Holiday history: How earlier generations celebrated

Under an unhelpful and spitting sky, Boy Scout Dalton Pelham strove Saturday to escort visitors across a century and a half to a Christmas hardly recognizable to us today.

“It took five weeks to make Christmas pudding,” the 13-year-old read from a folded brochure of facts. “And they read poetry while they did it.”

Hopscotching from rock to rock to avoid puddles at the Shoal Creek Living History Museum, he led a tour in and out of a schoolhouse, city hall and old homes, where wreaths hung from doorways, bread pudding cooked on a wood stove and women sat making yarn and crafts.

While others raced across the metro to hit malls, the visitors listened to volunteers in vintage dress and persona as they explained the traditions from back then, including wild turkey for Christmas dinner and tree ornaments made from foliage and paper, not glass and shiny things. They decorated with “whatever nature provided,” said Mona Riggs of Liberty, who took on the persona of a schoolteacher.

Christmas gifts ranged from a new shirt or dress to fruit, such as an orange or a lemon.

“Or you might get a pudding they normally wouldn’t make,” said Steven Montgomery, a museum director.

As the tour groups moved from place to place, Dalton and fellow Troop 260 member Timothy Reddekopp threw out trivia from the mid-1800s.

Dalton, his camouflage-patterned coat protecting him from the wind and rain, agreed that the gifts then were somewhat smaller and more practical than the Xbox 360 he wants for Christmas.

The whole tour reminded Judy Amos of Kearney how simple life used to be.

“It kind of gives you a wake-up call,” said Amos, who was with half of her eight grandchildren. “Christmas wasn’t as materialistic. No cellphones, no phones. No video games. Kids had to play outside. I like that.”

As Dalton and Timothy played guides, they said they learned an appreciation for the old days. And what they have now.

“I did find out that some kids had to go to school on Christmas Day,” Timothy said from under the hood of his coat.

Then he laughed: “I hope we’re telling you everything correctly.”

The last stop on the tour was the Thornton Mansion, where St. Nicholas waited in a back parlor. After two small children finished smiling for the camera, the man in red had a little something to tell them.

“You get to know the story of St. Nick,” he told them. “How he spent his family fortune and gave it to the children.”

Before the children left, he gave them shiny gifts. “Everyone who comes to see St. Nick gets a gold coin,” he told them.

If not a precious metal, then delicious chocolate in foil.

Then, as old Nick readied his lap for another group of kids, Dalton and Timothy were already off to lead another tour.