Dec 20, 2013
01:30 PM
History

Celebrating the Origin of Santa and Three Centuries of Christmas at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum in Wethersfield.

Celebrating the Origin of Santa and Three Centuries of Christmas at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum in Wethersfield.

Illustration by Thomas Nast

      The Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum in Wethersfield has a knack for bringing history to life, and Christmas is a perfect time to exhibit its talents. The museum’s three period homes are currently decked in holiday splendor with doors open for tours through Jan. 6.

      According to Julie Winkel, part of the museum’s creative team headed by executive director Charles T. Lyle, this year’s holiday display was inspired by renowned artist Thomas Nast’s images of a “modern-day” friendly Santa who traveled by sleigh propelled by eight flying reindeer. “When Clement Moore penned the words, ‘Twas the night before Christmas…’ in 1822,'  he could not have imagined the impact his poem would have on future generations,” Winkel says. “Political cartoonist Thomas Nast later sealed the deal, depicting Santa as a jolly, plump man with a full, white beard and a sack of toys. It was Nast who gave Santa his bright-red suit trimmed with white fur, the North Pole workshop and elves, and let’s not forget Mrs. Claus.”

      Nast’s illustrations for the poem also known as “An Account of a Visit of St. Nicholas,” are on view in Celebrating the Origin of Santa and Three Centuries of Christmas, which coincides with the museum's celebration of 300 years of Christmas. See how the Christmas of today was created in the 19th century, and enjoy an enchanting and historic view of the holidays. The exhibition runs through Jan. 4.

      The hour-long tours pass through each of the meticulously restored houses.  In the Silas Deane House, circa 1770, New Year’s Day was the main holiday, rather than Christmas, due to the Puritanical customs that still lingered in New England at the time. It was also the day when individuals who owed the family money met privately with the master of the house to settle their debts or make a New Year’s resolution to settle their accounts in the coming year.

      The Isaac Stevens House depicts the holiday celebrations of a middle-class household during the early to mid-1800s, when many of the Christmas traditions known today were adopted in New England. The best parlor features a charming tabletop tree decorated with candles, gilded eggshells and edible treats, in keeping with the era.

      Joseph Webb House visitors are dazzled by decorations typical of the early 20th century, a period of stunning decoration and celebration. The home is prepared for a Christmas open house that was typical of the times, including a sumptuous dessert buffet set up in the dining parlor. Decorations include three Christmas trees, 200 feet of evergreen roping, fresh greens, fruit and a collection of period ornaments.

      Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Sundays 1  to 4 pm. Closed Tuesdays. Admission  $10; $9 seniors & AAA member or active military, $5 students, $25 per family (2 adults + children).

      For further information, call 860/529-0612 or visit webb-deane-stevens.org.

Celebrating the Origin of Santa and Three Centuries of Christmas at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum in Wethersfield.

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