Christmas Traditions at the Museum

Writer  /  Frieda Dowler
Photographer  /  Forrest Mellott

The holiday season is here with plenty of fun-filled activities, and choosing where you can experience favorite traditions is important for making the most of your holidays.

The Johnson County Museum might be a place where you can experience some of those traditions as you step inside a magical winter wonderland at this unexpected and uncrowded close to home destination. The beautifully decorated museum will host the Dec-A-Tree event November 24 through December 30, Santa December 5 and 12, and a Holiday Open House with a Christmas choral concert December 19. For 20 years, the museum has presented interactive programs for county residents, keeping the history of Christmas a part of the present.

These free events are filled with trees, lights, decorations, benevolence, Santa Claus, music and food. Give your family the gift of renewing Christmas memories or making new memories by bringing them to the museum during this holiday season at 135 N. Main St., Franklin.

Food for Decorating
The decorating theme at the museum this year is gingerbread. The making of gingerbread dates back to the Middle Ages when monks developed a recipe based on fabulous spices and ingredients imported from the exotic Far East. When looking into the tradition of gingerbread, one can only imagine what might be waiting.

Gingerbread was reserved for special occasions and celebrations in its beginning. At that time, only professional gingerbread bakers were permitted to make gingerbread except at Christmas and Easter when anyone was allowed to make it, popularizing it during these times. Gingerbread can be of a soft variety like cake or pudding or of a hard variety like that used for gingerbread men or gingerbread houses. With all of the imaginative ways to decorate gingerbread, the decorations are sure to bring back a childhood memory.

David Pfeiffer, Director of the museum, says the Dec-A-Tree event kicks off the season November 24 and runs through December 30. Fifteen nonprofit organizations, such as booster clubs and other less prominent groups, start decorating their trees November 19. Their goal is to bring awareness to their organization as they help create a snowy, enchanting Christmas scene with their decorated tree along a winding path.

For a holiday visual sensation, stroll through this second-floor display during the museum’s open hours, Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Come participate in voting for your favorite tree. Another goal of these organizations is to be a recipient of the museum’s benevolence.

Charitable giving is a big part of the season, and the Johnson County Museum wants you to be a part of deciding who receives their benevolence. The museum is responsible for the distribution of the Williams Endowment for exhibits and programs from the late Elmon Williams, Greenwood attorney and his wife Lucile.

After walking along the tree-lined path of the Dec-A-Tree display, visitors are asked to vote for the most captivating tree. To vote, drop your ticket into the ballot box marked with the tree number. The organization whose tree accumulates the most votes will be awarded $200 with the second highest number of votes awarded $100. A third prize, judge’s choice, will also receive $100.

A true-to-life Santa will be present at the museum December 5 from 1:30-4:30 p.m. and December 12 from 12-3 p.m. He will be waiting to hear children’s requests for Christmas gifts at the end of the winding, tree-lined path of the Dec-A-Tree display on the second floor. The children will receive a peppermint candy cane from Santa, which holds its own lore from Christendom and Saint Nicolas Day. Both origins include appeasing children which continues today. A photographer will be available to take photos, one free per family, for those willing to wait 15 minutes for the photo to be processed.

Santa, a portly, joyous, white-bearded man dressed in a red and white suit became a part of the Christmas celebration in America due to popular literature and music that reinvented European folklore. Urban legend even suggests that the Coca-Cola Co. invented the red and white suit to coincide with their colors during a 1930s advertising campaign. Whatever your beliefs may be, Santa is undeniably a part of Christmas and welcomed by the museum as keepers of history.

On December 5, Santa will leave the museum to ride in the Holiday Parade and Lighting Ceremony hosted by Franklin Parks and Recreation as a part of the town’s celebration beginning at 5:30 p.m. The Winter Market that day at First Presbyterian Church with crafters, artists and other vendors will also add motive to join the festivities.

Music and Food
The sounds of Christmas will fill the air throughout the museum December 19 from 1-3 p.m. with a choral concert performed by The Voices, a community choir. The first floor will play host to this 55-member choir, directed by John Richardson, owner of Mallow Run Winery, and Anne Sanders, former choir director at Perry Meridian High School. Jackie McNeelan will be the piano accompaniment for this group which began practicing right after Labor Day.

Music evokes emotions as it helps recall memories, touching our souls in unforgettable ways. If you doubt that, hum a verse of “White Christmas” in July and you will shiver, or “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” and you will behave. Listening to a choir of 55 well-practiced volunteers is sure to stir memories of Christmases past, make memories of Christmas present and create joyous anticipation for Christmas future.

The museum will also provide cookies and their almost famous Holiday Punch fondly named Museum Champagne, a secret nonalcoholic recipe, based on white grape juice during the break between the two sets that the choir will perform.

Keepers of History and Tradition
The mission of the nonprofit Johnson County museum, an educational institution, is to collect, preserve, interpret and promote the material culture and history of this region. Museum director David Pfeiffer expects 1,500 visitors during the month of December. Hosting these events takes a big effort for the two full-time and four part-time staff members and a host of volunteers who believe in the importance of preserving history.

Purchasing a membership at the Johnson County Historical Society or an item from the museum gift shop might be a great gift idea for someone this Christmas. With a membership ($10 for students, $20 for individuals, $35 per family), you will also receive a quarterly newsletter and a discount at the gift shop.

An important part of preserving history at the Johnson County Museum is so the public can experience these interactive events, not only for education but also for nostalgia as we fondly remember the way things used to be.

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