Is it even possible to make it through the December holiday season without nostalgia and tradition taking center stage? From family habits (must have two kinds of cranberries!) to national spectacle (don’t forget to pardon the turkey!), we all look for ways to be connected to each other and our histories.
Here are 10 ways to incorporate history -- and perhaps start a new family tradition -- this holiday season.
1. Visit a historic site. Many sites pull out all the stops during the holiday season, with special events and exhibits designed to show how the season was celebrated in the past. Holiday mansion tours and “Santa, Snacks, and Stories” are the featured events at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids, while Filoli, in Woodside, California, has a full slate of activities including dinner and dancing, and a children’s luncheon with Santa.
2. Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop. Whether you are there in person or shopping online, buying presents from museums and historic sites supports their work and provides gifts unlike anything you find at the mall. For example: a paperweight modeled after the intricate plasterwork at Drayton Hall, or reading glasses like those worn by architect Philip Johnson.
3. Attend a holiday market. What could be more in the spirit of the season than supporting local artisans and craftspeople? Even places as cold as Toronto offer a festive outdoor shopping experience in a historic neighborhood, so be sure to check out your local listings for seasonal shopping.
4. Take a trip back in time. Whether it’s something as simple as dressing up and going caroling, or as elaborate as participating in events like Galveston’s Dickens on the Strand, the holidays can bring out the olden times in all of us. Look for experiences in your hometown that help you and your family relive the past.
5. Enjoy high tea. Many historic hotels -- such as the Drake Hotel in Chicago -- offer a festive holiday tea, providing a chance to sneak a peek at their lavish decorations while enjoying a cozy outing. Historic Hotels of America is a great resource for finding nearby options.
6. Take in the lights. From the smallest of towns to the largest of cities, the prolonged darkness of December inspire historic neighborhoods to show a little sparkle. The Dallas Heritage Village in Texas goes so far as to light everything with candles!
7. Shop local. There’s nothing like wandering down to your local Main Street and supporting businesses owned by your neighbors and housed in historic buildings. Even though Small Business Saturday just passed, capture its spirit throughout the giving season and patronize local establishments whenever possible.
8. Enjoy the sounds of the season. Check the event listings for historic theaters in your community -- many have concerts where you can hear holiday classics new and old. Spokane’s Bing Crosby Theater, for example, has several holiday concerts on the books, as befits a venue named after the singer who brought us “White Christmas.”
9. Take a moment to reflect. Though not everyone lives nearby this example, the Memorial Illumination at the Antietam Battlefield is an incredibly moving holiday season tradition. Look for similar events in your neck of the woods that can help you pause amid the hectic holiday run-up.
10. Support #GivingTuesday. In an attempt at starting a new tradition, charities have banded together to provide a philanthropic counterpoint to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We at the National Trust are participating, as are other worthy history and preservation-focused groups. Take it one step further and donate on behalf of a loved one for an extra-meaningful gift.
What is your favorite way to bring history and tradition into your holiday celebrations?
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.