In Search of an Old-fashioned Christmas

This was supposed to be a column about my visit last weekend to my kids’ home and also to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, located just a stone’s throw from Harrodsburg, Kentucky. From 1805 until 1910, Pleasant Hill was home to a busy and thriving Shaker community, the third largest in the United States. Known for their simplicity, industriousness and beautiful handiwork, Shakers prospered in the 18th and most of the 19th century.  But by the late 1800s, the Industrial Revolution–combined with the fact that Shakers were required to be celibate—caused the number of Shakers to decline precipitously. The last Shaker in Kentucky died in the 1920s. Pleasant Hill became “Shakertown.”

Thanks to the efforts of folks in Kentucky and elsewhere committed to historic preservation, Pleasant Hill began a turnaround in the 1960s. Today, it’s a landmark destination for visitors from around the world. Its 3,000 secluded acres encompass farmland, native prairies, forests and wetlands. Thirty-four of the original Shaker structures have been lovingly rescued and restored. It was in one of those structures that granddaughter June, a member of the Danville Children’s Choir, was to perform on Saturday night. I looked forward to hearing her sing and to experiencing a simple old-fashioned Shaker Village Christmas.

Alas, it was not to be. Severe storms were forecast. The concert was cancelled. We would hunker down at home and make the best of it.

So…did we light oil lamps and get to work on our churning and spinning and basket weaving? Did we sweep the hearth with a hand-made broom and light a Yule log to chase away the chill? Did we don coats and hats and boots and tromp out into the quickly-descending dusk to make sure the livestock were safe and snug in their barns?

We did not.

Daughter Leigh plugged in the crock pot and stirred together a delicious vegetarian chili, the ingredients of which had all been purchased at Kroger, for us to feast on at suppertime. With the HVAC system keeping us toasty, the kids opened their Christmas presents from me. The first was a round wooden puzzle picturing Santa and one of his reindeer, which we assembled together. (No easy task.) June’s gift was a coloring book filled with drawings of cats with mustaches.  We each tore out a page and colored it. Eli received a deck of cards featuring thirteen well-known children’s authors. With those cards, we played Texas Hold’em and Old Maid and Spoons.

Then we washed the spoons in hot water that came straight out of the tap and enjoyed our chili. When we were finished, we put our bowls in the dishwasher and scooted our dining chairs under the table, there being no pegs on the wall from which to hang them.

Next, we lit candles and sang Christmas carols acapella, right? Nope. June didn’t want to sing any of her songs because none of her choir friends were there, but Eli–who has recently begun violin lessons–regaled us with a solo performance of “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.” I wanted to play “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella” on my kazoo but it was back home in my desk drawer so I couldn’t. No one was much in the mood for Scrabble or Monopoly or Yahtzee, so we did what most modern American families would do in such a situation.

We turned on the TV.

We didn’t watch “Miracle on 34th Street” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” or “Home Alone” or “Elf.”  We didn’t watch “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Frosty the Snowman.” We chose, instead, two of the best holiday cartoons ever to grace the small screen, though it took searching through several apps and trying numerous passwords before we finally found “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the Grinch.

It wasn’t exactly a simple, old-fashioned Christmas. But it sure was fun.

(December 16, 2023)