Experience an old-fashioned Christmas on the Farm in Waterloo
Photo | Kim Bayer
Once the Thanksgiving leftovers are finally finished, an authentic Christmas experience is something many of us wish for. Far from flashing lights, plastic baubles, fake trees and the mall, just a handmade celebration with the smell of pine and woodsmoke, the stove warm from cookies baking and carolers singing the old songs with snow crunching underfoot.
Thousands of people get this experience on a grand scale by visiting beautiful Greenfield Village at the holidays. But, on the first weekend in December, for a tiny fraction of the cost, you can also travel back in time to explore a tiny jewel-box version called "Christmas on the Farm," an old-fashioned handmade Christmas at the Waterloo Farm Museum, a few miles west of Chelsea, Mich.
With all the buildings open and re-animated as though the inhabitants are about to arrive back from town, it's the one time of year they pull out the antique children's toys and delicate blown-glass ornaments to decorate the 10-room farmhouse and the even older log cabin where the Realy family lived starting in 1844.
In the one-room cabin, a Christmas tree hung with dried apple and orange slices sits near the window. Paper reindeer cutouts and candles adorn the mantel above a crackling fire. If you're lucky, a pot of delicious stew will be cooking in a cast iron pot hanging from the "witch's arm" in the fireplace.
Docents will explain the significance of one of their treasures — a barrel hewn from a single log, given to early settlers in gratitude for nursing a young Native American woman and her baby back to health.
Back at the house, the table is laid with the best china and the old organ appears ready to intone strains of "Oh Tannenbaum." Volunteers in period costume can tell you about everything from the making of the hand-woven rugs to the German town where the glass ornaments originated.
Like always, the warm kitchen is a hive of activity. You can see up close how to churn butter, roll out dough for homemade noodles and prepare a pot of soup on the wood cookstove.
Actually, the whole place is a hive of holiday activity, with swags of greenery and things to see, smell and experience in the bakehouse, blacksmith shop, the spring house, and barns, as well as in the log cabin and farmhouse.
In this bit of history brought to life, you feel like a part of an American Christmas postcard, sent from a place where the anticipation of enjoying family togetherness and a spirit of generosity were the important things. It conjures up, even if for a short while, a world of peace, love and understanding.
Christmas on the Farm 2011
Where: 9998 Waterloo Munith Road, Grass Lake, Mich.
When: Saturday, Dec. 3, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 4, Noon - 4 p.m.
The Waterloo Farm Museum and nearby Dewey School are owned and managed by the all-volunteer Waterloo Area Historical Society.
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. She would love any news about interesting local food and agriculture efforts. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.