Families celebrate Christmas traditions as Mormon pioneers did

Published: Saturday, Dec. 7 2013 6:05 p.m. MST

The Church History Museum and the Pioneer Heritage Company perform Pioneer Christmas: A Time for Celebration at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — While the snow fell outside Saturday, many gathered in a theater inside the Church History Museum of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a cozy pioneer Christmas party.

Men, women and children dressed in pioneer garb led the crowd in song and games from the 19th Century. Pioneer Christmas: A Time to Celebrate was presented by the Church History Museum, 45 N. West Temple, and Pioneer Heritage Company as an authentic pioneer-era Christmas party.

Daniel Marriott, came with his wife and four boys from Millcreek. While his boys were unsure at first, they loved dancing around the Christmas tree and singing "Jingle Bells."

"It was interesting," he said of the presentation. "It really made me appreciate how (pioneers) made do with so little. They would just get together and have fun."

With the stage made to look like the living room of a pioneer home, audience members were treated to traditional games, songs and dances that would have been a part of a 19th-Century Mormon pioneer Christmas celebration. The events were accompanied by a live band peppered with stories and narratives from pioneers.

“This performance is delightful! It’s also interactive,” said Nancy Andersen, who coordinates the Church History Museum’s living history program. “It’s for the whole family, including young children. Everyone participates in some way, and the kids especially love to see Father Christmas!”

Father Christmas announced his arrival with bells and led the audience children in a dance around the Christmas tree to the tune of "Jingle Bells."

For Pioneer Heritage Company members Christine and Fred Graham, the audience is the highlight.

"Watching the people, the children," Fred Graham began.

"Just seeing people enjoy it," Christine Graham said.

The Salt Lake couple have been with the company since it was formed in 1998 and have taken part in the Christmas program for all of its five years. They begin rehearsing in October, though many members remember much of the program from the year before.

Lucretia Thayne and her husband, Rick, became involved in the company in 2001, spurred on by Rick Thayne's love of history.

"I just love being with the people," Lucretia Thayne said. "These are fine people — it's the relationships."

She also enjoys carrying on the pioneer traditions and sharing them with others.

"It gives you an appreciation for your heritage and the people who came before," she said. "It's that connection with the past and the present that enriches our lives."

Gayle Haux, of Bountiful, said her family heard about the event online and decided to make the trip to see it. Her six children gave effusive reviews.

"I thought the picnic part was the best," Olivia said of one of the parlor games.

"I thought all of it was the best," her sister Emily added.

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com

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