Christmas Customs: An Old Salem Christmas

An Old Salem Christmas revisits the American spirit of Christmas past, including a community of craftsmen, holiday recipes and customs of the Christmas season.

| November/December 1988

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    Wreaths grace the doors of private homes.
    BOB CASAGRANDE
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    A brass band fills the town with music.
    BOB CASAGRANDE
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    An American spirit of Christmas past. Moravian housewives made 60 pounds of candles a year.
    PHOTO: BOB CASAGRANDE

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Christmas past is captured in Old Salem Christmas traditions, celebrating the American spirit of Christmas past. 

Christmas Customs: An Old Salem Christmas

THE STURDY LITTLE BOY CAME barreling across the town square in Old Salem and pulled up in front of a man in eighteenth-century breeches and vest, who was loading sightseers onto a wagon hitched to two patient black Percherons.

"Hey mister, how much is a ride on the wagon?"

"Say Merry Christmas!" boomed the driver. The boy hesitated, examined the statement for the traps adults like to set, found none, and said cautiously, "Merry Christmas."



"Climb on!" the man exclaimed. With a grin as bright as morning on new snow, the child clambered aboard.

A NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK, Old Salem is a restored frontier settlement in central North Carolina, far less well known (and crowded) than it deserves to be. Seventy nine preserved or reconstructed buildings, 14 of which are open to the public, radiate from a central square. Built between 1766 and 1856 of logs, brick (some with striking half-timbering) or clapboards, the homes and public buildings line broad, tree-bordered streets. Costumed staff welcome guests to each building, explain its function and go about the everyday business of 200 years ago—candlemaking, blacksmithing, cooking—as the original residents did, with the same tools, materials and techniques. To visit Old Salem is to experience life in the country as it used to be lived. Each December, Old Salem re-creates Christmas as it was celebrated between 1790 and 1830, with appropriate decorations, music and food. At any season, the town is worth a visit. At Christmas, it is sheer delight.






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