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These "Christmas Past" Events Included a Stars and Stripes Santa, a Nog Party and a Legendary Winter Ride


(Top photo): Volunteer Kevin Rawlings portrays a Civil War Santa at Fredericksburg on the left, as depicted in an 1862 Harpers Weekly drawing on the right. (Bottom photo): The annual Holiday Candle Lantern Tour at Fort Pulaski offered a glimpse of an 1861 holiday celebration. NPS photos.

A glimpse into holiday celebrations from Christmas Past was offered by a number of parks around the country in recent days. Here's a sampling from three historical parks that includes a Stars and Stripes Santa, an 1861 Nog Party and legendary Christmas Eve ride to a frontier fort to call out the cavalry.

For most present-day Americans the traditional outfit for "Santa" includes red and white attire, but back in 1862, artist Thomas Nast offered a different version in Harpers Weekly. His drawing showed Santa visiting Union troops while decked out in a stars and stripes outfit.

On December 19 at Chatham Manor in Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, Volunteer Kevin Rawlings made his annual appearance as a Civil War Santa Claus, playing the role as envisioned by Nast nearly 150 years ago. The top photo shows Rawlings on the left and the 1862 Harpers Weekly drawing on the right.

A year earlier, in 1861, the soldiers at Fort Pulaski (near Savannah, Georgia) had a different holiday tradition. The Confederate garrison invited guests to share in the holiday with the soldiers at the fort, and the event was recreated on the second weekend in December by the staff and volunteers at Fort Pulaski National Monument. The park's annual Holiday Candle Lantern Tour included a recreation of the Confederate "Nog Party" of 1861.

Visitors enjoyed the festivities, which included the "Holliday Family Orchestra" playing seasonal music in the visitor center, numerous volunteers dressed in period costumes, the flicker of candle lanterns and the warm glow of the fires, mingled with cannon and musket firings throughout the fort.

Cider and other seasonal treats were served, with music performed by costumed re-enactors. Colonel Olmstead, commanding officer of Fort Pulaski, greeted visitors before they watched the Confederate troops fire a cannon on the parade grounds. Fort Pulaski National Monument has been offering the Candle Lantern Tours for 37 years, and the event continues to grow in popularity. Over 400 visitors and 64 VIPs participated in the two-night event this year.

At Fort Laramie National Historic Site in Wyoming, the park hosted “an old-fashioned Christmas at the fort” for the public on December 19. The fort was lit up with old-style lanterns and candles, and the interior of the old cavalry barracks was rearranged to accommodate visitor seating.

During the afternoon, entertainment included a concert of bell ringers and old-fashioned fiddlers. These musical offerings were interspersed with readings from staff dressed in period costumes. Readings included original cowboy poetry, officers’ wives’ diary entries, and the history of various holiday/military activities from the 1800s.

The event also included a reenactment of the arrival of "Portugee" Phillips, who made a legendary "Christmas eve ride" from Fort Phil Kearney in 1866 to report on the Fetterman massacre and to request help from the Fort Laramie commander. His ride took more than one night, and in this case, what the folks at Fort Phil Kearney wanted for Christmas was reinforcements.

“A good time was had by all,” said Rick Mossman, the park’s acting superintendent, “and the visiting public greatly enjoyed participating in pageantry of a time gone by.”

No matter where you are to celebrate Christmas 2010, we hope your day includes a good time as well!

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