Ghosts of Christmas Past

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After getting our Christmas tree in Heath a week ago I was thinking about our first Heath tree.  The living room had been in the process of rehab and I forced everyone to make commitments to get things done by promising a Christmas Eve celebration when the walls had very large holes still in the drywall, nothing was painted and the plastic had not been off of the floor for almost 3 years.  There’s nothing like the thought of 20+ people coming to your house for dinner to get things done.

Russell was to finish a paneled wall  going over the huge hole above the fireplace.  The entire room, walls and trim had to be painted.  The baseboards had to be trimmed (another job for Russell).  The plastic had to be pulled up, the glue from the tape removed from the floor.  Furniture had to be rearranged throughout the house – it had all been in one room since we started this project.  Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.

Christmas fell on a Friday that year.  When I arrived the Saturday before the panel was on sawhorses in the living room – unpainted.  They needed to “acclimate”.  I believe the woodwork had one coat of paint and not all of the walls had any paint at all.  To say I was a little stressed is an understatement.

Russ and Carmen insisted we come and get a tree for the room.  I was thinking, “Is it going to be big enough to cover that HUGE HOLE above the fireplace?!?”  Russell just smiled.  We spent the morning hunting for trees, eating, socializing.  We came home to see that my brother in law had finished painting the entire living room while we were gone (he’s a painter by trade).  The girls pulled up the plastic from the floor and we moved and cleaned for the rest of the day.  And the first tree in over 20 years was put up in front of the bay window.  The vintage Santa took his place and it seemed as though we could pull this off.

That Monday the panel was primed and placed above the fireplace.  When I arrived it was just a matter of a few decorations and some major cooking.  Large candle sconces went over the electrical boxes on the walls.  We put candles everywhere.  Cait had made 80 luminaries for the driveway.  Candle carriage lamps lit the mantel covered in fruit, nuts and berries.  Every place at the table had a candle and there was very little electricity used that night.  People were charmed, enchanted by the soft glow.  Those of us that had pulled this off were just thinking, “It’s all theater.”

I had just spent the past couple of months working at Old Sturbridge Village when all of the events were by candlelight.  Initially we had an event where people took guided tours at night to see how people saw things in the 1830’s.  It was all a matter of social standing.  If you were poor you saw things by the light coming from your fireplace.  As you moved up on the social ladder you may have had candles made from tallow or beeswax.  Those in the fine houses with money had oil lamps in addition to the firelight and candles.  So you saw a progression from poor to rich and it got brighter all the way.

I think the house at Fort Pelham Farm saw a complete progression.  I’m sure many candles were used but they were used in a much more judicious manner than that Christmas Eve in 2009.  We’ve come a long way in our creature comforts but there is nothing that says Christmas to me more than candlelight.

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