Christmas: a chance to explore history

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Christmas: a chance to explore history

December 7, 1995
By Pamela Cressey

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Christmas in Camp at Ford Ward Museum and Historic Site is one of many programs offered in December by Alexandria's historic museums.

I read recently in the Washington Post that Americans have more leisure time than 30 years ago. All the labor saving devices provide extra hours of free-choice time. It is only our perception that we never have enough time. Why this state of affairs? The author believes that we have more opportunities and desires-- exercise, the Internet, boating, gardening, learning, travel--that we must fit into the same number of hours. Hence, the sense that we do not have enough time. 

This sounds like a good theory, but I am not sure that I am willing to give up my perception of being a time victim. So much of life's daily activities do not feel like a matter of choice. Do I really want to spend hours deciphering medical insurance reimbursements and straightening out the problems? Do I choose to constantly spray Wimsey (our pound-puppy golden retriever/Australian shepherd) with herbs to counteract his grass allergy and keep a sock on his foot so he will not scratch his neck, which was infected by an electronic dog fence collar?

Fortunately I live with my 84 year old father, Charles Cressey, so he can provide some historical perspective. In 1965, he had never heard of a dog with a grass allergy or an electronic fence. Pets lived and died in a relatively simple manner. So, it seems as if we have "saved" time with microwaves and drive-through fast food cuisine; yet, "lost" time with mountains of paper work, learning new software, researching the right computer upgrade and safest cars, driving children around the beltway to various team, educational, and leisure activities. It takes time to identify and select from all our choices!

And so I read all the newspapers and magazines to select December holiday activities for our family free-time. It usually takes about 4 hours to develop a holiday calendar to suit all age groups: bonfires, concerts, open houses, plays, planetarium show, living history events, crafts workshops, caroling, etc.

If you are facing time constraints in selecting holiday fun, let me suggest some wonderful historic events close to home in Alexandria. December 9th and 10th from 4 to 6:30 p.m., you can tour historic sites on a Candlelight Tour featuring holiday decorations of different periods. Call 703-838-4200.

On December 9th from 1-4 p.m., Civil War living history will take place at Fort Ward Museum's Christmas in Camp. Also, see Victorian decorations and a patriotic Santa, and at 11 a.m. listen to a lecture by Kevin Rawlings about 19th century holiday traditions. Call 703-838-4848. On December 26th and 30th, Kwanza will be celebrated at the Black History Research Center. Call 703-838-4356. The Lyceum will join in First Night, our New Year's Eve celebration of the arts for the whole family. Call 703-838-4994. Fun gifts for all holidays are available at Alexandria's historic site gift shops, as well as Mount Vernon, Woodlawn and Fairfax County sites. Step back in time this December, have a happy history experience savoring the moment with loved ones.

Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.