Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Soldier's Christmas

Peace on Earth. It’s such a central message to the holiday season, and something we wish for year round. Unfortunately, wars don’t stop for Christmas and every year, from Revolutionary times on, brave Americans have spent the holidays away from their homes and families in order to ensure peace for the rest of us. Soldiers not actively engaged in fighting on Christmas day strive to celebrate the holiday in ways that remind them of home. In fact, many of our beloved Christmas traditions came out of wartime celebrations and Christmas became a federal holiday in 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War, in an attempt by President Grant to reconcile the still divided north and south. Prior to the Revolutionary War, Christmas in America was a quiet, religious occasion and not celebrated with a lot of outward festivities and fanfare. Many historians credit the Hessian soldiers from Germany, who fought in America alongside the British, with introducing Christmas trees to the United States. In fact, General George Washington took into account the German's love for the holiday to plan his famous crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Day in order to take the Hessian soldiers by surprise, presupposing that their guard would be down as the celebrated the holiday in order to gain the advantage, which he did and which ultimately proved to be the turning point of the Revolution. 

The Prayer at Valley Forge, Arnold Friberg

Decorated trees were just starting to become popular when the Civil War broke out, and at least one account records Civil War soldiers as decorating their tree with “hard tack and pork” – materials they had on hand, just as they would have used popcorn, dried fruit, pinecones, and homemade paper decorations had they been celebrating at home. 

Later generations of soldiers did their best to maintain established traditions, with visits from Santa, wrapped gifts arriving from loved ones, singing carols - many of which originated during the years leading up to the Civil War - and decorations made from foil, tin cans, and anything else they could fashion from salvaged materials and creativity.

On Saturday, November 29 the grounds and first floor of the Keith House at Graeme Park will be open for free tours from 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. with soldiers representing different wars encamped on the property demonstrating how Christmas was celebrated on the battlefront during different eras throughout our history. The Revolutionary War, Civil War, World Wars I and II will be represented along with modern-era wars. Crafts, gift items, ornaments and refreshments will be available for purchase in the Visitors’ Center. We will also be collecting items at this event to send to active-duty military serving overseas during the holiday season. Items we’re collecting include:

  • Flip flops, men’s and women’s white socks
  • Unscented soap, wipes, deodorant, shampoo, hand sanitizer, foot powder, Chapstick/Blistex, moisturizer (please note, all products should be unscented)
  • Saline eyewash, individual tissue packets, individual wrapped rolls of toilet paper
  • Holiday decorations, individually wrapped non-chocolate candies, non-dairy creamer, small tubes of Crystal Light, 12 oz. bags or smaller of coffee, sugar/Splenda packets, nutrition bars, small bags of chips, cookies (no peanuts, put in Gladware-type container if homemade)
Items may be dropped off at our offices during regular Friday – Sunday hours up to and including the day of the event. Please note that we will be closed Friday, November 28 for the Thanksgiving holiday.

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