The holidays often bring to mind thoughts and images of the past, old fashioned carolers singing in the streets, and enjoying traditional festivities that have passed down from generation to generation. But there is a place where the holiday traditions of old can still be experienced. Almost by accident we stumbled upon a wonderful event called "Candlelight Evenings" at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration and had a most wonderful 1800's holiday experience.
As we entered the main lobby, strains of old fashioned holiday fiddle music drifted through the air. In order to enter the village, you have to walk down a long unpaved road. Our way through the darkness was illuminated by firelight along the path. Soon we could almost forget that our car, and the 21st century lay just beyond the main building.
Many of the houses and buildings were open and each held a lovely little surprise. Docents were inside to explain the history behind each building. In some of the homes people in period clothing were playing the harp and other instruments, filling the small home with musical Christmas cheer.
We stopped by the John Layton store, which is one of the few buildings that would have been decorated for the Christmas season. Depending on the religious beliefs of the various former owners, some of the homes would not have been decorated for the season. Inside the Luyster Store they were making Yule brooms with a red handle and decorative ribbons.
We made a stop in the Noon Inn after a bit of wandering to sample some hot apple cider and ginger snaps. The price couldn't be beat at $1 for a cup of cider and two cookies. We ate and drank by candlelight alone in the warm cozy room. Next was a stop by the bonfire, tended masterfully by some of the Bethpage Village volunteers. It really called up images of old timey winter nights as we sat by the blazing fire. In the center of the village near the inn a brass quartet was playing holiday favorites and the sounds echoed with the cracking of fire in the clear night air.
We headed on to the old schoolhouse where we sat in old fashioned desks and warmed ourselves by the heat of the coal stove. There we were delighted to hear some traditional tunes played by a period fiddle. It was also interesting to learn that local families had to chip in approximately $1.25 per year for schooling back them, a great contrast to today's property taxes.
Across the street was the church which was well lit by candlelight and also warmed by a coal stove in the back. We slipped in at the start of a performance. Our host began to tell the age old tale of A Christmas Carol, complete with volunteer actors from the audience. Your very own co-editor, Laura played the Ghost of Christmas Present. Afterwards we all sang some well known Christmas carols before slipping back out into the night.
At the Schenck house, a 1730's Dutch farmhouse, there were people gathered around a table singing and playing traditional caroling songs such as Ding Dong Merrily on High. Their voices were beautiful and combined with the crackling fireplace and historic furnishings might almost make you forget the date.
We finished up the night with another round of cider and ginger snaps, sitting by the fire for a bit before making the trek back to civilization. Full of a sense of historical awe and holiday cheer we meandered up the fire lit path back to the main lobby and from there, the long drive home.
The Candlelight Evenings go on this weekend as well as the weekend of
December 16th, ending just before the village closes for the season. It
is a wonderful event and a true rarity on Long Island. We hope that it
continues as a yearly tradition for many years to come.