Ghost of Christmas Past
I haven't spent Christmas at home for 20 years. I yearn for a good old-fashioned Christmas spent at home with family and friends. Since, once again, I will be traveling for the Holiday I thought a trip to the Hunt-Morgan House's Candlelight Christmas tour might fill the void.
I arrived just as curator Gay Reading began to light the candles. As he allowed me to help, he explained that the candlelight tour came about as a way to indicate hospitality. At the time represented (from 1811-1835) the family would have sat alone with perhaps two candles burning but for a party they would have burned as many as 40 or 50.
As Gay speaks in a hushed voice it is an easy trip to December of 1832, the year Lexington became a city, to spend the holiday with the Hunt family.
It is five o'clock in the evening, three days before Christmas, neighbors, friends and family, including the Clays and the Gratzs have been invited to a holiday ball. Simple decorations grace this simple, elegantly proportionate house. Boughs of pine, fir and holly are tucked behind portraits and one perfect pineapple surrounded by more holly, and precious oranges and apples sits on the buffet. Candles, of course, burn on the mantles and tables.
At first, the guests are subdued but as the drinks are poured the crowd becomes livelier. Perhaps someone will play Mrs. Hunt's piano, which was brought here from her hometown of Baltimore.
As the fiddler arrives, the young people move upstairs to the ballroom above the front hall. Chairs line the walls and the large Palladian window looks over Lexington's newest suburb, Gratz Park.
Children have been peeking around their mother's skirts but now they reluctantly head to their bedrooms in the back of the house and to sleep.
Three squares form to begin the dance, which has become quite a fad. In this house, the young people dance whenever there are enough people around, ball or no ball. At midnight a light supper is served and as the guests leave they call out, "Until tomorrow." Because practically everyone in the town is either related or friendly and they like to entertain each other, there will surely be a party every night.
Servants have set up extra beds in every room. Anyone who has come from any distance will spend the night. Tonight I will share a bed with two other women, which will keep my feet nice and toasty.
As we wake on Christmas morning we pray and we remember this religious holiday celebrates the birth of Christ. We exchange simple and personal gifts that symbolize the wise men's gift to the baby Jesus. Only handmade gifts will do. Servants are given practical gifts of clothing.
In the early afternoon a bountiful meal is served. Platters of meats and fowl, vegetables, and tureens of soups served simultaneously are passed. More people only means more types of food. Even small portions of dozens of types of foods leave little room for the dessert of fruit, served in fruit coolers brought back from China by Mrs. Hunt's brother.
Mr. Hunt reads the Christmas story from the Bible. We all agree that it has been another wonderful holiday.
As for me in the year 2001, I've invited my family and my husband's family to my house for Christmas. My mother-in-law, who expects us to come to her, gave it a, "We'll see," which for those of us who speak her language means, "No way. No how. Never gonna happen, my friend." She said, "...but we would have to get a hotel, there is not enough room for all of us." I can't wait to tell her that I've looked to history for a solution and that we will be sharing a bed.
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