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Article updated: 12/17/2012 11:21 AM

Kline Creek Farm shows how different Christmas was 120 years ago

By Steve Zalusky

Visitors to Kline Creek Farm this weekend found out what Christmas was like in DuPage County in the 1890s.

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County opened the doors to an 1890s farmhouse, where, in the kitchen, guests could smell and taste of holiday cookies baked in a wood-burning stove. Guests also gathered around a Christmas tree to see period decorations and gifts.

Visitors learned that Christmas 120 years ago had far less decorating, and less gift giving, than today, said one of the history interpreters, Dennis Buck.

Another difference is that Kline Creek Farm already decorated the house, but in the 1890s they would have waited until Christmas Eve to do it. Christmas trees were a new tradition, and Buck said not everyone would have had a tree -- only one out of every five families did.

Kline Creek Farm's "Christmas on the Farm" program also featured a visit from Father Christmas, beekeepers making candles out of beeswax, and a volunteer handing out spicy hot cider by a warming fire for those who chose to venture outside to explore the grounds.

There were farm animals on hand as well, including fowl wandering about a chicken coop.

"We're an 1890s living history farm, and so what we are trying to do is show people what Christmas 120 years ago would have looked like," Buck said, as he handed out cups of hot cider.

Claudia Vera of Carol Stream, enjoyed her visit Sunday afternoon with her children, Leslie, 8, and Diego, 6.

"We like the old fashioned ways and traditions," said Vera, a regular Kline Creek Farm visitor.

On Sunday in the "production kitchen," historic interpreter Wayne Hill could be seen preparing some cookies, beginning with a slab of dough that looked, at first glance, like a big slice of ham.

He was making molded spice cookies from a German recipe, explaining, "They're not moldy. They're molded," as he pushed a rolling pin over the dough that created a pattern. He then cut the cookies into squares with a pie crimper.

"Cookies were special 100 years ago," he said. "Today we make cookies pretty regularly."

The kitchen housed a wood-burning stove, as well as a wash tub, a wood box and an ice box. Volunteer Ruth Anne Mielke said a housewife would have started the stove at about 5 a.m. and kept it going until 6 p.m.

Moving to another room, Mielke showed the youngsters the decorations on the Christmas tree, including a cornucopia filled with candy, paper ornaments made from newspaper scraps and magazine illustrations, as well as candles, which called attention to the fact that it was a time when electricity was just coming into its own.

Beneath the tree were such forward-looking presents as a stereoscope -- the ancestor of the Viewmaster.

"This is a wonderful way to let us experience what life was like 100 years ago," said Vicki Martin of Bloomingdale. She said it was especially valuable for the children. "Without a place like this, we would have no concept."

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