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Harpers Ferry ready for Christmas celebration

December 05, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Charles Dickens, whose books created many of the Christmas images of close families and good cheer, kicked his wife out of their house, forbade his daughters to visit her and kept a mistress.

Dickens also did not follow the Christian beliefs behind Christmas, said Roger Jerome, an actor and historian who will present "A Dickens of a Christmas" Saturday at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

"It was a well-kept secret in the Victorian era," Jerome said.

Dickens, who wrote such Victorian literature classics as "A Christmas Carol," and "The Pickwick Papers," was "besotted" by the idea of Christmas cheer, Jerome said.

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Christmas was not a widely celebrated holiday in England's industrial cities until Dickens started to popularize it through his books and essays.

Like Ebenezer Scrooge, many employers wanted their workers to labor through the holiday, Jerome said.

But Dickens' books were a major influence on the popular culture of his day, the way a hit television show influences today's culture, Jerome said.

Dickens wrote of how Christmas should be celebrated, with family and friends gathered around the hearth, an image that did not go along with his home life, Jerome said.

"He was something of a hypocrite, I believe," Jerome said.

Dickens' stories also did not deal with the Christian idea of Christmas as a celebration of Jesus Christ's birth, Jerome said.

Jerome will be in period costume, reading from Dickens' works, performing Christmas music from the era, and lecturing on Dickens and the Victorian Christmas celebrations, from 6 to 6:50 p.m. Saturday at a tent set up in Harpers Ferry.

Park official Melinda Day said the theme for this year's celebration at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is "Keeping Christmas 1860."

Day said visitors will be able to see how drastically different the holiday was then compared to the way it is celebrated now.

Christmas was not such a large commercial holiday like it is today. Decorations of the time consisted of evergreen swags on lamp posts, small sprigs of holly on the windows and simple decorations on trees, Day said.

In 1860, Christmas was a time for reflection, since the country was on the verge of the Civil War as South Carolina had withdrawn from the Union on Dec. 20, 1860, she said.

The John Brown raid on the town also had occurred just the year before, she said.

"This was a tough time for America," Day said.

Among the events scheduled for the Harpers Ferry, W.Va., National Park Christmas celebration are:

Today

* 6 to 6:30 p.m. "Ho for Christmas! Music for the Yuletide," by the Mecklenburg Brass in the Lyceum Tent.

* 6:30 p.m. - Lighting of the yule log at the park alcove on Shenandoah Street.

* 7 to 10 p.m. - Historic exhibits staffed.

* 7:30 p.m. - "Art in the National Parks," a presentation by artist/activist Melanie Parke at the Camp Hill-Wesley United Methodist Church.

Saturday

* Noon to 10 p.m. - Historic exhibits staffed.

* Noon - "Keeping Christmas: Harpers Ferry's Past, Present and Future," a walking tour beginning at the Lyceum Tent.

* 1 p.m. - "Decking the Halls: Ornaments for the Tree," making a 19th-century ornament to take home at the tent.

* 2 p.m. - "Grand Militia Christmas Ball," with music by the Roeders Quadrille Band.

* 3 p.m. - "Twelfth Night Cake and Clear Candy Toys," a confectioner's demonstration at Mrs. Stipes' Boarding House.

* 3:30 p.m. - "Who is Guarding the Armory?" a walking tour and military drill demonstration beginning at the tent.

* 4 p.m. - Music by the Mecklenburg Brass at the tent.

* 8 p.m. - "The Spirit of Christmas: Past, Present and Future," a special lantern-lit evening tour. Free tickets are required and are available at the information center on Shenandoah Street.

Sunday

* 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. - Historic exhibits staffed.

* Noon - "Keeping Christmas: Harpers Ferry's Past, Present and Future" walking tour beginning at the tent.

* 1 p.m. - "Decking the Halls" at the tent.

* 2 p.m. - "Who is Guarding the Armory?" at the tent.

* 2 p.m. - "Art in the National Parks" at the Camp Hill-Wesley United Methodist Church.

* 3 p.m. - "Twelfth Night Cake and Clear Candy Toys" at Mrs. Stipes' Boarding House.

* 4 p.m. - "Ho for Christmas!" with the Mecklenburg Brass at the tent.

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