No other holiday incorporates so many traditions into its celebratory season than this. As a matter of fact, the only other Christian holiday that actually falls into the category of having a ‘season’ would be Easter. Yet, receiving presents kicks the tail out of sacrificing something for Lent. On top of giving and receiving, you can add fun holiday songs, festive gatherings and decking out the house with holiday décor to this preparational regimen. Yes ,Christmas, with it’s many inspirational traditions, begs a celebration that happens in the cozy confines of yours or a loved one’s home.
That’s why I chose Appleton’s Hearthstone Historic House Museum for my blog. It is a house erected towards the end of the Victorian Era, and that era was when our anscestors became quite creative with this holiday. The Christmas tree, caroling and even the characteristics of our modern Santa Clause were made popular in this portion of history. You might scoff at my next sentiment, but….it made preparing for December 25th a delightful and entertaining time of year.
So, on with my December 6th experience.
We’re heading towards Appleton along US 41 amongst many others, most are making their Friday commute from their jobs. Our mission however, is solely different. We’re driving towards the best public Victorian house in the area. When I say public, I am referring to a house where docents lead you through the living quarters, servants quarters, and those used for entertainment.
This particular house has been decked out with holiday adornments of the Victorian Era. They call the event ‘Victorian Christmas: Sugar Plums’. Accompanying those lavish details of a different age, seven watt electric bulbs, fixed in original light fixtures of the time, provide light. You see, this particular home was the first private residence to have been lit with the assistance of hydroelectric power, with the switch being flipped upon completion on September 30th 1882. So, holidays aside, there are some cool focal points of this structure from the past.
It’s around six at night, and we’re running late. I’ve paid for our tickets in advance online at a price of $12.00 a piece, I believe children’s prices were at $5. I’m not quite sure what to expect, and Heidi, little miss punctuality, is annoyed with my dawdling. However, when we arrive inside the dim and shadowy building we discover that there isn’t a guided tour. We’re free to roam inside the house as we choose. Knowledgeable volunteers are waiting to give us insight on the home and the Victorian Christmas celebration.
I mentioned that the house is dimly lit. That’s because seven watt light bulbs give off only meager light. Yet, even if other times of year would make frolicking about the house a spooky endeavor, the lights of the Christmas trees, placed in every room, are absolutely enchanting. There might be ghosts visiting the house tonight but, if there are, instead of scary tortured souls of a demon realm, I imagine jovial specters reciting the prose of Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’.
In the parlor tonight, a young lady with an operatic voice sings carols as an antique piano accompanies her very powerful and uplifting solos. I have read that different local artists will perform on other nights. As her voice carries throughout the house, we enter the library.
There, we discover a docent, a naughty and nice list and a beautiful tree radiantly glowing. The tree pretty much covers the entire span of the intricately woven floor boards to the meticulous mural on the ceiling. I’m disappointed that an actual fire is not blazing in the fireplace, but I understand. Should the blaze get out of hand, a fire would really be catastrophic to the community.
The docent in the library informs us that each room, besides the servants kitchen, contains a Christmas tree. Upon entrance of the house, we’ve glanced at the one in the parlor and now gawk at the one in the library. We’re told that these evergreens demonstrate the evolution of the tree in the Victorian era. We’re absolutely satisfied with this first one, even if this one, like every other one in the house, is an artificial tree. I’m not judging, I wouldn’t want to clean up all the needles either.
However, when we stroll around the rooms meant for entertaining, and soak up this vibrant ambiance, Heidi’s emphatic as she walks into the parlor, “This is the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen!”.
I shrug, “Yeah, I guess it’s nice.” We’re looking for a photo background for our Christmas card. This tree, and the super decked out fire place of the foyer, may be the best choices.
I should also mention garland is used around doorways, mantels and fireplaces. It’s simply an elegant and magical type of atmosphere. I’m serious, It’s that cool. Inside the servant’s kitchen we find milk and cookies. I also receive an education on some kitchen Items of the time. We discover the first commercially successful toaster General Electric produced. After learning some interesting facts, we make our way up the staircase towards the living quarters.
Here, there’s much of the same, including what is known as a chandelier tree. I like this because it highlights the two main reasons for visiting the house this time of year. There’s the Victorian tree and the electrolier which was very much a first of a kind. We can see the bedrooms, with clothes awaiting there owners to don them, alive with Christmas charm as well.
Also, A docent is kind enough to show us a light switch. It actually looks like a faucet. We mosey around for a little more and then head towards the basement. It’s down here that we get a demonstration on how hydro-electricity is harnessed. I hop on this old fashioned bike and spark light inside the strung bulbs.
After that, we stumble upon other factoids and artifacts along the basement that inform us on the early days of electric lighting in the U.S. and the town of Appleton. The best part is the small exhibit on Christmas lights. This fun part of Christmas goes back as far as 1880. That’s when Thomas Edison lit the outside of his shop with the first Christmas lights and produced and sold them. Yet, how many homes were actually fitted with electric outlets back then? Christmas lights, for mainstream America, would have to wait a little while longer.
When all is said and done, it’s an experience that conjures the spirit of Christmas inside my being. I love the fact that they’ve personalized the house also. There are stockings bearing the names of the children of past residents. What’s more, in the library, a naughty and nice list gives us an insight of what these children were like while living in the home. It was a truly magical experience and I plan on doing it next year as well.
The house is open Fridays and Saturday nights during the holiday season, from 6-8pm.