Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Imagine It: An Edwardian Christmas

Imagine It: An Edwardian Christmas

By Guest Blogger 
Megan Gillespie

As the temperature gets cooler and our thoughts go to the coming holidays, I like to try and imagine what it must have been like, a century or so ago, as the first residents of our home prepared for Christmas.
My husband, Joshua and I, own the historic Chamberlain House, located in the Cornstalk Heights historic district of Harriman, Tennessee. Built in 1904 by mining executives involved in the founding of town in the late 1880s, our home retains its Edwardian era design, which we have continued to enhance through restoration and collection of period furnishings.

Joshua and I both share a fascination for this period of history, and have adapted much of our daily life at Chamberlain House to emulate the style. In addition, we often wear Edwardian fashion as part of our daily attire; many items of which I have created on my authentic “treadler” sewing machine. As I go through my daily list of chores and preparations with the annual Christmas Tour of Homes…not to mention the arrival of our first child this January…quickly approaching, it is easy to “slip back in time”...and imagine.
The street lamps are lit and in the soft glow, a few gentle snowflakes begin to fall. At the top of a hill stands a little yellow house, The front porch that wraps halfway around it is wrapped in garlands and a large red velvet bow adorns a wreath of holly on the intricate front door.  A single candle flickers gently from every window.
Through the frosted window pane and delicate lace curtains the scene opens before us. It's Christmas Eve and the house is a buzz with activity! What a change from the quiet world outside. The children fuss over the paper chains and popcorn strings they spent long hours creating over the past weeks, begging their father to put them on the tree. The tree in question is a stout fir, cut nearby only days before.
It is soon to be covered bottom to top in hand-made ornaments, garlands, and candles. Only once everything else is finished will the littlest child be lifted up to ceremoniously place the star on the highest bough.
Wreaths and garlands of fresh ivy and holly line every shelf and stair rail, red and green ribbons accent the natural decorations.
In the kitchen, the scene is a bit more frantic. The mother, and older daughters, work tirelessly to put together a grand menu for Christmas dinner the following day. A fine layer of flour coats every surface and pies, cookies, cakes, and puddings, are being turned out at a speed not seen since! The heat from the range sends a warmth throughout the house, taking with it the sweet smells that only the Christmas Season can bring. The children smile and rub their tummies in anticipation, perhaps sneaking samples of dough or sauce. The mother only smiles as an older daughter gently smacks away grabbing hands.
All too soon evening closes in and it's time for bed. Hymns and carols are sung as the candle and lamplight put stars into the children's eyes. At last "Stockings are hung by the chimney with care," prayers are said and little toes are tucked under warm covers to dream of "Sugar Plums." Will Tommy's train be waiting by the tree in the morning, what about Janey's doll? I think perhaps little Annie's "Real live pony" may be a little out of Santa's reach, but perhaps a toy just her size.
Downstairs all is quiet, as Father stokes the fire, and Mother lovingly places "Santa's" Gifts beside the tree, mirroring that Precious Gift so many years before. A gentle kiss is shared beneath the mistletoe before Father turns out the lights, and the soft swish of Mother's skirts tell of their passage upstairs to bed.
Dawn slowly creeps up over the hilltops and sheds it's light on the newfound world of fallen snow. It doesn't take long for it's gentle warmth to rouse the children from their slumber. Excited squeals erupt from the nursery as they remember the day. The door to Mother and Father's room Dashes open and excited little ones bound into the room to bounce on the edges of the bed and beg for permission to go downstairs. Once granted, a flurry of excited feet thunder out of the room.
Their stockings were full of peppermint candies, chocolates, and an orange was hidden far down in the toe. Beneath the tree, the children found, to their delight that there WAS a train, and a doll! And Annie was thrilled to have a little pony she could pull along behind her.
With Gifts open and breakfast eaten, all were bundled up in their Sunday best and warm coats to walk the few blocks to church. The last Advent candle was lit, Hymns were sung, and the story of the Babe in the manger was retold in elegant words by the pastor.
The moment the family walk back through that sturdy door, the flurry of activity returns. Tables are set, candles are lit and final touches are added to the Christmas feast. Soon Aunt Tilly, Uncle Gar, Grandma and Grandpa, and a whirlwind of cousins add to the organized chaos. Aunt Tilly's Spare china is added to the tables, and Grandma's famous Christmas Pudding is given a proud place at its center.
New toys are compared by the children and the nursery is filled with happy and playful sounds. That is until Little Annie is called to ring the dinner bell (Mother's old school bell from her teaching days), a special family tradition.
A Blessing is asked over the food and all sit down to enjoy the midwinter bounty. The Turkey takes center stage, A cornbread stuffing spread all around the platter. Dates, Figs, and Cranberries all add to the special Christmas delicacies.
Later that night when all is quiet and still, and all the children are asleep in their beds, Mother and Father share a secret kiss and a sigh. Another year has passed like the fallen snow.
The sound of cars on the street outside, and the modern necessity of keeping up with a busy schedule break my reverie…and I am again, here, in the Twenty-First Century with looming deadlines and emails to respond to. Still, as the evening sun sets on another day, and my husband returns from the office…we have our few precious moments of stillness. We dream of the year ahead…and as we speak in soft tones, one can almost feel the Christmas memories of those who lived and loved in our dear old home come to life once more.

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