It's Christmas in 1863 at the Shriver House Museum in Gettysburg. The museum, dedicated to the civilian experience during the Battle of Gettysburg, has been transformed into a 19th-century winter wonderland and is offering tours every Saturday through Dec. 15.
"The house is just so beautiful," museum director Nancie Gudmestad said. "It is really pretty this time of year."
The house is decorated for the holidays according to the style of the time period, with wreaths hanging on every window and a 4-foot-tall Christmas tree placed on a table in the parlor.
"It is in the parlor because that was the most important part of the house," Gudmestad said.
Christmas trees in the 1800s were decorated with real candles, with a bucket of water close by in case of a fire, Gudmestad said. During the Civil War, trees also were decorated with Union or Confederate flags. The tree in the Shriver house also has several branches removed because people in the 19th century used to put the presents in the tree, instead of underneath it.
Another popular Christmas decoration was holly, which was placed all over the house and often wedged behind wall hangings and picture frames, Gudmestad said. Stockings were hung over the mantle place, but were not nearly as decorative as they are today. Children would typically just borrow a pair of stockings from their mother to hang, Gudmestad said. Good
children would get an orange in their stockings and naughty children would get coal.
"For a lot of children, that orange was the only thing they would get for Christmas." Gudmestad said. "Getting that orange was like getting an Xbox. The children would be very excited. Oranges were a big treat."
Santa Clause and his reindeer also were popular figures at that time. They rose to fame after "T'was The Night Before Christmas" was written in 1820.
"Although Rudolph wasn't yet popular," Gudmestad said. "We like to tell the kids on the tour he wasn't born until the 1930s."
The tour lasts for about an hour and runs throughout the entire house. A guide describes these and many other Christmas traditions of the 19th century, as well as the difficulty of celebrating during the war. Hot apple cider and other Christmas treats are served to the guests.
"We make the house very, very alive," Gudmestad said.
If you go
WHAT: Shriver House Museum Christmas tour
WHEN: 2 to 5 p.m. every Saturday through Dec. 15
WHERE: Shriver House Museum, 309 Baltimore St., Gettysburg
COST: $10 for adults, $7 for children 7 to 12 years old