By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
The Fort New Salem Foundation is very passionate about the preservation of its frontier log house settlement located just outside of Salem. All of its annual activities strive to advance the educational, historical, cultural and social aspects of the settlement’s 19th century beginnings.
Those who originally made this West Virginia settlement their home over two hundred years ago were a blend of diverse cultures (Scotch-Irish, English and German) – from their music to their food, their skills, their lifestyles, and their beliefs. And when visiting during Fort New Salem’s upcoming annual ‘Spirit of Christmas in the Mountains’, attendees will witness all of those customs and traditions from this mix of cultures.
If you have never attended one of these celebrations, it is interesting to see how these settlers celebrated the Christmas holiday – from special foods they prepared to the making of decorations, etc. Heritage skills are demonstrated in the blacksmith shop and the Old Kitchen.
Thirteen cabins will be open, and modern interpretations of heritage crafts will be for sale from local craftspeople located in several of the Fort’s buildings. Guests have the opportunity to make their own candle and/or decorate a gingerbread man. It is a journey back in time as visitors witness how Christmas was celebrated in the Appalachian frontier.
Another activity taking place during the Fort’s celebration is chestnuts roasting on an open fire … which brings to life the song written by Mel Torme and recorded by Nat King Cole back in the 1940’s!
New venues will be the “story of the orange”, an interpretation of the value of oranges in gift giving, as well as a limited appearance of the 13th Virginia Regiment.
Treat yourself to a taste of what Christmas Past was like at this 19th century settlement before you get too involved with your own traditions of Christmas Present!
The Spirit of Christmas in the Mountains will be featured at Fort New Salem the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving and again during the first weekend in December (on Saturday and Sunday, November 24th & 25th and on December 1st & 2nd from 2 – 6 p.m. each of those days).
Festivities will include music provided by area choirs, gifts for sale, weaving, blacksmithing, open hearth cooking, and more! A unique aspect of the celebration is Belsnickeling, a tradition practiced in certain German settlements of West Virginia that features costumed and masked mummers who roam from cabin to cabin demanding attention and favors throughout the day during the celebration. This colorful crew may be accompanied by Der Belsnickel, a fur-clad Christmas figure who was known for bringing gifts in regions of Germany long ago.
But perhaps the most inspiring and moving of the settlement’s Christmas customs is the tree lighting which concludes each day’s activities at sundown when revelers light candles arranged on an outdoor evergreen. This is always a visitor favorite!
Be sure to make plans to attend on one of these upcoming weekends and get a glimpse of Christmases past. General admission is $5 with children 10 and under admitted free with a paying adult.
The Spirit of Christmas in the Mountains is the final event of this calendar year at Fort New Salem. Special activities will resume in the Spring.