PORTER | Visitors battled the bitter cold Saturday to head indoors at Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to experience a little of holiday life from long ago.
During the annual program, Holiday Traditions in the Dunes, volunteers reenact scenes and tell stories from the French and Swedish cultures that once largely inhabited the area.
Local historians Susan Ruth Brown and Gary Brown told of Francis Rose Howe, granddaughter of fur trader and settler Joseph Bailly, and how in the winter of 1856, she put a single stocking of her own, along with one from her doll, up on the fireplace mantel in the hopes that Pierre Noel, or Santa Claus, would visit.
“In the morning, she found a metal sewing needle in her doll’s stocking, and in her stocking she found thread on a wooden spool and enough fabric to sew her doll a dress,” Susan Ruth Brown said.
Children in the audience didn’t seem impressed with the gift, but Brown explained that this was a treasure for little “Frankie,” as Bailly’s granddaughter was known, during these times.
Bill Smith, a seasonal ranger with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, guided visitors through a display of a yule log cake, venison sausage, venison jerky, cranberry bread, and boiled squirrel with a side of cranberry sauce prepared by Ranger Jean-Pierre Anderson.
“This is the meal that the French-Canadians would eat. It was a very low key, quiet celebration because they were more reverent and it was a celebration to welcome back the light,” Smith said.
At nearby Chellberg Farm, the Santa Lucia legend was re-enacted with a volunteer who portrayed the character who carried food and drink to hungry folk in the province of Varmland, Sweden during a period of famine.
For Leslie Sefali, of Valparaiso, learning about the celebrations of yesteryear helped to ground her in today’s modern customs.
“Christmas has become so commercial and we wanted to see how it used to be done,” she said.