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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Actors in period costume dance during a re-enactment of a pioneer Christmas at the LDS Church History Museum.

Stepping into the Church History Museum was more of a step back in time than usual Saturday.

Members of the Pioneer Heritage Company and some staff from the Church History Museum dressed in authentic pioneer best to celebrate a pioneer Christmas.

The interactive, audience-oriented program included games, dancing, music, stories and songs that were once part of Christmastime festivities during the 19th century.

"Spending time with family was the highlight of pioneer Christmas," said Nancy Anderson, docent coordinator at the Church History Museum. "The holidays were about songs, dances and stories. That was Christmas, not gifts."

Three years ago, the Pioneer Heritage Company approached the museum about doing the program. They had loved doing it, but needed a venue. The two formed a partnership and began performing "Pioneer Christmas: A Time to Celebrate."

" We know most of the city doesn't care, but there are people who care about and value their heritage and come to connect with that element of the past that helped make us who we are today," Anderson said.

Over 400 guests crowded into the theater to participate in the two shows.

"We thought it would be good to see how the pioneers lived at Christmastime and maybe help our kids appreciate what they have a little bit more," said Anjanell Hawks of Pleasant View. Hawks, who was showing two of her six children some of the toys pioneer children played with, commented that her children liked the songs and the music most. The pioneer Christmas carols, which are still sung today, were sung with the original lyrics that included toys called whirligigs and gimlets.

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Laughing parents and children danced around a Christmas tree, learned and played pioneer games, sang carols together and received a visit from Father Christmas in a festive and cheerful holiday celebration.

"We enjoy learning about different family traditions and wanted to see how it was for the pioneer families back then," said Staci Castle of Pleasant Grove. "I really enjoy how they interact with families and bring the kids on stage."

Though the celebration is only held for one day, the performers hoped that the message of family, heritage and Christmas would last through the entire season.

e-mail: hloftus@desnews.com