MARIETTA - As they looked at the Victorian-era Christmas decorations on display in the Henry Fearing House Museum Friday, some Harmar Elementary fifth-graders were surprised to learn the holiday wasn't always celebrated in Marietta with much, if any, fanfare.
The early settlers who came to the area brought traditions from New England that didn't involve a lot of decorating or other activities around Christmas Day.
That was hard for fifth-grader Mackenzie Hess to imagine.
Harmar Elementary School fifth-graders, from left, Kaitlyn McClead, Cailin McCracken and Mackenzie Hess hang ornaments they made on a Christmas tree in the reception room of the Henry Fearing House Museum in Marietta Friday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)
"Christmas is my favorite holiday," she said. "It not all about the presents; it's all about your friends, your family and Jesus."
Hess and her classmates were continuing the decades-long relationship between their school and the nearby museum, run by the Washington County Historical Society in the former home of its namesake- the son of the first lawyer in the Northwest Territory, father to a Civil War general and grandfather-in-law to U.S. Vice President Charles Gates Dawes.
The visit by a pair of fifth-grade classes kicked off the museum's annual Christmas open house. Members of the public can tour it from 1:30 to 5 p.m. the next two Saturdays and Dec. 16. It will be open from 3 to 7 p.m. this Sunday.
The children did more than look on Friday. They decorated a Christmas tree in the reception room with ornaments they'd made with their thumb prints as the basis. The designs included hearts made from two thumb prints, reindeer drawn around a horizontal print or snowmen from a vertical one, said fifth-grader Kaitlyn McClead, who added that the activity provided a good break from regular schoolwork.
After adorning the tree, the students moved into the parlor, where co-manager Glen Wolfe described the decorations that would have been on a tree in the mid- to late 1800s.
"They used to make paper ornaments, and they'd cut pictures out of newspapers and magazines," he said.
Wolfe told the children that on Christmas morning, the doors to the parlor would be closed and the father would light the candles attached to the branches. As he stood by with a bucket of water, the children would enter to see the tree lit for the first time.
"Back then it was just one morning they'd have lights on the tree," Wolfe said.
"Do you still do that?" one child asked him.
"No, I have lights on all the time," Wolfe laughed.
McClead said she enjoyed looking at the furniture in the upstairs bedrooms, while classmate Cailin McCracken liked seeing the old toys on display.
It was interesting to see "what kind of toys they got for Christmas and how they were different from the toys we get for Christmas," she said.