Melrose hosts historic holiday

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 11, 1999

For one and a half hours Saturday morning, a group of children went back 142 years to see how Christmas was celebrated at the antebellum house Melrose.

With National Park Service Ranger Jane Jackson as their guide, they sang Christmas carols in what used to be the slave quarters and read what was then a brand-new book that began &uot;Twas the night before Christmas …&uot;

Then the group of 15 children and 11 adults – mostly Scout leaders and parents – crowded into the house’s kitchen, now a visitor’s center, to make toys and Christmas ornaments as children from the antebellum era would have done.

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One girl wrinkled her forehead as she carefully wrapped yarn around a pine cone to make an ornament. Another held up a handkerchief doll as she drew a smile on its face.

&uot;This is my favorite part of the whole thing,&uot; said 10-year-old Ava Hill, holding up an ornament she made of a pine cone, yarn and paper.

&uot;It’s been a lot of fun,&uot; said Valise Dixon, 11, a member of Girl Scout Troop 164. &uot;It gives us an opportunity to see what Christmas back then felt like.&uot;

Huddled around a table in the small room, they used red and green yarn to tie handkerchiefs into the shape of dolls.

In the 1800s the dolls were called &uot;church dolls,&uot;&160;because they were used to amuse children during long church services.

Then the group went to what Jackson called &uot;the big house&uot; to take a peek at the house’s parlor. Holly-adorned candlesticks decorated the room, and well-dressed porcelain dolls occupied the sofa.

And atop a corner table was a small Christmas tree covered with red bows and electric &uot;candles.&uot;

In the 1850s, people had to use available materials and greenery to decorate for the holidays, Jackson told them. But the reason for the season – Christ’s birth 2000 years ago – &uot;is something that hasn’t changed,&uot; she said