Holiday Traditions of the 17th and 18th Centuries are Alive at A Colonial Christmas at Colonial Michilimackinac

Historic Interpreters getting ready to celebrate Christmas at Michilimackinac The sun sets on the Straits of Mackinac. Fires crackle in stone hearths. The smell of treats and warm beverages fill the crisp winter air. Laughter, conversation, and more can be heard emanating from inside the palisaded walls. It’s A Colonial Christmas Saturday, December 10, at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City.

 From 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (last admission at 6:30 p.m.) the holiday traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries are alive for all to explore. As visitors enter through the secondary entrance off Straits Ave under boughs and decorations, lanterns will light the path to the palisaded walls, as the historic residents of Michilimackinac invite you into their homes to celebrate.

 “A Colonial Christmas is a chance to dig deeper into the lives of the historic residents of Michilimackinac and explore even more of this history of the Straits of Mackinac,” said Mackinac State Historic Parks director Steve Brisson. “We hope our visitors find it to be an enriching and fun event that will help us all appreciate the history of holiday traditions.”

 Upon entering the South Southwest Rowhouse, travelers will be welcomed with hot chocolate and the chance to look at available wares (and purchase tickets to the event, if you don’t already have one). Upon exiting the Rowhouse, more lanterns will light the paths, while the smell of treats and the fires burning in the fireplaces indicate the buildings to enter. You are now on your own to explore at your own pace.

 At the Merchant’s House you’ll find coriander cookies and seats around the fire, where you’ll learn about Réveillon, the French tradition of eating a night-time meal after Midnight Mass, including many desserts. In the Northwest Rowhouse the French celebration of New Year will also be observed, as it played a major part of the holiday festivities. Here you can sample the King’s Cake, but be on the lookout for the ‘bean’ that will make you king for the day.

An interpreter hanging greenery at Michilimackinac In the Barracks you’ll learn of British and German military traditions, as the soldiers may have celebrated the holidays with feasting, storytelling, and games. Here you’ll be able to sample tea cakes and learn about the tradition of the Christmas pie. British holiday traditions will continue in the British Trader’s House, as 18th century stories will be told while guests sample comfit. Ghost stories will be told in the Soldier’s House, which was a popular holiday tradition.

 Wassailing will take place in the Priest’s House, where hot wassail will be available as you make your way into Ste. Anne’s Church, which will be dressed for Christmas Mass and you’ll learn about the first Christmas at Mackinac.

 The celebration continues outside, as popcorn will be available on the porch of the Guardhouse. Over on the parade ground you’re encouraged to join a game of Trap Ball, a game played all year, but especially during the holiday season.

 Finally, down in the Treasures from the Sand exhibit, you’ll learn how the soldiers and fur traders decorated their houses for the holidays and have a chance to make your very own decoration to help decorate your own house.

 Admission to A Colonial Christmas is $10 per adult, $6 children ages 5-12, and free for children 4 and under and Mackinac Associates members (excluding Heritage Level). Tickets are available now online at www.mackinacparks.com/a-colonial-christmas/. Tickets will also be available upon arrival. Last admission is at 6:30 p.m. Call 231-436-4100 for more information.

 Visitors are encouraged to dress warmly, as the buildings at Colonial Michilimackinac are not insulated for the cold weather. Restrooms will be available in the South Southwest Rowhouse.

 Much of Colonial Michilimackinac has been reconstructed based on archaeological excavations, including its 13 buildings and structures, many of which will be open featuring special activities during A Colonial Christmas. The fort and fur trading village was founded by the French in 1715 and is depicted today as it was in the 1770s when occupied by the British. Colonial Michilimackinac will open for the 2023 season on May 10.

Early Christmas at Mackinac

In the midst of the holiday season, and with Christmas upon us, let’s take a look at one of the earliest recorded Christmas celebrations in the Straits of Mackinac.

This map, drawn around 1717, shows the location of the original St. Ignace Mission, labeled “maison des Jesuits,” as well as the Odawa and Huron communities nearby. Edward Ayer Collection, Newberry Library

  During the winter of 1679, Fr. Jean Enjalran supervised the Jesuit mission of St Ignace. Originally intended to serve a group of refugee Huron people brought to Mackinac by Fr. Jacques Marquette, the mission also served converts among the local Odawa. Combined with ministering to a French trading settlement that sprang up soon after the mission’s founding in 1671, Fr. Enjalran spent much of his time preaching to Native converts and instructing them in the Catholic faith. There were so many Odawa people living near the St. Ignace mission that the Jesuits eventually set up a smaller church, dedicated to St. Francis de Borgia, to specifically minister in their communities.

During one of the      Christmas processions the Huron carried a banner depicting the Holy House of Loreto, which some believe was the house that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived in while Christ was a child. The remains of the house are now enshrined in the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto, Italy. This image may have been chosen thanks to the Huron’s familiarity with Fr. Pierre-Joseph-Marie Chaumonot, another Jesuit who worked extensively with the tribe in New France and who felt a special connection with the Holy House after visiting multiple times before sailing for Canada.

  During the Christmas season, Fr. Enjalran supervised an elaborate series of services, processions, and feasts to mark the birth of Christ. In preparation, the Huron converts built a grotto in the mission church, complete with a cradle and a statue of the infant Jesus. After Fr. Enjalran conducted a midnight mass on Christmas, the Hurons and some of the Odawa asked that the priest bring the statue to their villages. Instead of simply moving the statue, the Hurons planned an elaborate procession for Epiphany, recreating the visit of the Magi to the infant Christ. The Hurons, including those who were not converts, split into three large groups, each with a tribal leader wearing a crown and carrying a scepter to represent the three kings and accompanied by the sounds of trumpets. Proceeded by a banner carried on standard depicting a star on a sky-blue field, the three groups marched to the church, where they presented gifts to at the grotto and prayed. Fr. Enjalran then wrapped the statue in a fine linen cloth, and followed the procession, this time led by two Frenchmen carrying a banner depicting Mary and Jesus, to the Huron village. Once there, all of the Hurons, including those who had not converted to Christianity, participated in a dance and feast. A week later Fr. Enjalran supervised a similar procession, with the Huron this time visiting the Odawa community for another feast. A complete description of these rituals can be found in the Jesuit Relations of 1679, vol. 61.

  We hope that you enjoy this festive season. From all of us at Mackinac State Historic Parks, happy holidays!

America’s 19th Century Christmas Traditions: A Connection Between the Past and Present

Many of the Christmas holiday traditions Americans honor in the early 21st century were shaped in the 19th century as this image from an issue of Harper’s Weekly in January 1869 reflects.

Christmas in the United States is not only a federal holiday but arguably the most celebrated holiday in the country, as evidenced by more retail and holiday decoration sales devoted to it than any other holiday during the year. However America’s celebration of this holiday has not always been universal and indeed, its traditions as celebrated in the United States are much more recent than most Americans likely are aware of, with most present day variations of American holiday traditions descended from the 19th century Victorian era. This was also the main time period Fort Mackinac was in active use as a military garrison and this heritage of holiday traditions is also reflected in the history of the fort and local inhabitants. (more…)

Christmas 1883

Christmas 1883

Harold D. Corbusier arrived at Fort Mackinac as a 9-year old boy in 1882. His father, Dr. William H. Corbusier was the post surgeon, and the family lived on the west side of the fort. Harold began keeping a diary in early 1883, which provides an illuminating look at the life of a kid in the 19th century. (more…)

The Christmas Mutiny at Fort Mackinac

The Christmas Mutiny at Fort Mackinac

Summer on Mackinac Island buzzed in the 1820s with the booming fur trade. Fort Mackinac was busy regulating the fur trade during this bustling time. The winter was a different story of long nights and monotonous work. This was the time that one of the most dramatic episodes to ever play out at Fort Mackinac happened, the Christmas Mutiny of 1829. (more…)