The Traditions of Christmas Past

This time of year, it’s all about reliving traditions. So why not celebrate like they did in past centuries?

Hill House Holidays (first three weekends in December): On Summit Avenue in St. Paul sits the former home of railroad baron James J. Hill, where you can see a Gilded Age Christmas brought to life as costumed actors portraying the family’s servants prepare for the holidays using a script based off of letters and oral histories of the actual workers.

Victorian Christmas Stories (December 15): Actors will also be at the James J. Hill House to tell these stories, including works by Mark Twain, O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi, and excerpts from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Victorian Christmas Carols (December 20-22): Taking place in the art gallery at the Hill House, costumed singers, a pianist and narrator will perform period songs.

 Left: James J. Hill House, RIGHT: ALEXANDER RAMSEY HOUSE. photos courtesy of the Minnesota historical society

A Victorian Christmas (through December 8): Tour the home of our second governor, Alexander Ramsey, listen to music played on the family’s Steinway piano, and see their original ornaments and gifts.

A Swedish Christmas (December 12): Many of the Ramsey family’s servants were Swedish immigrants, which is why there they celebrate Christmas as such, learning about native customs, hearing stories, and tasting treats.

An Eventually Christmas: Holidays at the Mill (December 7, 8, 14 & 15): A different part of history is displayed at Mill City Museum where, on a Flour Tower elevator ride, “the ghost of mill city past” will guide you through a look at the 1920 Washburn Crosby holiday party, based off of real stories from the company’s employee newsletter.

Toy Making Workshop (December 7): Head to the Oliver H. Kelley Farm in Elk River and pretend you’re a 19th-century elf by making toys to give out as gifts, including a ball-and-cup game, buzz saw, pick-up sticks or corn husk dolls.

Christmas on the Farm (December 14 & 15): Tour the Kelley Farm, along the way stopping inside the historic farmhouse, visiting livestock pens, taking a horse or oxen-driven bobsled or wagon ride, and learning about how farmers dealt with season 150 years ago.

For times, costs, and reservations, visit the Minnesota Historial Society’s events calendar.