By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
It is not a rarity to hear folks speak nostalgically of the “good old days”, yearning for a time when things were simpler. Especially when the holidays approach, how many times have you felt the stress of too many activities and responsibilities pulling you in too many directions? … How often does delivering enough to satisfy everyone’s wants and needs spell great debt? … How often does it become so stressful that the season’s true significance takes a back seat?
Fort New Salem will perhaps bring you back to those “good old days” – even if just for a little while – if you attend the Fort’s “Spirit of Christmas in the Mountains” that will be celebrated during two upcoming weekends – Saturday and Sunday, November 26th & 27th and the following weekend on December 3rd & 4th – beginning at 2 p.m. daily. It is a good opportunity to turn back the clock and witness what Christmas was like in the mid-19th century Appalachian Frontier.
Spirit of Christmas in the Mountains celebrates much of West Virginia’s history. It is a journey back to a time when settlers of Scotch-Irish, English and German descent came to this area, each with their own seasonal customs; they intermingled their heritage skills, their foods, their music, their lifestyles, their beliefs and traditions. Visitors to the Fort for this holiday celebration will witness this blend of customs.
Heritage skills will be demonstrated in the Fort’s blacksmith shop, tinsmith shop and in the Old Kitchen. A replica of an 1820’s Christmas tree will be on display in McIntyre’s House. Visitors will see a domestic setting representing family customs of different ethnic origins, reflected in the preparation of special foods, the making of decorations and methods of celebration. A variety of special activities will be available for children as well – including storytelling, corn shelling, candle dipping and gingerbread cookie decorating.
Each day there may be a slight variation in the schedule, so for more specific information, check the Fort’s website (www.fortnewsalemfoundation.org).
Modern interpretations of heritage crafts will be on site along with items for sale from local craftspeople located in the Fort’s gift shop.
This celebration is in its 43rd year, and one of its unique features, a visitor favorite each year, is the appearance of Der Belsnickel. Der Belsnickel and his band of roving, noisy and colorful mummers periodically appear and roam from house to house demanding attention and favors each day. Belsnickeling is a tradition practiced in certain German settlements of West Virginia.
Another favorite, deemed the most inspirational feature of the celebration, is the traditional Christmas Tree lighting at sundown that caps off each day with a procession of gaily-dressed revelers who light the hand-dipped candles adorning the outdoor evergreen. Visitors will enjoy community choirs singing during the processional as well.
Step back in time during the festivities that will feature live music (bagpipes, dulcimer and other string instruments), caroling by area choirs, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, weaving, blacksmithing, open hearth cooking, Belsnickeling and the traditional outdoor tree lighting.
Make room on your calendar to revisit the past and witness the Christmas traditions of long ago at Fort New Salem.
General admission is $5 with children age ten and under admitted free. Shuttle service between the Salem International University parking lot and the Fort’s main gate will be available.
Spirit of Christmas in the Mountains is sponsored in part by Fort New Salem Foundation, Clarksburg Printing LLC, Harrison County Commission, Martin Ventures, LLC/EastGate Used Cars, LLC, and the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.