Can you imagine life more than a hundred years ago? In our lifetimes, technology has boomed, information travels faster than transportation and if we can want it, many of us can have it. And for some, Christmas becomes the fastest, and in many instances, the most hectic of times.

But there is a way to slow things down, at least for an evening and savor the Holiday season. Many of our most cherished Christmas traditions have their origin in the Victorian era. Christmas trees, Christmas cards, Holiday parties, even the purchase of gifts all date back to the time of Queen Victoria. The advance of the Industrial Revolution made the commercialization of Christmas possible, certainly, but the wealth it generated also helped to create the middle class who for the first time were able to take a couple of days off of work,  visit family, enjoy fellowship and embrace the spirit of the time.

As many of the Christmas traditions we love have their origins in the Victorian Era, what better place to enjoy them than in Historic Jonesborough’s Victorian setting?  The Colors of Christmas Holiday Dinner highlights these traditions, featuring some of Jonesborough’s most historic buildings, costumed interpreters, and an elegant meal.

The Colors of Christmas Holiday Dinner kicks off the Holiday Season in style. In Jonesborough, the Colors of Christmas is all about experiencing a Victorian Style Christmas celebration, just right for family and friends. Mantles are draped in freshly cut greenery; fruit, feathers and garland lend color and cheer.  An entire team of volunteers spend months researching décor and work for days to craft just the right touches to enhance the Holiday mood.

Rooms are decorated just as they would have been a hundred years ago with boughs of holly, cedar trees, and fresh cut greens of all sorts. Garlands are hand crafted together from spruce, hemlock, magnolia, nandina, ivy, and many more of nature’s winter gems. Stringed cranberries provide pops of colors on the mantels, as do bushels of berries tucked in here and there amongst the greens. A long standing symbol of good cheer, human warmth and family affection, the pineapple sets at the center of the mantel, letting all who enter the dwelling know they are welcome. The cedar tree stands watch in the corner, draped with popcorn garlands and filled with an array of ornaments.

In the Victorian era, many ornaments were handmade from fabric, wood, and other such materials. Paper chains adorned trees and hearth alike. Store bought ornaments were available, though, and quickly began to fill trees with their blown glass elegance. Glass ornaments could be purchased at a local store or ordered through a catalog. The same could be said of Christmas presents. Many were handmade, but companies like Sears & Roebuck distributed toys from their catalogs across the nation. Presents were kept under the tree, but many were also tucked inside the tree, a surprise to be discovered through treasure hunt on Christmas day.

Christmas cards were also tucked into trees and displayed throughout the house. Another key element of a Victorian Christmas tree was the live candles, flickering on the boughs. Many families did not put up their tree until Christmas Eve, but the danger of live flame on a freshly cut tree remained. This is a tradition we leave in the past, but the decorated cedar still stands proudly in the corner of the room, ready to participate in the merriment.

Holiday parties, as made popular by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, featured fun and frivolity. There were parties for specific age groups, such as children and young adults. The most popular of all were family parties with guests of all ages. These parties centered on food and entertainment. They usually included music and often times games. The parties were about connection, a celebration of family and friends. These parties were also a great opportunity to make new friends and acquaintances. Celebrations typically continued from Christmas Day through the Twelve Days of Christmas, ending with the celebration of the Epiphany in early January.

The spirit of a Victorian Christmas celebration is alive and well on the evening of December 1st in downtown Jonesborough.

Guests are greeted at the door of a beautifully restored building by a Victorian couple in their finest, festive attire. Wisps of conversation float through the air as guest help themselves to appetizers and enjoy the festive atmosphere. After a while, guests move on to yet another beautifully restored building and enjoy conversation with yet another finely attired Victorian couple.  More time to visit with friends both old and new while enjoying a warm cup of soup, and then it’s off in a bus reserved just for diners to the McKinney Center for the Arts, where a full meal awaits. Featuring live seasonal music softly playing in the background, diners enjoy additional Holiday décor. And when dessert is served, the Jonesborough Novelty Band takes the stage for a rousing sing-a-long! At the end of the evening, we return you downtown.

For more than forty years, the Heritage Alliance has offered a progressive dinner to ring in the season.  As guests move from location to location, you feel a sense of comradery develop. New friendships are forged and old friendships are renewed. And it is all for a good cause. The event is the main fundraiser for the Heritage Alliance, a not for profit heritage education and preservation organization based in Tennessee’s Oldest Town. The Heritage Alliance is dedicated to the preservation of the architectural, historical, and cultural heritage of our region and to providing educational experiences related to history and heritage for a wide range of audiences.

Visitors also have the opportunity to take a peek into a few of the private residences in town. Proceeds from this portion of the event help support the many family activities of Jonesborough, such as At Home with Santa and the Easter Extravaganza. Each location on the tour has a unique story rich with history. The sounds of the season with live music will fill various locations throughout the tour. The tour takes place from 3 to 7 p.m. and there will be a shuttle continually running the route.

Come home to Jonesborough for the holidays and take part in the Colors of Christmas on December 1. The Dinner is $85 and seating times are available at 4:30 or 7 p.m. The tour is $15 and takes place from 3 to 7pm. Purchase your tickets at jbochristmas.com/tickets or call the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center at 423.753.1010.

Secure your reservations for a Holiday respite to the past today.