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.

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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.

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.

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

This coming weekend — Friday, January 8, Saturday, January 9, or Sunday, January 10 — Historic Kenmore again presents 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.

Here is a collection of photos from last year’s performances.

Immerse yourself in the experience the candlelight, music, and decorations of an eighteenth-century Christmas!

Performance Times: 3:00, 3:45, 4:45 and 5:30 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.

Video: “Twelfth Night at Kenmore,” A Preview

On January 8, 9, and 10, Historic Kenmore presents “Twelfth Night at Kenmore,” a dramatic theater performance inside the 18th century home of Fielding and Betty Lewis. This short video previews the performance.

Immerse yourself in the experience the candlelight, music, and decorations of an eighteenth-century Christmas!

Performance Times: 3:00, 3:45, 4:45 and 5:30 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.

Learn more about the event at http://kenmore.org/events.html.

Thanksgiving in George Washington’s Virginia?

As thanksgiving approaches we turn our thoughts to tradition, family, and feast. Thanksgiving traditions call to mind family around a table full of food, a roast turkey with cranberry sauce, or maybe even a romanticized recreation of New England meal from the 17th century. But what is the history behind that tradition? What would people of the 18th century Virginia thought of our feast? Would Betty and George Washington have sat down for a meal of turkey and mashed potatoes in late November?

Thanksgiving as a national holiday wasn’t born until the 19th century and many modern American concepts of Thanksgiving come from legend and advertising.

The First Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving 1621 by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899). “The painting shows common misconceptions about the event that persist to modern times: Pilgrims did not wear such outfits, and the Wampanoag are dressed in the style of Native Americans from the Great Plains” says wikipedia.org. Public domain.

But when you peel back the layers of myth and romance in the above painting, in the advertising, and in the legends, you find a history deeply rooted in the 18th century and just as at home in Virginia as in Massachusetts.

While many people tend to look to colonial New England as the origin point for this late fall celebration, these bountiful autumn feasts have existed in places all over the world and for much longer. Many agrarian cultures have celebrated harvest festivals to mark the end of the harvest season. Families and communities came together, celebrated the bounty of the harvest, and gave thanks for all they had.

In the 1700s, Virginian households were familiar with a large fall feast. Produce that hadn’t been preserved had to be eaten. Cooler weather meant it was time to butcher and preserve meat. Soon, winter weather would make travel impractical. Any farm that enjoyed a bountiful year could celebrate with a large feast in the late fall.

But what would have been served at those feasts?

The dishes typically associated with Thanksgiving are inherently American. Turkey, potatoes, pumpkins, and cranberries are indigenous to the Americas and were unknown to Europeans prior to the 1500s. By the 18th century, Atlantic trade changed this. Some American produce like cranberries and pumpkins did not enjoy popularity in England. However, other American food had been fully accepted into kitchens and cookbooks on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Lewis family owned Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Simple, a cookbook from which Betty undoubtedly pulled many of her recipes. It contains multiple dishes modern Americans would consider typical Thanksgiving fare. It provides instructions for roasting a turkey complete with stuffing, making gravies for every kind of meat/preparation, and baking a plethora of desserts. It even contains a mashed potato recipe on page 193 that would be perfectly at home on any modern table.

BOIL your potatoes, peel them, and put them into a sauce-pan, mash them well; to two pounds of potatoes put a pint of milk, a little salt, stir them together, take care that they don’t stick to the bottom, then take a quarter of a pound of butter, stir it in, serve it up.

But if we are going to study Thanksgiving’s historic details, what about the term itself? Thankfully, we have George Washington himself to look to. Seventeen months after the ratification of the Constitution the newly elected President put forth a proclamation at the request of the Congress and Senate that…

… recommend[ed] to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Portrait

Thanksgiving proclamation of 1789 by President George Washington. Library of Congress photo.

The day assigned was November 26, 1789, the last Thursday of the month.

We may not know whether or not Mary Washington ever sat her family around a large turkey dinner at Ferry Farm in late November, but we do know that a large harvest meal would not have been uncommon. Since Hannah Glasse’s cookbook rested on her shelf, we can have confidence that Betty Washington Lewis would have approved of our present-day mashed potatoes and roast turkey. Finally, we can read the words of Thanksgiving proclaimed to Americans by George Washington, as the new nation’s first president. When you sit down with family next week, remember that you are part of long tradition and celebrating something truly American.

Joe Ziarko
Manager of Interpretation & Visitor Services