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Christmas party goes old school

Chuck Kraining roasts chestnuts at the Mill Town Christmas. - Seraine Page
Chuck Kraining roasts chestnuts at the Mill Town Christmas.
— image credit: Seraine Page

Visitors came from near and far to experience a traditional 1800s holiday during the sixth annual Old Mill Town Christmas event in Seabeck last weekend.

“This is one of many of our holiday heritage events we hold throughout the year,” said Patricia Drolet, executive director for the museum. “It celebrates the diverse and rich culture and past of Kitsap County.”

The two-day event served more than 200 guests who wanted to re-live historic times during the holidays at Seabeck Conference Center. The event was put on by the Kitsap County Historical Society and Museum as a fundraiser for museum operations.

Carol Becken traveled from afar to make the event. Becken, who lives in Coquitlam, B.C., came with her husband and two granddaughters.

“I just thought this Christmas thing would be so much fun,” she said. “We’re having a really good time. Seabeck is a place I love. It’s a wonderful place to come with the family.”

For the last few years, Becken has been interested in coming to the event. It wasn’t until this year that she was able to make it when the Seabeck Association — of which she’s a member — chose to hold their meeting at the conference center the same weekend as the Christmas event.

The evening started out with hayrides at the entrance of the property, which took attendees to a house at the top of the hill where they could sample roasted chestnuts, eat cookies and drink apple cider. Once inside the house, guests got lessons from the Kitsap Kickers Line Dance Club on historic dances like the waltz.

After a few demonstrations, the audience joined in — from the elderly to toddling toddlers — for instruction.

“They’re really enjoying themselves,” said Megan Bradley, program coordinator for Kitsap County Historical Society and Museum. “It’s very nostalgic.”

Bradley said back in the mill days, it wasn’t often that mill workers got time off to relax during the holidays. She also noted that Santa would not be making an appearance because that wasn’t how mill workers celebrated back in the day.

“In those days they just celebrated with food and dancing with music,” she said.

After dancing lessons, guests could walk or take a hayride to the dining hall — which once was the area’s motel — for a family-style dinner. Guests were invited to enter raffles for a variety of gifts, including baskets filled with Starbucks coffee, wine and other goodies, all to benefit the museum.

Guests shuffled in and sat down at large round tables, mingling with friends and strangers alike as would have been done hundreds of years ago. Baskets of homemade biscuits, corn fritters and chowder served as appetizers prior to the main course of cornish hen, roasted potatoes, mushrooms and glazed carrots. For dessert, coffee and bread pudding drizzled with caramel sauce rounded out the meal.

To explain the past of Seabeck, museum staff invited two guests to speak after dinner.

Chuck Kraining, executive director of the Seabeck Conference Center, noted that mill workers got off two holidays: July Fourth and Christmas. The area, known for being a logging and mill town, once “ was a bigger city than Seattle,” he told the audience.

The main entertainment for the evening was professional storyteller Jill Johnson who writes much of the pieces she performs.

“It’s a wonderful event, and I’m so glad to see families,” Johnson said.

Johnson captivated the audience with the story of Berte Olson, the first woman to skipper a ferry boat on Puget Sound. The actress and storyteller spends much of her time researching historical events to make sure she’s as accurate as possible, especially in the case of Olson, who has specific ties to the area.

Originally, the story is an hour and a half show, but she cut the time down for the Mill Town event.

While backing her story with facts and figures, Johnson also alternated between third and first person storytelling, giving Olson an accent and feisty attitude each time she spoke her part.

Additionally, she told a short story about a poor family given blessings during Christmas time from another family in their area. The story, she said, could have taken place anywhere because of how relevant need is during the holidays.

“Johnson has performed and given workshops in Washington, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and overseas. She was a featured performer with Humanities Washington and toured in Africa, performing and giving workshops in Cameroon and South Africa,” states the National Storytelling Network website.

“She was great,” said attendee Charlotte Tucker of Johnson’s performance. In addition to the performance, Tucker said she was also impressed by the family-style meal.

“My favorite part truly is the camaraderie,  the opportunity to just celebrate this legacy of Seabeck,” she said. “And to celebrate during the holidays just heightens it.”

Saturday was the first time Tucker participated in the yearly event, she said, but she wasn’t disappointed.

“Being in this venue...the spirit of this brings you back,” she said. “I’m gonna be here (again) next year.”

 

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