Belsnickels Exhibit

This was a previous exhibit shown in the Featured Exhibit area.

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.

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.

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.

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.

You are invited to Explore. . .