Thursday December 2, 2010


The Spirit Of Christmas Past

Chilliwack Museum shares Christmas the pioneer way with local elementary school kids

Craig Hill/Voice photos


A tree strung with popcorn and hung with candles is one of the displays at the Chilliwack Museum giving special classes a visual idea of what pioneer Christmases were like.


t's Christmas day, early 1900s, smoke climbs into a pale grey sky from the chimney of a cozy looking home nestled on a bed of sparkling snow. Behind it's frosted windows, a family gathers around a tree strung with popcorn and dotted with small candles.

The fireplace crackles and a gramophone plays the Edison Quartet's "Oh Come All Ye Faithful". Tiny hands reach for ginger snaps and sand tarts in a square tin that sits half-empty on the coffee table.

The smell of a goose baking and potatoes browning in pans with butter and sugar permeates the parlour where a family is giving each other gifts wrapped in brightly coloured cloth tied with big bows and ribbons.



                                  Christmas dinner as it was in the late 1800s. Voice photo.


A small boy excitedly unwraps a Meccano set and then chases a new pressed steel cargo truck across the room while a younger sister embraces her Raggedy Ann doll and gazes in wide-eyed wonderment at a Singer 20 sewing machine.

This Rockwellesque scene could have been of any home in that era but Chilliwack has it's own unique history and the Museum has a program called Family Christmas they offer twice daily to local elementary school kids.

For the first three-weeks of December museum staff, dressed in period costumes, will be recreating old fashioned Christmases through interesting story-telling and fun crafts.

Alison Adamson, who works in administration at the museum, told the Voice that the popular program features stories of Chilliwack Christmases from the past and include old fashioned crafts like chocolate candy, cornucopia, and Thom trope presented by education facilitator Brenda Paterson.

"The program includes warm and wonderful stories of Chilliwack pioneer Christmases and the children also create three old-fashioned crafts," said Adamson.

"Today we had kids from Bernard Elementary and they had a really good time." she said. "Many teachers have had their classes take part annually," she said. "The 'Family Christmas' education segment is now fully booked for this year but Elementary teachers can keep us in mind for next year."

Staff have decorated a number of trees and there are interesting scenes and displays including a turkey dinner with all the fixing's, frozen in time, yet looks hot out of the oven. A kitchen scene emotes the smells of baking bread and child's bedroom and also Christmas morning display with toys that will take people back and also amaze youngsters at how uncomplicated a child's play was then. There is also a general store case with a photo of one of the town's first merchants with items that some will remember running to get for mom.

Adamson, points to a chair where Paterson tells stories based on diaries of pioneers in the late 1800s and early 1900s and they take a break to get into some hands-on crafts.

"Halfway through they get up and do the different crafts." she said. "This one is a chocolate mint that's made with mashed potatoes and this one is an Thom trope, an optical illusion and this one is the cornucopia which is also known as the horn-of-plenty and then they can put their Thom trope and chocolate mint in the cornucopia."

The museum's gift shop sells souvenirs and knick-knacks.

"Our gift shop area, and upstairs programming room are a Christmas delight," said Adamson adding that the public is welcome to view the exhibits on display.

The cost for each session is $50 for up to 30 kids. Teachers can get more information about the program from the museum's online pamphlet at:

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