Did you know there were Christmas traditions before Black Friday and second-tier bowl games? If you’re looking for a reminder of simpler times, get yourself to the Victorian Christmas celebration held this weekend and next at Old Cowtown Museum.
Music, decorations, dancing, refreshments, Santa Claus and a live performance of “The Night Before Christmas” will lend a holiday feel to Wichita’s living museum along the Arkansas River.
“It’s one of the most beloved events at Cowtown,” museum spokeswoman Angela Cato said. “It’s been going on for many decades. People who bring their children, their parents brought them.”
That’s true, although the event evolved into its present form just six years ago. Originally, Cowtown’s period buildings were decorated for patrons to enjoy from the outside.
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Letting them inside just made sense, said executive director David Flask. “It gets bloody cold in Kansas some years,” he said, not overstating the obvious.
The Victorian theme was chosen because so much of what we currently think of as “traditional” Christmas evolved during that period, which roughly coincided with the reign of England’s Queen Victoria, 1837-1901.
Santa Claus and Christmas trees became firmly entrenched in American culture during that time thanks to European immigrants. “A Visit From St. Nicholas” – better known as “The Night Before Christmas” – and many Christmas carols were written during the same era.
“A lot of the things we assume have been associated with Christmas forever happened during Victorian times,” Flask said.
Among the highlights of this year’s Victorian Christmas program are:
• Musical performances in the Visitors Center, including the Great Plains Dulcimer Alliance on Friday and Dec. 14; Acoustic Treasures on Saturday and Dec. 13; and Dave Anderson on Saturday and Dec. 14
• Ballroom dancing by the Entre Nous dance group and barroom dancing by the Dixie Lee Saloon Girls, all appropriately attired for the period
• Live performances of “The Night Before Christmas” at 20-minute intervals in the schoolhouse
• Photographs with Santa in Heller Cabin
• Hot chocolate, sarsaparilla, baked treats and Christmas gifts for sale.
“We cram all sorts of things into one night that would have taken place all season long,” Flask said. “We certainly make it more of an event than a normal Christmas would be.”
Some 300 volunteers help put on the event each year. A Christmas dinner package quickly sold out, but Cato said there’s still plenty to do “in the most unique setting in Wichita. If it’s not already a tradition in your family, it’s a jewel to check out.”
And this weekend, at least, it looks like even the weather will be appropriately Christmas-y.
“Yes, it will be cold,” Flask said, “but all of our buildings are heated. Rain or shine or snow or sleet, we’ll be here and looking forward to having everybody come out.”