Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Glessner parlor abuzz with Christmas activity

Christmas is a special time at the museum.  We are fortunate to have extensive documentation on Christmas customs in Frances Glessner’s journal, which allows us to recreate quite accurately how the family would have celebrated the holiday. 

The museum will be decorated for Christmas from Wednesday November 23 through Saturday December 31.  However, the Glessners would be shocked by that!  Unlike today, where the sights and sounds of Christmas appear earlier and earlier each year, in the Glessners’ day, the celebration was confined to just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  In Frances Glessner’s journal, she discusses the decorating of the house on Christmas Eve, and quite often the tree and other decorations are taken down the evening of Christmas Day.  The tree was usually lit briefly (10-15 minutes) on each day. 

Our newly restored parlor features a number of activities that the family would have undertaken preparing for the decorating and gift-giving parts of the holiday.  The game table is opened in front of the banquet, and several activities are underway.  To the left, popcorn and cranberries are being strung to decorate the tree, and this garland may be found on both the small tree in the schoolroom and the larger tree in the main hall.  After the tree was taken down, the strings of garland would be hung outside on tree branches, so that birds could take advantage of the tasty treats.

At the right side of the table, pomander balls are being prepared using oranges, cloves, and cinnamon.  The balls were meant to be decorative as well as fragrant and they were usually placed in a closet, piled in a bowl, or at Christmas, hung on the tree.  They were decorated with ribbons and often small artificial birds or flowers.  The dried fruits would last for an extended period of time. 

Hand crafted items were popular Christmas gifts and several pieces are represented.  The black wool muffler represents a similar piece Fanny once knit and presented to her father as a Christmas gift.  The small red velvet pillow is in the process of having a vintage lace panel reading “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year” attached.

An interesting item, seen in the foreground of the photo, is the Glessners’ “literary salad.”  This parlor game was a popular activity for Victorian-era teenagers.  The host or hostess prepared the “salad” ahead of time by writing a selection of literary quotations on paper and then gluing them to green tissue paper “lettuce leaves.”  Each guest, on being served “salad,” read the quotation aloud and guessed at the author’s name.

Frances Glessner, her two sisters Helen and Anna, and her daughter Fanny, were all extremely talented needle workers, and hand-embroidered items would have been popular gifts from the women.  On the banquette, an embroidered panel of flowers is underway, sitting next to a red work bag.  Frances Glessner had many of these bags, used to hold fabric, needles, thread and other items for her embroidery work.  She also frequently made the bags and gave them as gifts.

To the left in the above photo is the Christmas 1890 issue of Ladies Home Journal.  Periodicals such as this were widely read by women who relied on them to provide useful information on the latest trends in gift giving and decorating. 

Special Christmas-themed tours of both Glessner and Clarke House Museum will be offered on Saturday December 10 and Sunday December 11, with tours at , , and .   Learn more about these and other Christmas customs, and conclude the tour with refreshments at the nearby landmark Wheeler Mansion.  Call 312.326.1480 for more information or to make reservations.

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