October 1, 1998
January 3, 1998
Many regions of the United States have specific Christmas
traditions and the Shenandoah Valley is no exception. Before the days of
mad shopping excursions and struggles to find the most trendy toy, residents
of the Valley carried on ethnic and religious traditions to celebrate this
special time of the year. Some of these traditions have disappeared while
others are maintained in altered forms.
Other traditions like the manger scene, Christmas trees and gift-giving have become
a standard part of the holiday, although this was not always the case. Valley
clergymen were concerned about these matters, suggesting as early as 1793
that mangers containing a likeness of Christ amounted to "idolatry." And
it was not until 1855 that a recent German immigrant displayed the first
Christmas tree in Staunton.
| Since much of the Valley was settled by those with German
heritage, it is no surprise that traditions from that region were
observed here. "Belsnickeling" is one example. This forgotten tradition
consisted of dressing up in a disguise and visiting neighbors, hopefully
to get some refreshments. Sounding somewhat like today's Trick-or-Treat,
Belsnickeling was an adult activity. Some Valley residents remember
this, but today the tradition is dead. Pictured are some of the homemade
costumes used in the past.
This exhibit examined the beginnings of such traditions and explores
those that have been preserved as well as some that have recently come
into being. Objects and photographs are supplemented by anecdotal accounts
of Christmas past.