The Christmas season is upon us again and we in early American house museums rejoice in its arrival. Though we spend the other eleven months of the year doggedly trying to “correct” people’s understanding of the past, Christmas relieves us of the tedium of authenticity.
Who wants to talk about the religious strife once engendered by Christmas? Or that most Protestants did not even recognize it, and some of those who did were belittled by “true” Protestants as secret Catholics. And that there were no decorations, no carols, or that, if recognized at all, it was spent in church. It wouldn’t make for a very merry museum Christmas.
So instead we cobble together a Christmas celebration which is part non-specific period decoration and part modern Christmas. We do it because the Christmas season is a month-long Black Friday for museums. Our visitation (and our coffers) swell. Christmas is a house museum institution.
We here at Peabody’s Lament believe we can find happiness in this season of joy by staying true to our past while engaging the present. One of the most popular ways of celebrating Christmas past, or any holiday actually, was to drink and shoot guns. Why not revive these traditional celebrations? After all, these remain two of America’s most treasured pastimes. So much so that the museum wouldn’t need to supply anything. Visitors can just dip into their personal stockpile. This has the added benefit of making it a hands-on activity.
This proposal is a museum dream. It promises increased visitation, minimal staff preparation (though the clean-up could take weeks, lawsuits longer), and an unforgettable authentic experience. And isn’t that what Christmas in the museum is all about?