“Christmas won’t be Christmas without presents,” grumbles Jo March in the famous opening chapter of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868).
Charity, spending time with family, and creating enjoyable memories are at the root of Christmas celebrations in Alcott’s beloved coming-of-age novel about the March sisters. A Little Women Christmas will be the focus of this year’s annual Victorian Yuletide opening Friday, November 29 in the Fountain Elms period rooms.
In the early chapters of the book, the reader learns that the girls’ father is serving as a pastor for Union troops far from home. Alcott tells how they celebrate Christmas during this tumultuous time in United States history. Throughout the Civil War, Christmas helped raise morale for soldiers and their families back home. A Union enlisted man wrote that his camp created a bit of Christmas cheer by decorating a small tree with their provisions of hardtack and pork in place of traditional tree decorations. In 1870 President Ulysses S. Grant made Christmas a national holiday to assist in uniting the divided country, recognizing the joy the season provided for all.
Alcott's works radiate the true meaning of the holiday season. What did that mean in the 1860s? During the time Alcott wrote the Little Women books, Christmas traditions were gaining a hold in American culture. The March sisters’ mother, Marmee, tells her daughters that Christmas is about being selfless and giving what you have to those less fortunate. Instead of indulging in their Christmas breakfast, the family gives their food and company to a sick, immigrant family near their home. The Fountain Elms dining room will be set up for the Christmas breakfast that they shared.
Alcott also published a hymn, poems, short stories, and children’s books with Christmas themes. And what’s the holiday season without a Christmas play? During the Victorian era, different forms of storytelling such as plays, ghost stories, and shadow plays were popular entertainment for the holiday season. The library will showcase an imagined scene set up for the Christmas play the March children staged. Victorian-era toys from the Museum’s permanent collection will be on view in the bedroom.
Festive parties occurred throughout the holiday season. In Little Women, Mrs. Gardiner invites Meg and Jo to a small soiree on New Year’s Eve where they danced “a grand polka,” indulged in “bonbons and mottoes,” and played the game “Buzz.” The parlor in Fountain Elms will be decorated for a proper Yuletide-season party. A table-top tree will be adorned with patriotic ornaments, and small toys from the permanent collection will be placed beneath. Several tea sets will be on display, come imagine drinking warm tea and nibbling delicious desserts while caroling around the piano.