The Living History Park’s Christmas in the Backcountry event Saturday drew more than 700 visitors, including about 150 children, to visit Father Christmas.
“We had people coming from all over, some with parties of 10 to 15,” said Brenda Bancroft, vice president of the Olde Town Preservation Association. “Many were visiting relatives but some just heard about it and made the drive. It’s a nice respite, with everyone rushing around during the holidays.”
Children talked with Father Christmas, one of the more popular attractions of the event, and received a candy cane. Mrs. Christmas was on hand as well.
Lori Payne took a picture of her 6-year-old granddaughter, Savannah Speakes, who said visiting Father Christmas was her favorite part of the trip. She also said she was surprised that women wore only long dresses and that they cooked outside or in the fireplace.
John Posey, who went to the city in 1990 and asked for permission to use the land previously occupied by the North Augusta Waterworks to build the Living History Park, elaborated on other aspects of the event.
“The Mercantile was the ‘Colonial WalMart,’” he said. “It evolved from the trading post, and carried everything from groceries to household items and clothing. People made 90 percent of the items they used before then. What they couldn’t make, they bartered for.”
Posey said the park will build its own grist mill in January.
Another popular attraction was the toymaker, John Douglas.
“Children of that time period didn’t have toys unless their parents made them or someone passing through the neighborhood made them,” he said as he demonstrated a tap dancer on a board for 4-year-old Selah Spivey.
Pam Schmidt was set up in the Plantation School where she demonstrated different aspects of learning, which included flash cards.
Schmidt and Posey talked about the ways colonists celebrated Christmas, depending on where they lived.
“Fireworks were used in the South more than on the Fourth of July,” said Posey. “Families gave little gifts to one another, nothing like today, and slaves were probably given a little more leeway during this time. People said ‘Happy Christmas’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas.’”
Christmas trees came later with the Germans, they said. Decorations might consist of a little holly and evergreen or the English Yule log.
“The Puritans and Quakers really didn’t celebrate,” said Schmidt. “It was considered a religious holiday only and the day was spent thanking God and attending church services and maybe a nice meal with family. The Presbyterians thought all other celebration was pagan.”
Lynn Thompson, chairwoman of the Living History Park and president of the Olde Towne Preservation Association, said she was impressed with the number of out-of-town visitors who drove 70 to 100 miles and planned their day around the visit.
“It takes away from the commercialism,” she said. “This is definitely not a Black Friday event. People enjoy being out of doors and relaxing. We want to remind everyone that our Christmas for the Birds event will be held next Saturday and the Mercantile will be open again, if you did not complete all your purchases.”