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Real-life Ghost of Christmas Past

Discover Boston's Holiday History on the Freedom Trail's Holiday Stroll

Everyone knows that Boston is the cradle of the American Revolution. But during the holiday season, the Freedom Trail’s annual Holiday Stroll explores Boston’s less well-known Christmas history. “Boston has so much history that people take for granted,” says Creative Director Sam Jones. “In the nineteenth century, Boston was the center of artistic opinion, and that brought out the best of the city. That history is right under people’s noses, so we want to highlight that and celebrate the holiday in a new and interesting way.”

Holiday Stroll offers a unique perspective on the origins of favorite holiday traditions. “We expand the scope to encompass the entire history of Christmas in Boston,” Jones says. “Christmas wasn’t widely celebrated during the eighteenth century. Most people were Congregational, meaning that they had a Puritan background. Christmas was seen as an Anglican tradition with pagan associations.”

It was during the nineteenth century that more recognizable Christmas celebrations began to take shape, and The Freedom Trail delves into this intriguing history. “Charles Dickens was closely associated with Boston,” Jones explains. “Boston was the center of the literary world in the nineteenth century. People like Thoreau, Emerson, and Longfellow all gathered in Boston. These were the circles that Dickens traveled in.”

Americans have Boston to thank for the ubiquity of A Christmas Carol in today’s holiday celebrations. “Dickens actually wrote a one-man play version of A Christmas Carol. He would perform it himself and he had different voices for all the characters. He traveled all over the country giving performances and he made tens of thousands of dollars doing this. The first performance was in Boston.”

Apparently, Dickens never left Boston. “When it’s available, we like to bring groups up to the room in the Parker House Hotel where Dickens stayed,” Jones says. “There’s a big mirror up there that Dickens haunts. Actors say that you aren’t supposed to practice in front of a mirror, but that’s what Dickens did—he would practice his reading of A Christmas Carol in front of that mirror. He still haunts it to this day.”

Although Dickens is a giant of Boston’s holiday history, the Freedom Trail explores the scope of the city’s Christmas traditions. “We stop at the different Christmas trees and talk about that history,” says Jones. “Boston’s tree, for example, is still donated by the people of Nova Scotia every year because of Boston’s quick response to the 1917 Halifax explosion.”

The tour’s broad scope presents a unique challenge for the Freedom Trail’s dedicated staff and talented guides. “The costuming can be a challenge,” says Jones. “We’re jumping a century, so we need to pay attention to that. It’s little things, like knowing how to wear the clothing, knowing where a hat should sit on your head, how the tie should look. We seek out the best colonial clothiers—they prefer the name ‘clothier’ because they make clothes, not costumes.”

Although a departure from the Freedom Trail’s normal focus, Holiday Stroll is an essential part of the foundation’s overall mission. “The people had passionate convictions,” Jones says. “They were passionate about learning and science. There really was a cult of learning here, and I think that learning and revolution go hand in hand. People today always talk about how they want to emulate the founders, but that’s not a part of it that gets talked about as much—the way that these men and women were passionate about learning. It really was a scholar revolution, and Boston was the heart of it.”

By Ettractions Digital Content Editor, EMILY JARMOLOWICZ

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