Every holiday season, visitors to Old Sturbridge Village are invited to experience the magic of a candlelit New England township while learning the history of today’s Christmas traditions.  

The 200-acre campus is decorated for the season with a Christmas tree trail and features a horse-drawn carry-all and a nightly tree lighting ceremony.  

Producer Dave Fraser experienced Christmas by Candlelight before the snow fell and shares this story. 

Read the full transcription:

Carolers: ♫ Oh, come let us adore him…♫

Rhys Simmons, Old Sturbridge Village: Our Christmas by Candlelight program has been a wonderful opportunity for us, and we started back in the early 2000s and it’s definitely grown and evolved over the last, say, 20, 22 years. And now, we celebrate by welcoming in almost 30,000 visitors each and every year. And one of the great things that we’ve been able to do is become part of families’ traditions, coming here, and exploring the museum, all decorated.

Announcer: 3…2…1!

Lisa Nichole Young, Old Sturbridge Village: Christmas by candlelight here is really unlike anything else we do because we can’t tell the story of 1830s Christmas. It wasn’t here yet. So, we get to expand our story a little bit and talk about how Christmas did develop through the 19th century in New England.

So, we get to talk a little bit more big picture, share how some of the traditions came into this area, share about some of the cultures that they came from and the traditions we adopted into our own celebrations, and share a bit about how it became the huge event that we know today.

Ashleigh Bridges, Old Sturbridge Village: So, I’m making a modern twist on a classic recipe. This is a sugar cookie dough. It’s quite cold right now, just the way we like it. And we’re going to be filling our sugar cookies with that mincemeat pie filling mixture. And this is a really nice way to modernize a historic recipe.

Usually there’s a Christmas meal or a Thanksgiving meal, depending on the family, and pies are part of that meal. So, we don’t do desserts as a separate affair, but we will have roast and sides to go along with, and we’re eating that whole meal in the middle of the day rather than in the evening.

Chris Nassisse, Old Sturbridge Village: So, a lot of the work is being done with very simple tools. So, we’re working with knives and — and hand drills and things that are very commonly available.

We have wooden game boards, games like Nine Men’s Morris is a popular game in the period. It’s not as familiar today as it was back then. We have a cup and ball game, where you have a ball on a string, and you catch it in a carved wooden cup.

Wooden items like farm animals that would have been popular here in a rural community because parents are farmers, so toys that children can emulate what their parents do would have been popular.

Lisa Nichole Young: Music in the 1830s would have been what you were hearing every day. There were no set Christmas carols that you’d be hearing at this time.

You’d be hearing a lot of parlor type music in this era. You’re really hitting that epitome of the parlor music that we know today. So, you might have singalongs around a piano like the one behind me. You might have a live musician playing some music for an event.

Religious music was a little different at the time, so I wouldn’t go as far to say that all of the carols were being performed in that setting. But we do know “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” which is one of our Massachusetts Christmas carols, was written by a pastor in Wayland, Massachusetts.

♫ It came upon the midnight clear…♫

So. We go through a very drastic change in the 1840s because we start to see Queen Victoria and Prince Albert celebrating Christmas. So, in the 1840s we start to get some of those Christmas carols over here, we start getting some of our own Massachusetts written Christmas carols, and then by the 1850s, you’re really starting to get more of an influx of specifically holiday music in this area.

 ♫ Peace on the Earth, goodwill to men / From heaven’s all-gracious King / The world in solemn stillness lay / To hear the angels sing Lisa Nichole Young: ♫