An Old Fashioned Christmas

Experience the sights, sounds and smells of the holiday season as the Franklin Historical Society presents its annual Christmas celebration in Lions Legend Park.

Children are invited to the Whelan School on Saturday, December 1 in preparation for the Christmas festivities. There they will make ornaments, decorate the school tree and learn songs of the season, songs that children in rural one-room schools would sing. They will present their program in the school on Saturday, December 8 at 3pm, immediately before the Christmas services in the chapel.

The non-denominational services will be held at several times: 4:00, 5:30 and at 7:00 at St. Peter’s Chapel, with narration in both English and German. Kerosene lamps will be lit and heat will be provided by a wood stove as carols are sung to the accompaniment of the church’s old pump organ.

After each service, cookies and beverages will be served in the old Town Hall, where a large Christmas tree has been decorated in the late 1880’s style and music of the season is being played.

Customs and traditions of early Franklin families of German, Irish and Dutch descent will be part of the celebration. The early settlers brought these customs from their ancestral homes and continued to practice them in their new home.

The Dutch brought “Sinterklas” their version of St. Nicholas to this country, but later the English speaking population renamed him “Santa Claus”. German children, traditionally, had a visit from St. Nicholas on the 5th or 6th of December, a practice that is still continued today by many children of all nationalities. “Santa Claus” may also make an appearance at the Franklin festivities between the services in the Franklin Historical Park so children should be on the lookout for that very special person.

In the late 1800’s the idea of a Christmas tree had become very popular and many rural families would have cut down a tree from the land and decorated it with fruit, nuts, cakes and cookies—all hung on the tree with ribbons. Strings of popcorn and cranberries may have been strung to serve as garlands on the tree, and later thin foil strips (tinsel) would be used to give an effect of icicles on the tree.

Before electric lights decorated trees, families would put candles in holders, clip them to the outer tree branches, but only light them for a short time and when people were in the room because of the danger of fire. If one looks closely at the tree in the old Town Hall, these candles and holders are still being used, but not lit!

By the 1880’s, glass ornaments were introduced in Germany and were later sold in America through the F.W. Woolworth stores. The Town Hall tree each year is decorated with old-fashioned glass ornaments and well as many other homemade ornaments.

A special custom that began with German families and is still practiced today in many home is the “hunt for the pickle ornament” hiding in the tree. The beginning of that custom is now being credited to a Civil War soldier who originally came from Bavaria.

The soldier ended up being captured by the Confederates and being sent to Andersonville Prison. Starving and sick, he asked the jailor for a pickle to eat. Luckily, he survived the war and began the tradition of hiding a pickle ornament in the family Christmas tree! Whoever found the pickle first on Christmas morning would have 1 year of good luck!

When the cold, dark days of December arrived, people would gather “wreaths of evergreens” to burn for warmth and to give light. The historical buildings, too, will be adorned with fresh wreaths to “help warm the season”. In The Irish tradition a holly wreath would be placed on the front door and candles in the windows. The Sheehan-Godsell cabin will be adorned with such a wreath to commemorate that tradition.

Please accept this invitation to experience the warmth and light of the season on Saturday, December 8th and be a part of the holiday celebration. The Franklin Historical Society wants everyone to enjoy an “old-fashioned Christmas. For more information, please contact Barbara Pforr at 425-0244 or Jim Luckey at 421-6539.