Shaker Village celebrating Christmas

December 07, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

Most people don't hang bananas or oranges from their Christmas trees, but this was a normal part of decorations during long-ago Christmas celebrations.

"Fruit was hung from the trees with yarn. You couldn't get fruit just anywhere," says Diana Ratliff, director of marketing and public relations for Shaker Village.

For anyone wanting to take Christmas celebrations back to simpler times, Shaker Village offers several opportunities this month.

The Shaker Order of Christmas Saturday offers a chance to trim a 12-foot tree with such simple objects as colored paper chains or strings of popcorn.

Watching people's reactions to the old-fashioned tree is fun, says Ratliff.

"To me, it speaks to the heart of the holiday with the music and keeping things simple," she says, noting that she loves this season and likes to decorate her own house with fresh greenery.


On Saturday night, caroling will begin at 7 p.m. It ends with hot refreshments. This event also harkens to days of old.

"They sing around the village and the village is all lantern-lit," Ratliff says.

Carolers are asked to donate canned goods for those in the area less fortunate.

"It doesn't cost anything. We just ask that you bring a canned good and we'll take those and donate them to a family with needs," Ratliff says.

Singing was big part of Shaker Christmas

Singing was a big part of the Shaker Christmas celebration. The Shaker Order of Christmas begins with soloists at 1 and 3 p.m. The Pleasant Hill Singers, a volunteer group led by Donna Phillips, follows at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. The tree is decorated after the singing.

Larrie Curry, director of the museum division at Shaker Village, says it's a moving experience.

"When they sing 'Silent Night' and they're decorating the tree, I just cry."

Susan Hughes, interpretation and education manager at the village, says the Shakers knew how to celebrate without the glitz to which we're now accustomed.

"I think what most visitors get out of it is the real meaning of Christmas rather than shopping at the mall."

Hughes says the Shakers jumped on the Christmas bandwagon early. Protestants didn't celebrate the holiday until the 1840s, but the Shakers observed it many years before then.

Two ways they celebrated were to remember the poor and to forgive past grudges.

"They packed up poor boxes and everyone had to give something of his own to the poor," Hughes says.

Curry noted that they observed a day of yearly sacrifice by forgiving grudges and making amends with friends.

Even though fruit was seen as a special treat, the Shakers' trading skills meant they had access year-round, Hughes says.

"They were trading down the river to New Orleans," she says, noting that Fulton was the state's banana capital. "They were bringing back lemons for their lemon pie."

Approval of Santa Claus

Even though they were known for their simple lifestyle, the Shakers approved of Santa Claus. In 1897, Sister Aurelia Mace, a member of a community in Maine, sent a letter to a newspaper that had asked whether Santa Claus existed. It was along the lines of "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," Hughes says.

Mace wrote, in part, "I do not consider Santa Claus a myth. It is the Spirit of the Season. Therefore I would continue to teach the child to thank Santa Claus for filling its stockings from the beautiful reindeer chariot. ... We must not take the mystery out of the child-life."

Speaking of alternate forms of transportation, Shaker Village also has sleighs pulled by Percherons, but getting a ride takes a lot of cooperation from Mother Nature.

"It takes a few inches of snow," Ratliff says.

The Simple Gifts of Christmas will end the season Dec. 26-31, with guided tours focusing on Shaker life and Christmas customs, Shaker music and showings of "The Shakers," narrated by Ben Kingsley.

The new year will be a special one at Shaker Village. The Shakers came to Kentucky and settled on Shawnee Run Creek 200 years ago in 1805.

"We'll have a special celebration in May during Historic Preservation Week," Ratliff says.

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