We’re at that time of year. Horse-drawn wagon rides, sleigh bells, baking, Christmas songs, and decorating.
Now consider all of that and take it back about 150 years.
That’s the idea behind the Family Christmas event at Living History Farms outside of Urbandale. The event happens from noon to 3 p.m on Saturday, Dec. 3 . Tickets are $8 per person, $7 for members, and children under age 1 get in for free. Tickets can be purchased here.
The event takes place in the 1876 Walnut Hill town and includes baking, caroling, horse-drawn wagons, and crafts. And a lot of opportunities to learn.
“This is a chance for people to see how a family of that era would have prepped for and celebrated Christmas,” said Elizabeth Sedrel, director of marketing and communications for Living History Farms.
“Definitely a way to sneak a little bit of history lesson in for kids on a day that’s really, really fun,” she continued. “They’re going to forget that they’re learning.”
Living History Farms is an outdoor, interactive museum that covers 300 years of agricultural history in Iowa. Three active farms represent different eras of farming (the 1700s, 1850s, and 1900s) and cover 500 acres. There’s also a Victorian-era town, and that’s where the Christmas event takes place.
Specifically, Family Christmas looks at Norwegian and Irish traditions because the homes in Walnut Hill represent those immigrants.
The Norwegian Tangen Home will be the site of the baking, which will include traditional recipes such as kringla, mildly sweet butter cookies, and hallongrottor, butter thumbprint cookies. Both will be baked in a wood stove like they would have been in the Victorian era.
“Everything is very authentic to how it would have been done at the time,” Sedrel said.
At Flynn Mansion, the Irish home, people will be able to string cranberries and popcorn for the tree while listening to Victorian carols, performed by interpreters in Victorian costumes.
And Sedrel said people might be surprised how many of those carols are still being sung today.
“Almost any 7-year-old could probably sing you at least one verse of the songs that they’ll hear up at the mansion,” she said.
To continue the exploration of Victorian times, visitors can also visit the millinery to learn about Victorian fashion, including making their own fans and learning about how different positions and motions meant different things at the time. At the drug store, guests can make aromatic pomanders and oranges with cloves. At the press shop, people can watch leaflets with a Norwegian hymn be set one letter at a time and then printed one at a time with a big roller.
“I would say the appeal here is that it is a chance to really look back in time and see how things were done 150 years ago,” Sedrel said. “You do see what traditions have carried through and how they’ve influenced the way we celebrate today.”
The event isn’t all reminiscent of the past, though. Outside of the historical buildings, in the visitors’ center, museum guests can also visit Santa Claus.
The Family Christmas takes place outside of the museum’s active season, which runs from May to October, and Sedrel said they’ve been setting up and decorating for the event since before Thanksgiving.
“We saved some of the decorating for the day itself so that visitors can take part in it,” she said. “But there’s a lot of prepping ahead of time for that. Doing some shopping, getting prepped to do the baking demonstrations. And then we just have to plan to have everybody here because it’s a busy day.”
But it’s worth it, Sedrel said.
This is only her second time doing the event with Living History Farms, but she said the horse-drawn carriage rides stood out the most to her in her first year. They’re weather-dependent, but Sedrel said the forecast looks good for Saturday.
“This might sound kind of corny, but the sound of the jingling bells on the horses as they pulled that wagon through town, it just felt so quintessentially Christmas to me,” she said when asked about her favorite part of the Family Christmas event. “There was no trace of snow anywhere, but the sound of the jingling bells and the clop-clop of the horses’ hooves. It felt so much like Christmas, and it also just felt so old-fashioned. I loved it.”
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