By Leslie Kelly
SEABECK — Forget Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Turn off the television. Put away that iPod, iPhone and the video games.
For just a few hours, try not to think about what needs to be done before Santa arrives and the relatives show up at the front door on Christmas Day. Take a break and travel back more than 150 years to a time when holiday celebrations were pure and simple.
At that time, in the mid-1800s, life in the old town of Seabeck centered on the lumber mills that caused the town to grow to be more populous than Seattle. The work in the mills brought young men and their families west from cities like New York and Philadelphia, and north from San Francisco. They settled on the Kitsap Peninsula in the logging camps near Seabeck.
That town of the 1860s will come alive on Dec. 9 as the Seabeck Conference Center becomes the Mill Town Family Christmas Village. From 4-8 p.m., visitors can take a ride on a hay wagon, enjoy the music and dance of the day, eat an old-fashioned Christmas dinner, and learn about Christmas traditions of yore from historians dressed in fashions of the era.
It’s the fifth year for the Mill Town Family Christmas and, according to Anita Williams, one of the event’s founders, attendance is growing.
“We’ve already been selling lots and lots of tickets,” Williams said. “Last year, we had 140 people attend, and I expect to sell out this year.” Ticket sales are limited to just 200.
The event is a way to experience history, Williams said.
“Those who attend tell us they really like that the event is a simple way to celebrate the Christmas holiday,” she said. “There’s nothing glitzy about it. It’s just some music, dancing and eating.”
In the 1860s, most men who worked in the mills would have Christmas Day off and would celebrate with family. They’d don their good flannel shirts and better pants with suspenders, while the women would wear high-neck floor-length gingham print dresses with a crocheted lace shawl, pinned closed with a beautiful jeweled broach. The children would have on their Sunday best pants, shirts and dresses, and woolen socks and leather tie shoes. And like today’s kids, they would be awaiting Santa’s arrival, hoping for a new book, or a wooden top or a pair of knitted mittens.
“We try to show the children that Christmas was much more a spirit, not just a day to get things,” Williams said. “There was less commercialism and a lot more focus on being with the family.”
At the event on Dec. 9, visitors will be greeted by Kitsap County Historical Society members dressed in period costumes. Hay wagon rides will be available along with hot cider and roasted chestnuts. Carolers, some of whom sing with the Bremerton Symphony Chorale, will carol as they walk about the grounds of the convention center, which itself has quite a history. It was once a logging camp and the buildings there date to 1857.
“The historical society has had several events at the Seabeck Center and it was about five years ago when we said ‘Why not do something Christmasy here?,’ Williams said. “It would be great place for a Christmas event, with all the forested land and the historic buildings.”
The celebration will continue with music and dancing in the spirit of 1860s. Well-known musicians Phil and Vivian Williams will play heritage music and period songs on the guitar and fiddle. The couple, who have studied and played music since the 1960s, are known worldwide for their knowledge of music history, especially of the early American fiddle.
“This is one of our favorite events to play at,” Phil Williams said. “This is like stepping back in time. The people who attend really get into it, the dancing, the music and the history.”
At 5:30 p.m., dinner will be served in the meeting hall, which was the cookhouse back in 1865. It will include just what the residents of Old Mill Town Seabeck would have eaten on a holiday in the 1860s, beginning with clam chowder, and then prime rib, roasted rooted vegetables, homemade biscuits and berry pie. Following dinner, local historians including Chuck Kraining, director of the Seabeck Center, will speak about life in the mid 1800s and the Seabeck of that era. Phil and Vivian Williams will speak about the history of the music of the time. For the youngsters, there will be some small, simple holiday gifts similar to what was given in the day.
“In those days, a man would carve a small wooden shelve for his wife,” Anita Williams said. “Men would get knitted scarfs or maybe a new shirt made from old flour sacks, and the children would get one gift each, usually an item of clothing. Most all of the presents were handmade.
“If the family had relatives in San Francisco, or in the East, the gifts would come by steamliner and could be food or toiletries or things that couldn’t be easily purchased here on the peninsula.”
And in that day, the Christmas decorating was very simple: greenery draped from the doorway, candles and possibly a live tree decorated with popcorn and cranberry strands and some traditional glass ornaments saved in the family for years.
In years past, visitors have learned about holiday traditions of days past and enjoyed the event, she said.
“People love it so much that they come back year after year,” she said. “And it is especially fun for the youngsters because they can see history come alive and experience what life was like back then.”
And, because the event is a fundraiser for the historical society, there will be gift baskets for raffle during the holiday celebration. At least a dozen baskets will tempt visitors who can buy tickets at the event and drop their tickets in bins beside the basket or baskets they hope to take home. Winning tickets will be drawn following the dinner and talks. Thus far, baskets have been donated by Trader Joe’s, Valley Nursery, the U.S. Lighthouse Society (including a two-night stay at a lighthouse) and the Puppet Museum.
“We rely on this event to help fund our activities,” said Megan Bradley, spokeswoman for the historical museum. “But it’s so much more than that. It’s a real opportunity for those who attend to really get back to what matters about the holidays — being with family and experiencing the simple joys of life.”
Tickets are $30 for adults, $15 for children ages 4-12. Children 3 and younger will be admitted for free. Call Kitsap County Historical Society, (360) 479-6226, for reservations.
Seabeck Conference Center is located at 15395 Seabeck Highway NW, Seabeck.
The Kitsap County Historical Society and Museum is located at 280 Fourth St., in downtown Bremerton. Its mission is to collect, preserve and exhibit the diverse culture, heritage and history of Kitsap County for the education and enjoyment of the public.