Tak­ing a visit to the Christ­mas of yes­ter­year

Water­loo Re­gion Mu­seum of­fers tours that take visitors back to the way the sea­son was marked a cen­tury ago

The Woolwich Observer - - LIVING HERE - VERONICA REINER

IF YOU’VE EVER LAMENTED that Christ­mas ain’t what it used to be, the Water­loo Re­gion Mu­seum has just the thing for you: Christ­mas the way it used to be.

The Coun­try Christ­mas tours now un­der­way each Sun­day fea­ture a nos­tal­gic look at the sea­son, in­clud­ing the var­i­ous cul­tural nu­ances seen in this area a cen­tury ago.

The mu­seum’s her­itage vil­lage takes visitors back to 1914. The First World War was just un­der­way, and just be­gin­ning to make it­self felt on the home front. Over­seas, the now­sto­ried Christ­mas cease­fire was tak­ing place along the Western front, bring­ing a brief in­ter­lude of peace and shared hu­man­ity.

The vil­lage in­cludes a range of homes and busi­nesses from the pe­riod.

“A num­ber of our build­ings are dec­o­rated ac­cord­ingly,” said Kevin Thomas, WRM’s pub­lic pro­grams spe­cial­ist, of the 1914 time­frame. “Also what’s hap­pen­ing within the stores is sur­pris­ingly sim­i­lar to to­day, in that they’re hop­ing you’re go­ing to buy all sorts of things for your loved ones on your list.”

The re­tail spa­ces decked out for Christ­mas 1914 in­clude a gen­eral re­pair shop, a post of­fice, and a car­pet weaver store. The tai­lor shop show­cased was con­structed orig­i­nally in Welles­ley. Paths lead­ing to dif­fer­ent ar­eas al­low at­ten­dees to ex­plore the vil­lage at their leisure.

There are tour guides, dressed in pe­riod cos­tumes to add to the 1914 feel, who pro­vide a his­tory of the var­i­ous tra­di­tions that went on in the build­ings.

“What’s a bit of an in­ter­est­ing turn­ing point is that World War I has started,” said Thomas. “So a num­ber of things aren’t in large sup­ply. For ex­am­ple, a lot of post­cards were ac­tu­ally pro­duced in Ger­many. So there’s a short­age of that kind of thing. But it’s still decked out. They’re still sug­gest­ing ‘oh we can help check off that Christ­mas list that you have for ev­ery­body.’”

A pop­u­lar talk­ing point is the promi­nence of post- cards and Christ­mas cards in the era, a well-es­tab- lished tra­di­tion in the early 20th cen­tury.

“Post­cards were in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar in that time pe­riod,” said Thomas. “Mil­lions and mil­lions were sent each year. By 1914 you have a huge range of Christ­mas cards avail­able, and there were ac­tu­ally peo­ple who col­lected post­cards. And they would even trade them.”

That’s in stark con­trast to the Christ­mas of to­day. With the ar­rival of the dig­i­tal age, many of us are now opt­ing to text, use so­cial me­dia, or send e-cards rather than pop­ping some­thing into the mail.

“Post­cards are def­i­nitely drop­ping off th­ese days,” said Thomas. “Let­ter­writ­ing, in gen­eral, seems to be go­ing the way of the dodo.”

Tra­di­tional cards aren’t the only dif­fer­ences, of course, as a tour through the mu­seum’s dis­plays of res­i­den­tial homes quickly re­veals. Just look, for in­stance, at the Martin or MacArthur homes to see how Christ­mas was treated across dif­fer­ent cul­tures at the time. An­other ex­am­ple is the Sararas house, where the tour fea­tures ed­i­ble Christ­mas or­na­ments as well as Ad­vent cal­en­dars. There are also the three vi­o­let can­dles with a fourth pink candle as­so­ci­ated with Ad­vent.

Ad­vent was a sta­ple with the Ger­man ver­sion of Christ­mas, with the con-

cept of the Ad­vent wreath orig­i­nat­ing from Ger­man Luther­ans in the 16th cen­tury.

“It’s not that much of a stretch to think ‘okay, had you lived either in Ger­many or say in Eng­land, and you came over to this part of the world, you would bring some of your tra­di­tions with you,’ and then those would meld with some of the tra­di­tions that were al­ready here,” said Thomas.

The tour points out the dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions of the Old Or­der Men­non­ite, Scot­tish and English com­mu­ni­ties. There are also horse-drawn wagon rides, Christ­mas carollers and hot ap­ple cider. Those who visit are also free to join in with some fes­tive singing of their own, tak­ing on clas­sics such as Silent Night, Deck the Halls and We Wish You a Merry Christ­mas.

“It’s a won­der­ful walk­through time,” said Sean Jas­mins, mar­ket­ing and part­ner­ship su­per­vi­sor at the Water­loo Re­gion Mu­seum. “All of our visitors love the event. It’s a great way to start off the Christ­mas sea­son with a visit to our Christ­mas event.”

The Water­loo Re­gion Mu­seum of­fers the yule­tide tours on Sun­days – De­cem­ber 9, 16, and the 23 – from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ad­mis­sion is $11 for adults, $8 for se­niors and stu­dents, $5 for chil­dren and free for chil­dren four and un­der. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.wa­ter­loore­gion­mu­seum.ca.

[VERONICA REINER / THE OB­SERVER]

Carollers join in the fes­tivies dur­ing the Coun­try Christ­mas tours at the Water­loo Re­gion Mu­seum, where the his­toric vil­lage set­ting recre­ates the hol­i­days as they were in 1914.

The mu­seum event lets visitors ex­plore how Christ­mas was cel­e­brated by dif­fer­ent cul­tures in the re­gion at a time when the coun­try was ramp­ing up its in­volve­ment in the First World War. Horse-drawn wag­ons, carollers and his­tor­i­cal tours are all part of the ex­pe­ri­ence on of­fer Sun­days un­til Dec. 23.

[VERONICA REINER / THE OB­SERVER]

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