Dec 10, 2013 12:36 PM by MELISSA CANONE
The community is invited to experience the simple warmth and beauty of Christmas past as Vermilionville's historic village brings to life the holiday traditions of yesteryear with Old Time Christmas from December 10 - 13, 17 - 20 and a special family day on Saturday, December 14 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Visitors will have the chance to take a self-guided tour and see firsthand some of the Christmas and New Year's traditions from the 17 and 1800s like making santons or little saints, candles, soap, natural decorations, citrus pomanders and more. Admission for Vermilionville's Old-Time Christmas is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors/students, free for children under 6 and members; group rates are available and should be scheduled in advance.
The Old-Time Christmas tour will start off at Maison de Cultures where visitors will learn about Native American Gift Giving Traditions. Nearby, at the L'Hangar á Bateau (Boat Shed), visitors will meet Papa Noël, the French Santa Claus, who was actually a trapper that would deliver presents such as candy, money or small toys. You may also spot Papa Noël checking out the bonfires down by Le Petit Bayou. Children would light a bonfire and leave their shoes by it so Papa Noël knew where to stop. They would also leave carrots for Papa Noël's donkey Gui, which is French for Mistletoe.
The next home on the tour is Beau Bassin where visitors will learn about how the Acadians decorated for Christmas using natural materials. They would bring in evergreen clippings from the outside to brighten things up since the weather was so dreary in the winter. A Vermilionville artisan will share how their family has prepared for Papa Noël's arrival while giving a demonstration on spinning!
Visitors will then learn about soap making as well as the process and materials involved while watching a demonstration. Ingredients in soap making of the old days include lye and hog lard; lye comes from leaching water through wood ash and hog lard is the fat from the pig. Soap making was done in the winter after the boucherie when a hog was slaughtered. At this station, you will also learn about bathing seasons and the tradition of springtime weddings.
The tour continues at L'École (Schoolhouse) where visitors will learn about and sing Christmas Carols including "Silent Night," and "Jingle Bells." These carols are from the time period of 1765-1890. You may also have the chance to sing along to "Go Tell it on the Mountain," which was written in 1953 and is traditionally the first song sung at Christmas services.
From there visitors will head over to Maison Mouton where they will learn about the differences between Christmas in the modern day and the Christmas of yesteryear. In here, they will meet Vermilionville's woodcarver and see the toys he has been working on. Visitors will then head towards the back porch where the kitchen is located to visit with another Vermilionville artisan as she prepares for the Christmas feast as well as Gui's carrot snacks. The scents will leave you craving a slice of gingerbread.
At La Forge, the visitors will encounter the Vermilionville blacksmiths hard at work before heading on to Maison Buller where they will learn about candle making. Candles were a very important tool because there was no electricity and they could only be made in the winter when it was cold enough for the wax to keep its shape and not melt.
From there visitors will head to the La Chapelle des Attakapas (Chapel) where another Vermilionville artisan will read, "A Cajun Night before Christmas," and "The Legend of the Poinsettia." They will also learn about the French Christmas tradition where figurines, santons (little saints), were made to represent saints or nativity scenes, but eventually expanded to represent people in the towns. This tradition started during the French Revolution when churches were forcibly closed and large nativity scenes were prohibited.
Visitors will then head to Maison Boucvalt where they will learn about citrus pomanders, a Victorian era air freshener made with citrus fruits decorated with cloves. This house will be the only one decorated with a Christmas tree since most of the elements of modern Christmas are products of the Victorian era. Visitors may also have a chance to participate in crafts or a hands-on demonstration depending on which they visit.
The final stop on the Old Time Christmas Tour is Maison Broussard. It is here you will learn about the tradition of Le Réveillon. Some families would gather for a nice dinner after mid-night mass on both Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve called Le Réveillon. Le Réveillon comes from the French word reveil, which means "waking."
For more information about Old Time Christmas or to schedule a group tour visit Vermilionville.org or call (337) 233-4077.