Yesterday we decided to take advantage of our new membership to visit our local living history museum, Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America & The Sea, to see what Christmas might have been like around here in the 1800s. The museum has a shipyard that is currently restoring the whaleship Charles W. Morgan, other historic ships, a coastal village, a planetarium and indoor exhibit galleries.
(above) Undecorated Christmas tree atop the main mast of the training ship Joseph Conrad, indicating that this vessel will be in port on Christmas.
Watching a coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma. There it is before you – smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage, and always mute with an air of whispering, “Come and find out.”
~ Joseph Conrad
(Heart of Darkness)
I have to admit at first I was a disappointed, somehow expecting to walk into a twinkling winter wonderland. But later I remembered that they didn’t have electricity back then! Candlelight was an ever-present fire hazard. And it wasn’t until after the mid-1800s that Christmas trees became popular. So Christmas was not such a big thing at that time. In fact, the shopkeeper (below) at Stone’s General Store explained to us that no one expected to receive more than a single homemade gift. And that if we didn’t see what we needed to make our gifts in her store, then she would be pleased to order the items for us.
Even in the homes of the wealthy the holiday decor was simple. I love the winter afternoon sun filtering through the curtains (below) in the Thomas Greenman House parlor.
We stopped by the Mystic Print Shop and, with close supervision, I was allowed to print my own 19th-century Christmas card on an old press. Christmas cards were then the “latest” rage in Victorian fashion.
There were wreaths on every door in the seafaring village and on some of the windows, too. For the present I leave you with pictures of a few of them!