Holidays, Special Days, Winter Days

It’s December! It’s hard not to think of the holidays with all the snow we’ve gotten so far, and of course, there’s lots to celebrate. Here at the Museum & Theatre, we love a mix of traditions and new celebrations, and we’re excited to share some holiday and winter-themed cheer with you.

Hanukkah may not start this year until the evening of December 16th, but we’re celebrating this festival of lights early, with Dreidel Play today December 3rd, and an hour-long Hanukkah Celebration on Saturday, December 13th starting at 2pm. Join us to make your own menorah and sing festive Hanukkah songs! (We’ll be playing dreidel again on December 21st, too.)

We’ve even created our own special day this year: Winter Animal Day! We’re so excited about our holiday show, Beatrix Potter’s Christmas, that we’re all about animals lately. From tame bunnies to wild deer, we’ll be taking a look at different animals all month, and celebrating the animals of winter all day on December 20th. (Join us for a 1pm or 4pm performance of Beatrix Potter’s Christmas that day for extra animal fun!)

And of course, we can’t have the holidays at the Museum & Theatre without our annual New Years at Noon! PJ Party. One of the staples of our holiday programming, the New Years at Noon! party is a fun, festive way to ring in the new year… well before midnight, with a multi-balloon drop at noon. We’re also celebrating at 2pm with hat-making and some quieter activities, if that’s more your style.

However you like to celebrate the holidays, we hope you’ll join us! We love spreading the joy of the season.

Beatrix Potter’s Christmas: Traditions, Games and More from Victorian England

The holidays are here, and we are delighted to share our new production of Beatrix Potter’s Christmas: a look back at the childhood of children’s book author Beatrix Potter and the animals that inspired her illustrations and stories. In the show, Beatrix longs for a festive Christmas celebration… but exactly what kind of Christmas would a little girl in the Victorian era be celebrating?

The Victorian era is so named for Queen Victoria, who ruled the United Kingdom from 1837 to 1901. Beatrix Potter was born in 1866, and was growing up in a time when many Christmas traditions we know today were becoming popular throughout England and America.

Christmas Cards:

Do you send Christmas cards to your friends and family? This is one tradition begun by the Victorians. The first department stores in London, like Harrods and Bainbridge’s, date back to the 1830s and were thriving businesses by the late 19th century when Beatrix was young, and carried mass-produced illustrated cards that bore Christmas and New Year greetings – they rapidly grew in popularity during this time and the tradition continued into the 20th century.

Beatrix and her younger brother Bertram designed, printed and sold their own Christmas cards in the 1890s, featuring fantastical animals like the mice and rabbits she is seen sketching in our holiday show.

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A Christmas greeting card designed by Beatrix Potter.

 

Christmas Trees, Ornaments, and Presents

O, Christmas Tree, O, Christmas Tree – do you  know the song? Maybe even the German version, O Tannenbaum? The Tannenbaum, or Christmas tree, was a German tradition beginning as early as the 1500s, but was adopted into English Christmas tradition in the 1840s and 50s after Queen Victoria’s husband Albert, who was from Germany, brought the tradition to the palace! Queen Victoria was known for making many things fashionable, from clothes to decor, and by the 1870s Christmas ornaments were being mass produced and sold in department stores. Families would decorate their own Christmas trees with nuts and candy, ribbons, candles, ornaments, and tinsel. We’ve switched to electric lights instead of candles these days, but many of us still put stars or angels on the tops of our trees, just like people did in Beatrix Potter’s time.

Christmas presents were made and purchased, wrapped with care, and hung from the tree or placed beneath it. Presents were symbols of well-wishing, and the most cherished were those made by hand, like a crocheted or knitted scarf – something one of the animals in our play gives to another!

 

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's Christmas Tree at Windsor Palace.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle.

 

Games and Toys

Children and adults alike enjoyed playing games during Christmas. Beatrix’s housekeeper, Jane, mentions playing snapdragon, an English and American traditional game of quickly eating raisins out of hot Christmas pudding. (The game faded out during the early 20th century – the raisins were just too hot!) Children also played guessing games – such as what we know as “I Spy” with decorations on the tree – and played a game of trimming (decorating) the tree while blindfolded.

And everyone loved Christmas crackers. These aren’t the crackers we eat with slices of cheese… these are toys wrapped up bonbon style that pop when you pull them open! They contain small toys, paper crowns, and notes or riddles, but like “blind box” toys, you never know what color or style you’re going to get till you pop open the cracker. The tradition is not very widely practiced in America today, but is still popular in England.

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A Victorian advertisement for Tom Smith’s Surprise Crackers – Tom Smith was a sweetmaker who created and began selling crackers in the 1840s, and the Tom Smith company still makes Christmas crackers today!

 

Caroling and Parties

How many Christmas carols do you know? Carols are mostly sprightly, festive tunes (though some are slower and more somber) that ring in the joy of the season. Many of the songs we still sing today, like Jingle Bells, Deck the Halls!, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and Joy to the World were all popular during the Victorian era, and this was also the heyday of caroling door to door.

Beatrix looks out her window on festive Christmas carolers in a few scenes in our play (there are some animal carolers, too!), trying to hear the music. Carolers traveled in groups, playing instruments, singing, and selling sheet music. Having parlor instruments was becoming more and more commonplace among the middle class, not just the upper class, and people were playing pianos, violins, harps, and other instruments at home to liven up the house for the holidays or for entertaining at parties, so buying sheet music from a caroler on the street was a pretty great idea! Carolers went door to door and through the streets, livening up an evening for shoppers and partygoers.

 

Victorian Christmas carolers.

Victorian Christmas carolers, with sheet music for The Wassail Song.

Beatrix’s parents, Rupert and Helen, were well-to-do and attended several Christmas parties as part of their social station. This was an expectation of them as it was for many upper-class Londoners, so while some families enjoyed presents and games, the Potters may have heard a carol or two, but their parties were more about seeing and being seen in high society. But it’s the sprightly carols, decorations and games that Beatrix wants in her seasonal celebrations.

 

To see exactly how Beatrix, her brother Bertram, and all the animal friends of their real life and imaginations celebrate Christmas, join us for Beatrix Potter’s Christmas, beginning on December 11th and running through December 22nd!

Holiday Artmaking, Giftmaking and More!

As snow falls and holiday lights begin to dot our streets and windows, we’re getting into the spirit of the season with all kinds of fun holiday programs at the Museum & Theatre. For us, this is a time of gathering with friends and family, making fun arts & crafts, and of course celebrating!

Want to get extra crafty to create some handmade holiday gifts this year? Join us to craft some silly mitten puppets or decoupage journals in our exclusive workshops this fall & winter.

Among our programs that are free with admission, we’re staying crafty with some holiday card making, taking a look at the art of snowflakes, and creating thumbprint reindeer ornaments. We’ll also be ringing in the New Year with some sparkly glitter slime making! Be sure to check out our events calendar for dates and more info!

What’s your favorite holiday craft? Do you want to create something new this year? We love getting into the spirit of creating (and giving!), and we can’t wait to share some of our favorite crafting activities with you!

Sneak Peek: The Set of Santa’s Reindeer Revue!

Have you ever wondered how the set for a play is created? Who comes up with the ideas? How do they decide on the colors, and which props to use? Who puts it all together? Chris Fitze, our Exhibits and Operations Associate, has worked behind the scenes in theatre for many years and takes a leading role in set design here at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine. Here, he shares an inside look at the process of creating a set for our next show, Santa’s Reindeer Revue.  (You can click here for show tickets and info.)

Chris says:

“Even though we are still a few weeks away from opening night (Dec 3rd), design and construction of the set for Santa’s Reindeer Revue is well under way! Reba Short, our Theatre Artistic Director, asked us to design a set that would be simple and allow a lot of room to play. After reading the script, we developed a concept that would allow us to travel to two different locations, while sticking to the same central theme.

 

Santa’s Reindeer Revue takes place in two very different places. The show begins at the North Pole, where Santa’s Reindeer are (what else?) playing games, and getting ready for their big night! The show then travels to the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, where the cast of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are well into rehearsals at our very own Dress-Up Theatre. At the climax of the play, we come to opening night. And, although this is still in the Dress-Up Theatre, the look has to be one of Opening Night – not of rehearsal.

For the North Pole, we decided to keep a very open stage with a few hints of the great outdoors. “Real” trees, snowdrifts, and a North Pole sign all indicate the location without bulking up the stage. This allows plenty of room for the reindeer to play their games without being hindered by an overcrowded stage. When the play moves to the Dress-Up Theatre, we came to the conclusion that because the actors are rehearsing a play about the North Pole, the stage could still resemble the North Pole, but with more obvious stage pieces. Tree cutouts, ladders, and Christmas lights half-strung let us know this is a production in progress. By moving the ladders, adding some curtains, and stringing the lights properly, the stage will “magically” transform from rehearsal to opening night (although a little quicker than in real life!)!

Sometimes bigger is not always better. A simple set allows the actors and director to explore the full area more completely, and relies on the audience’s imagination to create their own magic. Isn’t that what this holiday season is all about?

Enjoy the show!”