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Old Christmas celebration highlights humble beginnings of present-day Christmas traditions

Jonathan Roberts • Jan 4, 2020 at 3:40 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Christmas may have ended almost two weeks ago, but the spirit of Christmas was alive and well inside the walls of Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.

More than a dozen reenactors came together to transport attendees back in time to the late 1700s to share the history of Christmas in America and, hopefully, offer a glimpse of true meaning of Christmas.

“I want to show people that Christmas is not the stressful hustle-and-bustle that we have turned it into,” said Chad Bogart, a reenactor and museum curatorial assistant at the park’s museum. “Christmas is about thinking of what you’ve been blessed with, preparing for the new year and enjoying the bounty — and just having a good time with your relatives, family and friends, and, of course, celebrating the birth of Christ.”

In Colonial America, Christmas was celebrated as a 12-day holiday with many traditions and customs. Does The 12 Days of Christmas sound familiar? These 12 days of feasting, and merrymaking ended on Jan. 5, or “Twelfth Night,” with a grand celebration.

Attendees dressed in traditional 1700s dress, with five cabins playing host to five different cultures — English, French, German, Scottish and Dutch — with reenactors sharing how many integral parts of today’s Christmas celebrations got their beginnings — such as the Germans bringing Christmas trees and the Dutch tale of Sinterklaas, now Santa Clause.

“We want to share how Christmas celebrations began in this country, and how all these European cultures came together to create the modern American Christmas,” Bogart said.

Neil Kelley, Jessica Oster and their children, Juniper and Roscoe, were visiting the Tri-Cities from Nashville, and decided to take a detour to enjoy the Old Christmas celebrations on their way back home.

“It’s nice to be able to see inside the houses with the fires going,” Oster said. “It just feels more like what it might’ve been like to live here (in the 1700s).”

Old Christmas celebrations will be on display again on Sunday, Jan. 5, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, contact the park at (423) 543-5808 or visit http://tnstateparks.com/parks/sycamore-shoals. Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park is located at 1651 W. Elk Ave., Elizabethton.

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