PRICKETTS FORT – In the 18th century, Christmas was a holiday seldom observed, and even less often celebrated.
Judy Wilson explained in the dim shade of candlelight that it was more a time of survival because the cold weather and the threat of Native American attacks were dangers during the winter months.
“The pilgrims, puritans absolutely banished the celebration of Christmas,” said Wilson, a historical interpreter at Prickett's Fort. “They didn’t banish Christ, but they banished the celebration because they had come from England, and to them, Christmas was an excuse for drinking and debauchery.”
Wilson and other historical interpreters at Prickett's Fort gave tours of the fort Saturday night, allowing for guests to get a taste of the life of a resident of the fort in the 1700s. Visitors could walk the dark rooms of the fort, drink some wassail and then warm up by the fire outside for an authentic experience.
“We’ve done them in the past different ways, but the way we’re doing it now with the decorations it’s been about five years,” said Greg Bray, director of Prickett's Fort.
Bray said these Candlelight Tours have been popular over the years, gathering dozens who want to learn some history through experience.
“It’s just the one night tonight but it goes through Saturday during the day,” Bray said. “Next year we’re going to be two nights because it’s too much work to set up for just one night.”
Visitors gathered in the fort and in the Job House to learn from interpreters, the Job House decorated for Christmas with holiday garb.
The Job House was decorated because it represents a later time period than the fort itself. Wilson said that as time went on, observance of Christmas changed a little, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that it started to even resemble the modern holiday.
“Christmas comes, it’s just another day for most of these people,” Wilson said. “Visiting would be a rather large gift out here, to go and visit folks. How about slightly special food? Oh yeah. Christmas does not become a children’s holiday until the next century.”
Katie Donnelly, a historical interpreter who occupied the Job House Saturday, talked about some of the traditions that came in the 19th century, including the status that a simple pineapple symbolized.
“When you’re talking about the 1700s, it was very hard to get things from different places,” Donnelly said. “So when you got a pineapple from a warmer place, you kept it because it was so hard to find.”
Throughout the rest of the week, Prickett's Fort will offer these tours during the day, which will still allow for visitors to have an 18th-century experience. Some people go to take the tours every year because the education available through the fort is enlightening as well as entertaining.
“We’ve never come at the night tour before,” said Susan Greynolds, who came to the fort from Virginia. “I learned a little bit more about this coming back now, but it’s just a process. You just learn something new every time.”