Around The Parks: Holiday Events Feature Toymakers And Glimpses Into The Past

Old-time toymaker Joey Beason will appear at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park's "A Taste of Christmas Past" on December 7. NPS photo.

A toymaker with skills from the past and glimpses into holiday celebrations from years ago are some of the events on display around the National Park System in December.

Toymaking Skills From The Past At Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

No passwords or electronics are needed to make the toys made by Joey Beason come to life. His skills, and toys, will be on display at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in Kentucky this coming Saturday.

The historical park will be the scene of a traditional holiday re-awakening with the arrival of the last of the old-time toy makers. No, not Santa Claus, but a real old-time toymaker who carries with him the spirit of things of the past - heartfelt presents made by hand – simple, but full of love. Gifts such as these carry with them tradition, family history, and a connection with the special spirit upon which the Christmas season should be founded.

Mr. Beason has patient hands that create something from nothing, and has a story to tell about the true spirit of Christmas. He remembers the days when people had to scrimp and save scraps that today would be thrown away. These tidbits were fashioned into something so special that they became family heirlooms and would never be tossed away.

Seeing the love that the toymaker puts into his toys reminds Ranger Pam Eddy of her very favorite Christmas present when she was young.

"My brother spent a whole year gathering things from the forest for my present of bird feathers, squirrel tails from his hunts for food, and other treasures he had found in nature," she recalls. "This cost him nothing but his time, which was worth more to me than anything money could buy. It was evident that he wanted me to know I was loved… and that is the real spirit of Christmas!"

Old and young alike are invited to join in this special morning at the historical park's old toy workshop and enjoy gingerbread, sugar cookies, egg-nog and hot chocolate. Mr. Beason will share with all a story that teaches of the true Christmas spirit of love, kindness and giving.

This free program is Saturday at 10 a.m. The toy workshop is inside the national park visitor center, located on Hwy 25E, just south of Middlesboro, KY. This program is being co-hosted by the Friends of Cumberland Gap and park partner Eastern National.

"Old Virginia Christmas" Celebrated At Booker T. Washington National Monument

Booker T. Washington National Monument will offer its annual “Old Virginia Christmas” living history program on December 7. The event will include lantern-guided tours and costumed programs that allow visitor to experience what Christmas was like on a mid-19th century Virginia plantation. The program will take place from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. with a special children’s program from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Light refreshments will be served.

The national monument, located in Hardy, Virginia, preserves a portion of the former tobacco plantation that served as the birthplace and nine-year childhood home of the well-known educator, orator, author, and advisor who was a guiding force at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute.

The monument includes reconstructed 19th-century farm buildings, trails, farm animals, and a subsistence garden reminiscent of this region of Virginia in the 1850s.

Celebrate The Holidays As Dwight And Mamie Eisenhower Did

The Pennsylvania homeand farm of Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower will be decorated for the holiday season throughout December.

The celebration includes a holiday reception on Saturday, December 14, with free cider and cookies courtesy of Gettysburg Tours, Inc.

Mamie Eisenhower loved to decorate their home for Christmas. As White House Chief Usher J. B. West said, "Mamie Eisenhower decked the halls with more than holly."

Her hand is evident in the home's recreated decorations, complete with mistletoe, wreaths, and poinsettias. A brightly lit, candy cane-covered Christmas tree surrounded by presents illuminates the living room. A life-sized Santa Claus enlivens the casual atmosphere of the Eisenhowers' porch while, in the kitchen, gifts of sugar cookies and plum pudding await the arrival of the Eisenhower grandchildren. The dining room table is set for Christmas dinner and the Eisenhowers' Christmas records playing in the background add to the holiday atmosphere.

The Eisenhowers' specially designed White House Christmas cards are on exhibit, along with Christmas gift prints of the president's paintings. One of the original decorations from the first family on display is a 1950s handmade Christmas shadow box. Park interpreters are on hand to share Eisenhower family recollections of Christmas in Gettysburg.

The Eisenhower National Historic Site is open daily with shuttle buses leaving the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center at 10 a.m.,11:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Admission is $7.50 for adults and $5.00 for youth ages 6 -12; children age 5 and under are admitted free. Advance reservations are available and highly recommended for groups. Reservations can be made by calling 877-874-2478.

For the holiday reception on December 14, shuttle buses will depart from the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center on the hour between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. The site is closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Festival Of Christmas Past Coming To Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The 38th annual Festival of Christmas Past celebration will be held at Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Saturday, December 14, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

The event, sponsored in cooperation with Great Smoky Mountains Association, is free to the public.

“This is our 38th year of celebrating the holiday season through traditional mountain music, storytelling, and crafts,” said Kent Cave, North District resource education supervisor. “It is the park’s obligation and privilege to preserve these traditions and keep them alive for future generations. Young and old alike will again have the opportunity to relive Christmas in a simpler time along the Forks of the River community.”

The festival will include old-time mountain music and traditional harp singing. Demonstrations of such traditional domestic skills as the making of rag rugs, apple-head dolls, quilts, and apple butter will be ongoing throughout the day. There will also be several chances to experience these traditions hands-on, with crafts to make and take home.

New this year are local storytellers, Kathy and Mike Gwinn. Together they will share stories of the Christmas season in Appalachia and play songs of the season to get visitors into the Christmas spirit.

As in years past, the Christmas Memories Walk will be held at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., to teach visitors about the spirit of the season in these mountains in the time period from the 1880s to 1930s.

The full schedule of events for the day includes:

* 9:30 a.m. - "Old-fashioned Harp Singing" led by Bruce Wheeler, Paul Clabo and Martha Graham

* 11 a.m.– “Stories of the Past” panel discussion, presented by the Smoky Mountain Historical Society

* 12 p.m. - An Appalachian Christmas- Storytelling by Kathy and Mike Gwinn

* 1 p.m. – Old Time Music with the South of the River Boys

* 2 p.m. – Old Time Music with Boogertown Gap Band

* 3 p.m. – Old Time Music with Lost Mill String Band

* 11 a.m. -12:30 pm and 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m. - “Christmas Memories Walk” - Costumed interpreters will lead a short walk from the visitor center and talk about life in the mountains during the holidays in the early days of the 1880s to the 1930s.