Sunday, 8 December 2013

Christmas By Candlelight at Lang Pioneer Village

    It had begun to snow.  Small white flakes fell as we drove.  The car was filled with the booming glorious voice of Annie Lennox, as if she had popped by to give us our own personal concert.  This was our special girls night out.  We had picked up my Mom and the three girls and I were headed to Keene, for Christmas by Candlelight at Lang Pioneer Village.

    I have to admit that there is a good chance that Mom and I were more excited than the girls.  I love pioneer villages.  It makes me feel equal amounts of nostalgia for a simpler time, and just as equal parts of gratitude to live in the time and the country in which I live.   My early new world relatives were hearty folk to survive the conditions in which they did.  I truly cannot imagine having the courage to live as they did.  I cannot imagine the fear and back breaking work it took just to survive the winter, or life in the new world for that matter.  I look at the buildings of the pioneer village, they lived simply.  You had what you needed, and you were good with that.  A family of six would live in a cabin roughly the size of my living room, and be happy to have it.   I wish for that kind of simplicity, and yet am thankful to have the choice.

    The village was lit by lantern light, just as they would have used in the 1800's.  Each building represented a different aspect to pioneer life.  It also showed how each of the different residents would have celebrated.  For the pioneers Christmas was not a show of who could give the largest, most expensive gifts.  It was a time of simple celebration.  The Christmas tree did not really begin to make it's appearance in British homes until the 1840's.  By the 1860's all of the well off British households would have had a Christmas tree.  Their trees did not look like ours.  They had small candles attached to the branches.  The trees were decorated with small household items, cookies and popcorn or cranberries.  I can only imagine the feast that the mice would have had when everyone had gone to sleep.  Their Christmas gifts were not like ours today.  Their gifts were gifts that could be made, or purchased with their spare money at the general store.  The stocking was exactly that... a sock.  It was filled with an orange which was a special treat.  Consider the place where oranges grow.  For us is common to have orange's all year round.  Now consider the trip by horse or water that humble orange would have to take in a time before modern travel.  It would have been a rare treat, especially to Canadians.  At that time they had to rely on what they had been able to store in the fall, there would have been no fresh vegetables or fruit.  Add to the delight of that sweet little orange ball of sunshine, there would be a handful of nuts to those who were wealthy enough to be able to purchase them.

    We traveled building to building enjoying the sights and sounds around us.  The night was cold, and the little buildings were so inviting with their warm orange light.  We went into one house that was full of smoke.  The smoke hovered, mixing into the warm orange light of the fire and candles.  At the table sat a woman making a homemade dolly.  In the hearth chestnuts were roasting.  The smoke stung at my eyes, but it again occurred to me how very lucky I am to live in the part of history in which I live.  If their firewood was wet, or not aged quite enough, tough luck.  They relied on wood for their heat and to cook.  No fire, no surviving.  We were able to try roasted chestnuts.  I had always thought that I disliked roasted chestnuts, but it turns out I do like them (I feel like I should be saying I do like Chestnuts Sam I Am).  They were warm and creamy tasting, not unlike a firm potato.  We left that home thankful for the cold fresh air, but with the knowledge of how fortunate we are, and how tasty roasted chestnuts are.

    Part of the evening's activities were horse and wagon rides around the village.  We were all excited about that.  I love horse rides.  We waited for the team to return.  While we waited we were able to hear the angelic voices of the carolers making their rounds throughout the village, dressed in period clothing.  It was so beautiful.  I felt transported back into history.  It was not long before we heard the jingling of the wagon, making us breakaway from the heavenly choir.  We all loaded onto the wagon, tightly packed.  It was beautiful.  The weather was cold, but because we were sitting so closely, Elly snuggled in between Mom and I, our faces were cold, but our bodies were warm.  The ride had that gentle rocking that you only get from a horse and wagon.  The jingling of the bells added to the magic.

     The highlight of my evening was the Keene Hotel.  It was warm and smelled heavenly.  The scent of warm spices floated out to greet us.  The girls enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate, while Mom and I sampled the mulled apple cider.  Traditionally I am not a fan of hot apple cider.  It generally tastes like thick, hot apple juice.  That night I was cold, and had no desire for hot chocolate.  My first mouthful was heavenly.  It tasted like liquid apple pie.  As I drank I began to warm up, my chest was radiating a pleasant heat.  Mom and I sat like little kids ourselves sighing after each mouthful.  It was so good.  We decided that we had to purchase that spice mix at the general store.
      Our next stop was the general store to purchase some of that amazing mulling mix.  It was only fifty cents a bag, and Mom and I wiped out their supply.  I could hardly wait to go home and make some hot mulled apple cider.  The general store was filled with beautiful things like the pioneer general store would have sold.  It was a one stop shop.

    We traveled around the village taking everything in.  Many had authentic foods that we could taste.  The town hall hosted a band, the music escaping whenever someone would open the door to come in or out.  The Weaving House had a talented lady who read the children T'was The Night Before Christmas.  We sat in the warm and stunning beauty of the weaving house, listening to the gifted story teller.  That was almost our last stop.  We headed back to the main building so that the girls could make their own Christmas Crackers.  They had so much fun, and they were so easy to make.  I have now added "Make Christmas Crackers" to my before Christmas list.

    Our last stop on our pioneer tour was to see Father Christmas.  His jacket was bright and beautiful, so regal looking.  Father Christmas looked like a regal cousin to our Santa Claus.  The girls made their way over bashfully to sit with Father Christmas.  While the girls chatted with Father Christmas, Mom and I took a few short steps over to watch a very talented lady create an evergreen garland.  I have tried this several times, but my efforts are just that, efforts.  She told us how she did it, and let us watch her.  It turns out you are supposed to use just small bits, as opposed to the huge branches I had been trying.  I wanted to run home and clip more evergreens and begin a garland.

     We made our way back to the van.  The night sky looked like the village tinsmith had plied his trade to the night.  There were thousands of bright stars in that dark midnight blue overhead blanket.  The kids all belted in, the heat blasting full, we made our way back to the 21 century.  The kids voices rang through the car, each voice overtop of the other, excitedly sharing what was their most favourite part of the evening.  I had Chris Issak's warm voice coming out to us singing Christmas Carols.  I felt warm, not just from that glorious heat flowing out of the car vents.  I had a beautiful night with the my girls and my Mom.  This was now a memory.  It was a lovely memory that I hope to make again next year.


  1. It was a perfectly lovely night,thank you once again. Mom

  2. What a great story! The staff and volunteers strive for exactly this feeling. Thank you for sharing.