Historic Holidays Around the World

By: James Quint, Director of Education

Decoration at Robert Mills

Celebrating the holidays often means taking part in family traditions year after year. Each activity holds meaning and value for a family—from trimming the tree to caroling in the neighborhood.

But have you ever wondered where these traditions originated? The staff and volunteers at Historic Columbia love sharing these stories with guests on tours and at programs during this time of year.

Visitors can explore two historic properties— the Robert Mills House and the Hampton-Preston Mansion—to see what a South Carolina Christmas looked like in years past. Holiday guides share fascinating tidbits on how current traditions emerged in our community while others have faded away.

One character who has changed over the years is the big man himself. The 1821 book, The Children’s Friend: A New Year’s Present, to Little Ones from Five to Twelve, reveals one of the most important animals to Santa Claus, his sleigh was pulled by one reindeer.

Holiday decorations at HP
A room at Hampton-Preston dressed for the holidays

One year later, the poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, would further expand on our knowledge of Santa Claus. Today, we know this poem as “The Night Before Christmas.” It’s amazing to think how this poem remains popular after 195 years.

Christmas in South Carolina—especially in the 18th and 19th centuries— drew inspiration from other nations and cultures. Wreaths and greenery were fashioned from what was on hand in the nearby woods or—depending on where you lived—what grew in your yard.

The tradition of decorating with dried fruit comes from England. Mulled wine comes from the Portuguese tradition of serving hot Madiera during the holiday season.

Native South Carolinian Joel Poinsett brought Poinsettias back with him to the United States while serving as ambassador to Mexico. All these traditions are reflected in the seasonal décor at the Robert Mills House and Hampton Preston Mansion.

There are many opportunities for families to learn more about the holidays in the 19th century at Historic Columbia. See below to learn more about our remaining holiday programs.

This article was originally published in The Columbia Star.