Celebrating the Origin of Santa and Three Centuries of Christmas at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum

Nast imageWethersfield, Conn. (November 13, 2013) –When theologian Clement Moore penned the words, “Twas the night before Christmas…” in 1822he could not have imagined the impact his poem would have on future generations. What Moore originally created to amuse his children is largely responsible for establishing the image of Santa Claus as he is known today: the well-rounded physique, merry nature, “eight tiny reindeer” and sliding down the chimney to fill children’s stockings with toys.

But it was in 1862 that political cartoonist Thomas Nast sealed the deal. In a now-famous cartoon in Harper’s Weekly, Nast depicted Santa as a jolly and plump man with a full, white beard, holding a sack laden with toys for lucky children. It was Nast who gave Santa his bright-red suit trimmed with white fur, the North Pole workshop and elves, and Mrs. Claus. Nast went on to illustrate the entire poem for Moore’s now-classic book, “An Account of a Visit of St Nicholas.”

Nast’s depictions of Santa Claus will be celebrated in a special exhibit at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum this holiday season, with enlarged color illustrations from the museum’s rare copy of “An Account of a Visit of St Nicholas,” published by McLoughlin Brothers in New York in 1888.  The colorful images tell the tale of how the secular Christmas known today was created in the early 19th century, which coincides with the museum’s interpretation of an early Christmas at the Isaac Stevens House.

Each year the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum offers an enchanting and historic view of holidays past. The merriment commences in with the highly social Webb-Deane-Stevens Holiday-Preview Party on Friday, December 13, from 5 to 8 p.m. The sparkling event offers a special preview of the dazzling holiday decorations throughout the museum. Guests stroll from house to house enjoying delicious food, abundant holiday cheer and live holiday music ranging from the late 18th century to jazz standards, and chatting with friendly guides in period costume. Admission for the event is $25.Space is limited; reservations are strongly advised and can be made by calling 860-529-0612 ext. 12.

From December 14 through January 4, 2013, public holiday tours at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum demonstrate with fascinating detail how the American holiday season has evolved over the past three centuries. Designed to delight the senses and captivate the imagination, the 60-minute guided tours unfold throughout the museum’s three meticulously restored historic houses.

In the Silas Deane House, circa 1770, New Year’s Day was the main holiday—due to the Puritanical customs that still lingered in New England—rather than Christmas. The house reflects the preparations for the Deane’s “New Years’ Day Calling,” when prominent gentlemen in the community would call on the lady of the household. It was also the day when individuals who owed the family money would meet privately with the master of the house to settle their debts or make a New Year’s resolution to provide goods or services to settle their accounts in the coming year.

The Isaac Stevens House is decorated to depict the holiday celebrations of a middle-class household during the early to mid-1800s, when many of the Christmas traditions known today were adopted in New England. The best parlor features a charming table-top tree decorated with candles, gilded eggshells and edible treats, in keeping with the era. On the second floor a fascinating children’s exhibit features a range of toys, dolls, and games of the period.

At the Joseph Webb House visitors are dazzled by decorations typical of the early 20th century, a period of stunning decoration and celebration. The home is prepared for a Christmas open house that was typical of the times, including a sumptuous dessert buffet set up in the dining parlor. The culmination of several weeks’ work, the lavishness of the dessert and decorations could make or break the hostess’ reputation. Decorations include three Christmas trees, 200 feet of evergreen roping, fresh greens, fruit, and a collection of period ornaments. Also featured are a fine collection of antique iron toys from the late 19th and early 20th century and a charming Victorian doll house.

Following the tours, visitors are invited to explore the Webb-Deane-Stevens Gift Shop, which offers a bounty of timeless treasures, from elegant household items to jewelry, books, stocking stuffers, hostess and children’s gifts and more.
Three Centuries of Christmas Tours – December 15 through January 4, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 – 4 p.m. and on Sundays from 1 pm –4 pm.  Holiday tour admission is $10 per adult; $9 per senior over 60, AAA member and active military; $5 per student and children (5-18), $25 per family (2 adults + children).

About the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum – Located in the heart of Connecticut’s largest historic district, the Museum consists of three authentically restored 18th-century homes that bring Wethersfield’s rich history to life, from the American Revolution to the early 20th century. The museum includes the 1752 Joseph Webb House, which served as George Washington’s Revolutionary War headquarters in May 1781, when he met with French General le comte de Rochambeau; the 1770 Silas Deane House, built for a delegate to the Continental Congress and America’s first diplomat to France; and the 1788 Isaac Stevens House, which depicts life in the 18th and 19th centuries through original family objects and includes a new children’s museum.

Three-house Tour (1 hour): $10 per adult; $9 per senior over 60, AAA member and active military; $5 per student and children (5-18), $25 per family (2 adults + children). Group rates are available.

Hours  – December – Open for tours daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m. with the exception of Tuesday; Sunday, 1-4 p.m.  Note – The museum closes at 2 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. May 1 through October 31 – Open daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Tuesday; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. April and November – weekends only – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.  January 1 through March 31 – Not open for public tours, but group tours are available by appointment. In-depth theme tours and other educational programs scheduled during this period are posted on the web site. Offices remain open.

For more information please visit our web site: http://www.webb-deane-stevens.org.

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High-resolution images available on request

Contact: 
Charles Lyle, Executive Director
(860) 529-0612, ext., 14, clyle@webb-deane-stevens.org

Julie Winkel, Media Coordinator
203-815-0800, jwinkel@live.com