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Christmas Fun
By Susan Olling

I’ve been trying to ignore the news.  So, let’s take a couple of  leisurely drives to enjoy some Christmas cheer.
A twenty-two-year old tradition in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania occurs on the second Friday in December: the Tuba Carol Fest in front of the Gettysburg Hotel.  Despite the name, all low bass horns are found in this choir  We first attended several years ago and have seen the number of musicians increase each year.  There were seventy-four representatives of the low brass family in this year’s concert.  The event starts at 7:00, but the audience begins to assemble at about 6:30.  You want to find a good place to watch (and listen) as well as to enjoy a cup of the delicious hot chocolate, with or without marshmallows, that the hotel provides.  (Who’s going to say no to marshmallows in hot chocolate?  Scandalous.)   You can sing along or simply enjoy a choir of low brass.  The horns have become more decorated, and Santa hats abound.  One lovely lady was wearing a fur coat and a very tasteful non-Santa hat.  She appeared underdressed compared to what was standing next to her: a rather tall elf.   Twenty of the musicians were from two of the local school districts.  Various musicians are recognized.  Two gentlemen drove three-and-one-half hours from West Virginia to participate.   The oldest musician was seventy-eight.  The youngest were two seventh graders.  The best decorated baritone was covered with tinsel.  The best decorated tuba had Santa falling into the bell of the horn.  Three high schoolers played the best decorated sousaphones.  The kids put Christmas paper over the bells of the horns, and “Ho” was “written” in ribbon on each of the three bells.  Just as the number of musicians has increased each year, so has the size of the audience.  Mr. History said the crowd went all the way to the Christmas tree in the center of the square.
In past years, we’ve driven home right after the concert.  This year, we stayed at the Lightner Farmhouse.  Built in 1862, it was a hospital after the battle in July 1863.   
Christmas was celebrated differently in the eighteenth century.   No Christmas trees;  that was a nineteenth century development.  Thank you, Reverend Minnigerode.  No Christmas lists from the younger members of the family.  Sorry, kids, they didn’t get presents.  The season was celebrated starting 25 December and ending twelve days later on Epiphany.   There was quite a bit of visiting during this period, and it wasn’t unusual for a wedding or two to occur.  George Washington and Martha Dandridge Custis were married on Epiphany, 06 January 1759.
We’ve been to Colonial Williamsburg in December a number of times, but Mount Vernon offers a nice break from the crowds down in the Historic Triangle at Christmas.  We went to Farmer Washington’s home on Saturday.  Mr. Washington spent eighteen shillings one Christmas to bring a camel to Mount Vernon.  A  ten-year-old dromedary, a one-humped camel, named Aladdin has been making an appearance at Mount Vernon for eight years now.  He’s one of the stars during the month of December.  Visitors used to be able to go up close to this character, but he has a tendency to grab hats and scarves.  Now, there’s some space between us and Aladdin.  There was a program about camels  on Saturday morning.  Camels are not the cleanest of animals, and their breath is worse than dog breath.  Camels have two sets of eye lashes, and their ears have quite a bit of fur in and around them.  Gotta keep the sand out.  Aladdin lives further out in Northern Virginia where his best buddy is a zebra.  Evidently Aladdin was experiencing separation anxiety when he got to Mount Vernon this year.  He was chewing on the fences.  He doesn’t like the illuminations (eighteenth century term for fireworks) that are shot off during the month of December.
No visit to Mount Vernon is complete without a tour of the Mansion.  The Blue Bedroom recently reopened after restoration.  Beautiful result.  The house used to be rusticated with sand which gave a bright white color to the exterior.  The house had been originally rusticated with crushed sandstone from a quarry in Southside Virginia.  When it was time to re-rusticate the Mansion, sandstone from the same quarry was used.  A hedgehog (a marzipan and almond dessert), a Great Cake (one of the General Washington’s favorites), and other eighteenth century goodies were on the table in the New Room.
There were chocolate making demonstrations in the afternoon.  Eighteenth century folk loved chocolate.  The chocolate beverage they drank was a bit different than what we’re used to.  They used  no milk, just the melted chocolate.  Depending on your recipe, you might add vanilla or spices like cinnamon, cloves, or cayenne pepper (gives a good kick to the drink).
Thanks for reading these contributions.  Merry Christmas to all.

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