“Twelfth Night at Historic Kenmore” 2019 [Photos]

Each January, Historic Kenmore presents Twelfth Night at Kenmore, a dramatic theater presentation that imagines the first Christmas that Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis spent in their newly built home. The play is set in January 1776 and that year is not a time for the usual celebration. War brings fear, doubt, and frustration to the Lewis family and their friends.

The 2019 edition of Twelfth Night at Kenmore took place January 11 and 12. Here are a few photos from the performances.

Photos: “Twelfth Night at Kenmore” 2018

Each January, Historic Kenmore presents Twelfth Night at Kenmore, a dramatic theater presentation that imagines the first Christmas that Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis spent in their newly built home. The play is set in January 1776 and that year is not a time for the usual celebration. War brings fear, doubt, and frustration to the Lewis family and their friends.

The 2018 edition of Twelfth Night at Kenmore took place January 5, 6, and 7. Here are a few photos from the performances.

When Christmas Wasn’t for Kids

Merry-Christmas-Ornamental-TypographyPicture it. No Santa. No Christmas tree. No big-ticket Christmas present. No little Susie or Bobby up to their eyes in wrapping paper, as their parents snap a photo of every gift they unwrap.  To die-hard Christmas fans today, this sounds like a nightmare. Where is the wonder and joy? Where is the standing in line or the surfing online all night to find the perfect gift? Where is the fulfilling of little Susie and Bobby’s every Christmas wish?

Christmas, as a celebration, was not always so focused on small children.  Until the 1800s, Christmas was a holiday mainly for adults.  Most of the festivities in the 18th century were designed to provide opportunities to socialize and celebrate with adult family and friends from far and near.  The Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25 – January 6) were a time to make merry, unless you were a kid.

Now, to say that children had no chance to enjoy holiday festivities would be an overstatement but not by much.  Kids made “Christmas pieces,” or cards that they decorated and adorned with poems, for their parents and siblings. This tradition eventually grew into the modern activity of sending Christmas cards.

Christmas Pieces

Reproduction “Christmas pieces” in Betty Washington Lewis’ Bed Chamber at Historic Kenmore.

Colonial children did receive small gifts from friends and family – little presents like books, fruit, and nuts. There was nothing expensive, nothing breakable, and nothing age-inappropriate.  These presents served as small tokens of affection as parents showed children that they were remembered during the season.  Gift-giving in the 1700s was a top-down affair – parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents could provide little gifts to the children but children were not expected to return the favor.  Modern children might be envious of their 18th century counterparts if they knew that they were off the hook for giving presents to their parents and older siblings.  But Colonial Virginia was a hierarchal society with children near the bottom.  Christmas gift-giving enforced these rules of deference and even at a festive time it remained clear who was firmly in charge.

One reason children were left out of Christmastide festivities in the past may have been just the lack of kid-friendly activities.  Firing guns, going fox hunting, and getting married at a holiday ball weren’t (and, in some cases, still aren’t) activities associated with children.  This is not to say that children did not take delight in these activities when adults did them.

Young boys could not partake in the fox hunt, but it didn’t make it less exciting for them.  Boys admired their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and brothers as they prepared for the hunt.  Boys who were a little older could watch as their male loved ones dashed off on their horses and into the excitement of the hunt.  George Washington was an enthusiastic fox hunter starting in his-mid teens, at which point a young man would be up to the physical challenge. Boys also surely excitedly watched the men fire guns into the air as a way to say “Happy Christmas!” to the neighbors.

Twelfth Night in Devonshire (1863)

“Twelfth Night in Devonshire” (1863) shows men firing guns to celebrate the holiday in “Das festliche Jahr in Sitten, Gebräuchen und Festen der germanischen Völker” by Otto von Reinsberg-Düringsfeld. Credit: Wikipedia

Girls probably happily helped their mothers or older sisters prepare for the Twelfth Night ball even though they would not attend.  It wasn’t until a boy or girl had gone through puberty that they were ready to go to the ball.  Some children started their dancing lessons early, while others started later.  George Washington was taking lessons by age 16.  Even the nature of the 18th century dancing would have been too difficult for children.  At the beginning of every ball, the guests danced the minuet, a complicated series of steps performed on the tip-toes. This would be nearly impossible for children and their still developing motor skills. Until they were older, little boys and girls admired the festivities from afar.

Couples took advantage of the Christmas balls and family get-togethers to hold weddings.  The 12 days between Christmas and Twelfth Night were a popular time for couples to get married.  Thomas Jefferson married Martha Skelton on January 1, 1772 and George Washington and Martha Dandridge Custis married January 6, 1759.  This was a joyous occasion for the whole family, but the children of the family were certainly not the center of attention.

Perhaps the greatest example of how Christmas in the 18th century wasn’t for kids is the fact that many people, adults and children alike, did not celebrate the day at all.  Seventeenth century Puritans in Massachusetts saw the Christmas celebrations of the Church of England (and, by extension, Virginia celebrations) as a mockery of the Puritans’ devout faith.  “Yuletide is Fooltide” was the attitude and, except for going to church all day on Christmas, Puritan children did not participate in any of the frivolity of the season. At least Virginian children could enjoy the celebrations even if they were not their focus.

More than anything, Christmas provided 18th century children with the chance to learn the etiquette and proper behavior that would be important for them as adults.  Both boys and girls observed how men and women prepared for and behaved during Christmastide and the rest of the year.  That’s right, modern American children, the biggest Christmas gift that 18th century children received was learning how to behave.

Kelly Brennan Arehart
Manager of Interpretation & Visitor Services

Photos: The GWF’s Delightful December

Merry-Christmas-Ornamental-TypographyThe George Washington Foundation wishes everyone a joyous holiday season!  Enjoy these from our month of festive happenings and decorations at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore.

There will still be time to see Kenmore and Ferry Farm adorned for the season and delight in each site’s annual display of dollhouses, miniatures, and gingerbread creations until December 30. For details about these exhibits and our holiday hours, visit kenmore.org/events.

Photos: “Twelfth Night at Kenmore” 2017

Each January, Historic Kenmore presents Twelfth Night at Kenmore, a dramatic theater presentation that imagines the first Christmas that Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis spent in their newly built home. The play is set in January 1776 and that year is not a time for the usual celebration. War brings fear, doubt, and frustration to the Lewis family and their friends.

The 2017 edition of Twelfth Night at Kenmore took place this past weekend. Here are a few photos from that performance.

Photos: Last Year’s “Twelfth Night at Kenmore”

On Friday, January 6, Saturday, January 7, and Sunday, January 8, Historic Kenmore will again present Twelfth Night at Kenmore, a dramatic theater presentation set in January 1776. It is the first Christmas that Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis celebrate in their newly built home. It is not the usual celebration, however. War brings fear, doubt, and frustration to the Lewis family and their friends.  Immerse yourself in the experience the candlelight, music, and decorations of an eighteenth-century Christmas!

Performance times: 3:30 p.m., 4:15 p.m., 5:15 p.m., and 6:00 p.m.
Reservations required. Call 540-370-0732 x24 or email hayes@gwffoundation.org
Cost: $12.00 adults, $6.00 ages 3-17; free ages 3 and under.

Here is a collection of photos from the last performance way back in January.

Photos: Holiday Decorations at Kenmore & Ferry Farm

The George Washington Foundation wishes everyone a joyous holiday season!  Enjoy these photos of holiday decorations created by wonderful volunteers!  The George Washington Foundation Garden Guild decorated at Historic Kenmore and the Lake Anna Garden Club decorated at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

Next week, there will still be time to see Kenmore and Ferry Farm adorned for the season as well as each site’s annual display of dollhouses, miniatures, and gingerbread creations. For details about these exhibits and our holiday hours, visit kenmore.org/events.

Mistletoe: More Than Christmas Kisses

In the 17th and 18th centuries, colonial Virginians decorated their homes for Christmas with all manner of evergreens.  This greenery – holly, ivy, mistletoe, and more – were seen as symbols of everlasting life.  Each year at Historic Kenmore, we also decorate the house with greenery in this tradition.

Mistletoe actually adorns Kenmore year round. The elaborate plaster ceiling in the drawing room depicts the four seasons and mistletoe is used to represent winter.  The mistletoe depicted, however, is not American mistletoe; the craftsman based this part of the ceiling on European mistletoe instead. This makes sense given that the artist was probably European. Having never seen American mistletoe, he would not know how to sculpt it.

mistletoe-on-kenmores-drawing-room-ceiling

Mistletoe depicted in the ornate plaster ceiling of Kenmore’s drawing room.

Regardless of whether American or European, how did mistletoe come to symbolize winter and hang in homes during the holiday season? How did these green branches with white berries become associated with the hope of a little fun and (possible) future romances? What is it about mistletoe that brings so much joy to the seasons’ festivities?

Mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum) grows in the southern United States and is native to much of North America. It has more berries and shorter, broader leaves than English mistletoe (Viscum album). Like English mistletoe, the American plant is a semi-parasite; it digs its “roots” in the host tree and sucks sap and water from the tree, but it manufactures its own chlorophyll.  Mistletoe often grows in the tallest branches of the tree, making it very hard to harvest.

The word “mistletoe” likely came from one of two sources.  Its origins may be from the Anglo-Saxon “misteltan;” “mistl” meaning different and “tan” meaning twig. Mistletoe is a very “different twig” indeed because of how and where it grows – something that would not have escaped the notice of the Anglo-Saxons.  The word’s other possible origin also translates “tan” as twig, but renders “mistel” as dung; making “mistletoe”  “dung twig.” This may have been because bird droppings contained the seeds that helped spread the plants to other trees.

an-arch-druid-in-his-judicial-habit

Imaginative illustration of ‘An Arch Druid in His Judicial Habit’ from The Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Islands by S.R. Meyrick and C.H. Smith (1815) Credit: Wikipedia.

Druids, who served as priests and the learned class for the ancient Celts, valued mistletoe almost as much as they valued oak trees. These men (there is little evidence that there were women druids) climbed to the top of mistletoe-laden trees and harvested the sacred plant with a golden sickle. Those on the ground were careful to catch the plant as it fell because they believed the mistletoe would lose all of its power if it hit the ground.  Druids then used it to cure disease and promote fertility in humans and animals. It may be that the custom of hanging mistletoe stems from a Druidic tradition. Enemies who met under the mistletoe would lay down their arms and greet each other as if friends.

Mistletoe also played a role in Norse mythology and some think that our modern views on mistletoe came from one particular Norse myth. Balder, a god of peace, was the son of Odin, chief of the gods, and the goddess Frigg.  Balder began to dream of his own demise and his father traveled to the underworld to learn of his son’s fate.

baldr-dead-by-eckersberg

Baldr’s Death (1817) by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg. Credit: Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts/Wikipedia.

Odin returned and shared the bad news with Balder and the other gods and goddesses. Frigg went to everything in the cosmos and asked it to swear it would not hurt her son.  Everything swore loyalty but mistletoe.  Loki, the god of mischief, made some mistletoe into an arrow that killed Balder.  In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder was brought back to life and Frigg makes mistletoe a symbol of love and kisses to those who pass under it.

The English origins of kissing under the mistletoe aren’t well known. Historical records indicate that this merriment became popular in England sometime in the 16th century, but we don’t know if it was commonplace before that.  English mistletoe etiquette had some hard-and-fast rules: women under the mistletoe were not to refuse kisses; men could only kiss women (or girls) on the cheek; after the kissing transaction, the man removed a berry from the mistletoe ball; after the last berry was plucked, the kissing ended.

the-mistletoe-bough-by-francis-wheatley

The Mistletoe Bough (c. 1790) by Francis Wheatley. Credit: Yale Center for British Art/Wikipedia

 

Harvesting mistletoe is a challenge, but 18th century Virginians came up with an ingenious way to quickly and easily gather the plant.  Instead of climbing up into the tree’s canopy, Virginian men shot the mistletoe out of the tree.  They then took the good sprigs home, fashioned them into mistletoe balls, and enjoyed the merriment of the season.  This tradition harvesting mistletoe through gunfire still continues today all over the American south.

Ancient Druids. Mythical Norse gods. 18th century Virginians. Over the centuries, these people, whether real or imagined, contributed to the myths and traditions that have made mistletoe a symbol of winter, friendship, and love.  When you share a kiss with someone special under the mistletoe this season, you might want to take a moment to share mistletoe’s long history with that someone too.

Kelly Brennan Arehart
Manager of Interpretation and Visitor Services

Photos: “Twelfth Night at Kenmore” 2016

Each January, Historic Kenmore presents Twelfth Night at Kenmore, a dramatic theater presentation that imagines the first Christmas that Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis spent in their newly built home. The play is set in January 1776 and that year is not a time for the usual celebration. War brings fear, doubt, and frustration to the Lewis family and their friends.

The 2016 edition of Twelfth Night at Kenmore took place this past weekend. Here are photos from that performance.