropriate wreaths and sprays will adorn the front doors of all the museum houses, thanks to the creative efforts of the Camden Garden Club.
Guides in 18th century apparel will share some the traditions of the Yuletide season and guests are encouraged to toss a piece of holly into the fire, a popular custom believed to remove past problems and usher in a prosperous, healthy new year. A militia man will describe life in the Carolina Backcountry and periodically fire his musket, as was the custom during the season.

A prominent family such as the Kershaws would have hosted a midnight feast for family and friends. The dining room table will be laden with food and drink typical of the season -- punches, beef and fowl, oysters, pies, seasonal and preserved vegetables, plum pudding, brandied peaches, jellies, nuts and fruits. Be sure to sample the savory mulled cider, a favorite drink of the colonists, and the delicious jumbles made from an 18th century recipe. Copies of several period recipes will be offered as mementos of your journey into Christmas Past!

Period clothes will be available to model and all ages are encouraged to try their hand at writing a holiday greeting with a quill pen and play colonial games.

Next, head to the basement and enter the magical world of electric toy trains. Now in its 12th year, this mesmerizing Holiday Toy Train Exhibit was conceived by avid toy train collector Stephen Smith, a well-known Camden architect. The popular exhibit will be open to the public from 6-8 p.m. on Dec. 9, December 12-17, 19-23, and 26-30 (tentative schedule). There is no admission fee, but donations to benefit Historic Camden are encouraged.

Before you head back to the 21st century, drive to the lower grounds of the museum and enjoy the exhibits in the other historic buildings and the orientation film on early Camden. Kids will have fun completing the holiday scavenger hunt and staff story time. Everyone will appreciate the 10 percent discount on most of the great gifts in the Exchange Shop. The Pillories and Stocks offer a wonderful photo op, too! Used for public punishment of assorted crimes in colonial days, these replicas were Eagle Scout projects.

Other appealing Saturday activities in Camden: annual Christmas Parade/10 a.m., children’s play/2 p.m., Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County, Camden Jr. Welfare League’s annual Candlelight Tour of Homes/3-8 p.m.

Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site is located 222 Broad St., Camden, SC, 1.4 miles from I-20/Exit 98 on Hwy 521 North. Information: (803) 432-9841; www.historic-camden.net. For information pertaining to the other weekend events, please call the KC Chamber of Commerce at 1-800- 968-4037.

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