Candlelight Christmas Tour at Historic Brattonsville
As the sun set and the full moon rose from a tree lined horizon, the Historic Village of Brattonsville was bathed in the glow of lantern lined paths, small bon-fires and candle lit buildings. Historic Brattonsville is a living history museum located in York County, South Carolina and was settled by the Bratton family during the 18th century. It is currently operated by the Culture and Heritage Museums of York County which hosts the Candlelight Christmas Tours annually. Located just south east of Rock Hill, SC, Brattonsville is an easy hour drive from Charlotte, NC, as attested by the healthy crowd drawn by this unique annual event. Hundreds of modern people, both young and old, mingled with the dozens of dedicated historically dressed interpreters, many of which were volunteers.
Due to the great turn out the tours were staggered for the enjoyment of all. The down time was certainly not wasted, but rather an opportunity for some hands on fun. In an open yard in front of the visitor center a central bonfire was surrounded by family friendly activities. Father Christmas handed out candy with a jovial air to children who may not have realized that Santa was not always round, jolly and decked in red. Historically clothed women helped young and old alike dip their own candles, making everyone appreciate how much effort was necessary to just to create a birthday candle sized light. It certainly causes one to enjoy the ease of merely flipping a switch when you get home. Dedicated artisans showed off the art of Scherenschnitte, or paper cutting to make holiday ornaments and gave visitors the opportunity to try their hand at it. Warm beverages and tasty treats were available and helped to stave off the evening chill.
At last the time had come for the piece de résistance….the tour. Heading from the open brightness of the visitors center into the lantern lit, night darkened woods you travel back in time to the 1770’s. Only the relatively dim light from the lanterns keeps you on the rough dirt path and the light from the distant fire in front of the William Bratton House gives you any idea of distance. Inside the house you find a family celebrating Christmas with neighbors and friends. The decorations are sparse, but the mood is cheerful with fiddle music, stories and laughter. It is evident that while Christmas traditions have changed a great deal in the past 200 plus years, the enjoyment of family and friends has remained much the same. As you leave the cheerful cabin you travel along another dimly lit path to a rather nondescript cabin. Inside you learn just how much the sentiments of Christmas have changed from the ideals of these early Presbyterian settlers through the experience of a mini church service. Sitting in the relative warmth of the rough hewn cabin in the crackling firelight and hearing the sentiments of a person long past creates a moment which truly shows how time changes more than technology and fashion, making our understanding of these people tangible in a way that the written word cannot.
From a pre-revolutionary church you travel through the lanterns, across a road and 65 years ahead in time to the 1830s. In addition to the changes in dress and tradition it is evident that the Bratton family had seen a change in prosperity as well, evident in the extensive buildings of brick and planed lumber, as well as the evidence of having a workforce of slaves. The first stop during the tour in this era is to the slave kitchen. Inside this tiny brick building the realities of slavery are brought to life through the interactions of a slave and a daughter of the owner’s household, an illuminating experience which demonstrates the importance of family no matter your background or era of living. From the tiny working kitchen you travel to The Homestead, a stately white plantation house. Inside its beautifully maintained walls you again experience the feelings of family relationships as well as the changes in sentiment of how to celebrate the holiday season between the generations. An interesting reminder of how each generation changes from the last no matter what historical era you are in.
After traveling 200 years back in time and then traveling 65 ahead you find yourself at your final tour destination, the office of Dr Bratton, owner of The Homestead. He is spending Christmas Eve working on his account books and hiding from the holiday preparations of his wife and daughters, much as many a modern man has done.
The Candlelight Tour at Historic Brattonsville is a truly unique experience for young and old bringing history to life and giving visitors a true understanding of how human existence has changed and yet still retained many of its values.
The Candlelight Tour will have one last performance this coming Saturday, Dec 17th from 3pm to 9pm, don’t miss out on this enjoyable and unique opportunity for fact and fun.