Celebrate the Holidays 1830s-Style: Many people would consider a trip to Disney World to be the ultimate family vacation. Others might prefer a Caribbean cruise or a driving tour of a national park. But me? Give me the historic homes and unpaved streets of Colonial Williamsburg, or George Washington’s meticulously preserved Mount Vernon estate. I like few things better than examining antiques and wondering about the people who owned the items, or poking around old houses and churches, imagining the lives of the people who spent their days in and around them.
It’s easy to admire the workmanship that went into creating these old buildings, and to wonder at the appreciation people once had for simple things: books, hair ribbons, clocks, razors. Perhaps best of all, a trip to a living history museum never fails to remind me that the things that were most important to people in the distant past are just as significant to us today. Family, friends, shared meals and holiday celebrations have always formed the glue that binds us.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go to Virginia to visit a world-class living history museum. Old Sturbridge Village, located in Sturbridge, Mass., not far from the border of northeastern Connecticut, is one of the best museums of its type in the country, and it’s only about an hour’s drive from most places in the Merrimack Valley.
Opened as a museum by wealthy industrialists and antiques collectors Albert B. and J. Cheney Wells in the mid-1940s, Old Sturbridge Village is a faithful recreation of an early 19th century New England town that contains 40 historic buildings stretched over 200 acres, including a Congregational church or Center Meetinghouse, a general store, a bank, saw and grist mills, a potter’s barn, private homes, a covered wooden bridge, and a working farm complete with crops growing in the fields and livestock. The historical interpreters who work at OSV dress in period costumes and answer questions about their various jobs and the roles they play in society, whether it’s a cooper or a blacksmith hard at work, or a housewife mixing crust for a pie.
While many Valley residents know Old Sturbridge Village as a popular spot for weddings and school field trips, most don’t think of visiting around the holidays. But Thanksgiving and Christmas are celebrated at OSV in high 1830s style and worth the drive. These holidays provide exciting learning opportunities for kids and adults, and each offers a rare chance for families to spend time together in a beautiful, evocative setting, screen- and smartphone-free, creating memories that will linger long into the New Year.
Bounty: A New England Thanksgiving:
At OSV’s annual Thanksgiving celebration, families can get a taste of a real 1830s Thanksgiving morning by listening to a traditional Thanksgiving sermon delivered in the Center Meetinghouse and singing old-fashioned Thanksgiving hymns. Interpreters are on hand to teach visitors about Native American Thanksgiving customs, and guests can learn all about 1830s table manners and exactly what people ate on this most American of holidays nearly 200 years ago. Most surprising: the many similarities between an early 19th century Thanksgiving and our modern version. In fact, you’re likely to find more similarities than differences, especially when it comes to roast turkey, pies and post-dinner games and sports.
On Thanksgiving Day, you can take part in the village festivities and then enjoy your own traditional Thanksgiving feast at OSV’s Bullard Tavern, or sit down to a bountiful Thanksgiving buffet at the Oliver Wight Tavern.
Christmas by Candlelight: Dec. 14-16; 20-23
If you’ve ever had the urge to escape the frenzy and commercialism that seems to dominate the days leading up to Christmas, OSV’s Christmas by Candlelight celebration, held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings in December, will be a breath of fresh winter air. With the village illuminated only by candlelight, kids can enjoy gingerbread and roasted chestnuts, and meet Father Christmas. (Santa Claus didn’t come around until much later in the 19th century, but he also manages to make an appearance. He’s Santa Claus, after all.) Other activities include horse-drawn sleigh rides (if there’s snow, of course), and a holiday concert at the Center Meetinghouse.
If you want to extend your visit beyond a single day, you can stay overnight at OSV’s Old Sturbridge Inn or the Reeder Family Lodges, both of which are located on Route 20, just outside the museum’s main entrance. The Old Sturbridge Inn, also known as the Oliver Wight House, was built in 1789 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It offers 10 guest rooms with queen-size canopy beds and period reproduction furniture that will make you feel as if you’ve really gone back in time. But in case you need modern conveniences, you’ll also find flat-screen televisions, iPod charging stations and free Wi-Fi.
Located on the same property as the Oliver Wight House, the recently renovated Reeder Family Lodges offer 29 modern guest rooms with curbside parking and private entries that are ideal for families with kids or for those who might want a bit more space than the Old Sturbridge Inn can offer.
All overnight guests enjoy a free continental breakfast that includes gluten-free options, as well as a discount on admission to Old Sturbridge Village.
Holiday events at OSV tend to sell out, so be sure to purchase tickets online or by phone in advance.
Old Sturbridge Village: Sturbridge, Mass. / (508) 347-3362 / OSV.org
Old Sturbridge Inn and Reeder Family Lodges: Sturbridge, Mass.
(508) 347-5056 / OSV.org/Inn