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East end hosting Colonial Christmas

Christmas, The Revolutionary Holiday

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POSTED: December 10, 2010 6:46 p.m.
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Minstrels perform at last year's Colonial Christmas

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Harried holiday shoppers, put away your credit cards and gift lists and slip back in time a few hundred years to experience a simpler Christmas celebration. From 5-8 p.m. Saturday, guests at Fort Morris Historic Site in Midway will learn how early Americans marked the holiday in America's beginning days during a Colonial Christmas evening.
Today's Christmas buff may notice some modern holiday traditions are missing, said longtime volunteer presenter David Swinford, a historian and kindergarten teacher on Fort Stewart. "If you're doing a colonial Christmas like it's supposed to be, there wasn't much variation," he said.
Christmas trees were not yet a tradition in the colonies, and Clement C. Moore's "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" was nearly 50 years away from being written, Swinford explained. What was prevalent was the attention to the spiritual side of Christmas, and that is captured in Colonial Christmas with a telling of the Christmas story.
Arthur Edgar, site manager at Fort Morris and coordinator of Colonial Christmas, said the event takes many cues from Virginia's historic Williamsburg, a living museum that also celebrates a Revolutionary-period Christmas.
"This particular event has our own slant to it," Edgar said. "We are trying to interpret the holiday season of the 18th century. It gives you a neat feeling of simpler times, instead of having to go to the mall and buy presents."
Colonial Christmas features inns and residences re-created under tents, presenters in period costumes, caroling and refreshments derived from recipes of an era gone by. In addition to an interpretive film, walking tour and bonfire, guests can participate in a social dance and enjoy period music performed by Savannah resident Jamie Keena.
"Folks at the time would entertain with colonial balls; the dances are very simple and easy to learn," Edgar said. "Guests are encouraged to participate."
Swinford said the event is an intimate affair. Edgar estimated between 40 and 80 people on average come out to revel in the merriment every year. "It's outside so it's at the mercy of the weather," Edgar said.
Convincing guests to embrace the living history can sometimes be challenging, but Swinford said they have found switching from first-person narratives to a more instructive, modern conversation approach encourages more interaction.
"Show and tell seems to work best," he said. "Every time we try to come up with something innovative and new, but the things we do take their cues from Williamsburg. You don't have to keep reinventing the wheel when the research has already been done."
Swinford has volunteered every year but one since the festivities began about 10 years ago. "I've played the innkeeper, I've had gaming tables, I've played an infantry soldier and fired infantry guns," Swinford said. "I'll probably go as a civilian again [this year]."
He has taken his passion for history and used it to learn more about the people who were at Fort Morris during the Revolutionary War.
"The English archives turned out to be the best source of information, right down to the names of the men who were stationed there," he said. "There was very little on the type of clothing, but we extrapolated from 1778 what would have been appropriate."
The research also revealed much of the same about the arsenal at Fort Morris. "We chose an English cannon because that was what [colonists] had at the time," Swinford said.
The preparation for Colonial Christmas relies on assistance from several volunteers like Swinford, who help Edgar make the most of Fort Morris' surroundings. "We generally have 10 to 15 volunteers show up and help, though we have had as many as 30," Edgar said. "Most already know their stuff; we couldn't do this without our volunteers.

 

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