Sunday, December 10, 2017

HANS HERR: Candlelight tour in the snow

Some of you may have spent a cozy Saturday evening in front of the fireplace, hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree while the snow fell steadily outside.
Not us.
We had tickets for the sold-out Christmas Candlelight Tour at the Hans Herr House in Lancaster County, and we were determined to get there. We left early, stuck to the main roads and got there only a few minutes late. We were amazed at the amount of traffic we encountered, including Amish buggies.
We thought the tour would be something simple, perhaps just a costumed guide showing us around the house, which was built in 1719 by immigrants from Germany who came to this country seeking religious freedom. But it turned out to be a fascinating tour of the entire property, including demonstrations by a weaver, a flax spinner, a blacksmith, and a basketmaker. We rode through the snow in a Conestoga wagon.
One of the highlights for me was the Native American longhouse, which we had seen before, but only from the outside. Our guide, actually the museum director, explained that it was an accurate recreation of the way that the Eastern Woodlands Indians lived in pre-European Contact times in the 1500s and 1600s. Two layers of wooden racks lined the walls, the lower one for sleeping and the upper one for storage. There was a small fire burning in the middle of the longhouse, offering some welcome warmth despite the ample smoke.
In the kitchen of the Hans Herr House, a guide explained how linen was made. I had no idea that it was such a painstaking process. The flax needs to be carefully grown so that the stalks are straight and long. Then it needs to be pulled up by the root, soaked, crushed in a brake and then run through a hackle to separate out the desired fiber. Only then can it be spun into yarn and woven.
As always when I visit historical places, I'm reminded of how tough our ancestors were and how easy we have it in comparison. The basketmaker, for instance, was telling us that baskets were not a decorative art form; they were a vital part of life. You couldn't just go out and buy some Rubbermaid, he quipped. (He also told us how they preserved eggs during the winter: they poured lard over them.)
The evening ended in the candlelit dining room-slash-chapel of the main  house, where the guide, with the help of a German guest who happened to be on hand, read the Christmas Story aloud in German. Then we all sang "Silent Night," also in German, with the help of lyric sheets.
It was a magical evening -- and fortunately the drive back home was much easier.

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