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.
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.