Historic Columbia house lets you get in touch with Christmas past

By Hannah Horne - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -  If you want a break from Christmas present and future with no iPads, computers or video games, there's a special place you can visit for a taste of Christmas past.

Step into the Hampton-Preston Mansion, and time stands still. The historic home on Blanding Street is decked in 19th Century holiday fashion.

"We're focusing on 1860, the time of the outbreak of the civil war," said Fielding Freed, the Historic Columbia Foundation's Director of Homes.

The staff and volunteers make most of the decorations by hand and true to the era. "Research is ongoing," said Freed. "Old newspapers, family records, letters, any insights into what this time period was like for South Carolina and Columbians in particular."

On Christmas in 1860, history was in the making. Governor Francis Wilkinson Pickens had just been elected, and the Civil War was looming. "There was a high level of anxiety with plantation owners not knowing what was going to happen with secession," said Freed.

But traditions continued that year, with new things called Christmas trees that were placed on a tabletop. "Been around for 10 years, popular in Europe and came here to become the Christmas trees we know today," he said.

Santa made his annual visit. "South Carolina didn't call him Santa or Father Christmas, but he would have been St. Nicholas," said Freed.

Consumerism was alive and well. "Newspapers in Columbia were heavily advertising gifts for your family and children, and even special gifts from plantation owners to slaves which is interesting," said Freed.

Gifts would have included jewelry, books, chocolate and fruit. But the focus was not shopping, but on spending time with family and friends at parties and religious events. "It was the social season and horse racing was popular," said Freed.
But perhaps one thing that hasn't changed. "December 24 was just as exciting for the children of that time period," he said.

A history lesson that not only comes alive, but lives on. The historic homes are hosting a night of holiday candlelight tours on Thursday from 5:30pm to 8:30pm. There will be carriage rides, hot chocolate, music and a Victorian Santa.

Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved.