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19th Century Christmas

Historical fort offers unique Christmas

For the 20th year, Father Christmas will be a part of the Fort Nisqually Living Museum’s holiday event. Photo credit: Russ Carmack

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Father Christmas lives at Fort Nisqually.

An imaginary figure believed to bring presents to and for children on the night before Christmas, he is conventionally portrayed as a jolly old man with a long white beard and red clothes.

On Dec. 3, for the 20th year, Father Christmas will be in attendance at a 19th Century Christmas celebration hosted at the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum.

The museum is a painstakingly accurate restoration of the Hudson Bay Company's outpost on Puget Sound. Throughout the year, visitors can experience life in the Washington Territory during the 1850s. Nine buildings are open to the public, to include the granary and Factor's House, both national historic landmarks.

Museum officials estimate that more than 300 people will attend the Christmas celebration.

"We aim to create a holiday spirit that is unplugged," wrote Allison Campbell, the post's events and volunteer assistant. "There is an emphasis on classic traditions that would have been enjoyed by the people living and working at the fort in the 1850s."

Joining Father Christmas will be more than 30 volunteers dressed in period clothes.

Campbell said that the reenactors will portray the family of Dr. William Fraser Tolmie as well as the other men and women living at the fort during that time.

From 1843 to 1859, Tolmie served as the leader of the Hudson Bay Company's operations at Fort Nisqually. The post was an important fur trading and farming concern of the Hudson Bay Company located in what is now DuPont.

Tolmie was promoted to the position of chief trader in 1847, and he became chief factor (chief executive officer) in 1855.

At Christmas, he would make as gifts "the best rations the place could afford," the fort's journals recorded.

Typically, Tolmie gave meat, flour, molasses, sugar and tallow to the fort's workers, and singing and dancing were enjoyed.

Within this historical setting, the 21st century is invited into the 19th century. Visitors to the fort will have the opportunity to construct Christmas decorations, sing carols, play parlor games and have their picture taken with Father Christmas.

Of special note will be the arrival of a Yule log, traditionally burned on Christmas day, which will be towed in by young visitors at 1 p.m. Visitors will have the chance to take home a piece of the log for their holiday fire.

Historical interpreters will be attired in period clothes as they move throughout the fort, and they will engage in the typical traditions of a Victorian Christmas celebration.

"Step back in time with us, enjoy simple holiday traditions and learn about how the first European settlers in the Puget Sound marked the day," concluded Campbell.

Father Christmas is waiting.

19th Century Christmas celebration, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 3, Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, 5400 N. Pearl St., Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, admission is $5-$8, children 4 and younger are free, 253.591.5339,

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