The Victorians celebrate the yuletide season
Design by Laci Thompson
Carolers elegantly dressed walking down a London street or a family gathering for a Christmas meal reflect the images many people have remembered from generation to generation.
During the Victorian era from 1837-1901, the English began traditions such as sending cards to each other, decorating Christmas trees and their homes, giving gifts to family and friends, cooking that special meal and enjoying a day off from work.
Nevada City, Calif., is one such community that keeps that spirit alive with its annual Victorian Christmas attended by people from all over the world and every corner of the United States, particularly residents from northern California and western Nevada.
Every year, a small, shopping-minded group of active military families and retirees travel from Fallon to Nevada City, Calif., to sample the delights of an era of Charles Dickens complete with dancers, carolers and musicians, vendors and characters dressed from the era that spanned England for 64 years.
“The Victorians bring us back through the ambiance of that feeling we identify with Christmas,” said Sharilyn Yarsley, manager of the ITT (Information, Tickets and Tours) office at the air station. “Carolers, musicians, old buildings, chestnuts on an open fire, all the little children dressed as cute as could be playing their violins provide a nice, feel-good feeling.”
Yarsley said the one-day trip to Nevada City is so popular that she offers it annually.
When visitors arrive at the center of the Victorian Christmas festivities and begin to peruse through the shops and stroll to the vendors’ tables, Father Christmas and Merry Hollyberry are among the first to greet the guests.
“We meet people from Europe, Japan and China,” said Father Christmas (aka Warren Nordendahl). “They come to see Nevada City’s special magic … the goodwill and the joy that Christmas has.”
Father Christmas said visitors enjoy wandering though many shops and talking to vendors.
“They have a wonderful time,” he said of the thousands of people who come to Nevada City in December.
Likewise, Merry Hollyberry (aka Dorothy Nordendahl) enjoys being one of many ambassadors to welcome people to another era.
“This is really fun,” she said. “We really like to come here.”
Tom Riggins ensures people are safe as he strolls around the streets as Sheriff Benjamin McCallough and accompanied by the widow Madison, who, in real life is his wife, Robbin Riggins.
For Tom Riggins, though, he retains much fascination with the Victorian Era and how people conducted themselves.
“It was a different time, an elegant time,” he explained. “Men dressed well, and the women dressed elegantly. There was courtesy, which we lack today.”
Throughout the older section of Nevada City, Christmas carols permeate the atmosphere with traditional hymns. On one corner dressed in their Victorian apparel are Chico, Calif., musicians Gordy Ohliger and his wife, Pamela Kather, otherwise known as the Julio Minstrels.
Their repertoire attracted people of all ages who wandered up to the pair and listened to their music. Some joined to sing with them.
Ohliger, who has portrayed historical characters at different venues, occasionally travels to western Nevada to re-enact historical characters in the elementary schools and also attended the last Desert Oasis Bluegrass Festival in Fallon years ago. Not too far from them, a line snaked around the corner at the theater where people stood in line to see a live stage performance Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
As the day progressed, more and more visitors migrated toward the food vendors and open fires, one of which had chestnuts roasting on a sizzling hot grill. Cecil Snow of Grass Valley moved from person to person, offering hot chestnuts and showing people how to peel the skin back to show the nut’s “meat.”
“It’s important not to let the chestnuts cool off because the meat adheres back to the skin,” Snow instructed several people who had circled him.
On this particular day, Snow brought 250 pounds of chestnuts from Downieville and gave a history to anyone who was interested. Snow’s bag of chestnuts dwindled quickly.
“I am surprised with the number of people who come here every year,” he said. “When I started (19 years ago), people brought their kids. Now their kids are bringing their kids.”
By portraying a Victorian character by handing out a treat made popular more than 100 years ago, Snow said the Christmas season is a fabulous time of year.
“If I can bring a genuine smile to someone’s face — that is it,” he said, handing out another chestnut. “It’s fun when you can bring a gesture of good will, and the person smiles.”
Snow said the Victorian Era in England also affected the Unites States with its westward movement, starting on the East Coast and then traveling to the West. Over the years, the era influenced lifestyles and architecture and perhaps a simpler way of life.
“People get enthusiastic. They enjoy it,” Snow said of the Victorian theme. “We get to meet a lot of nice people, and this time of year puts me in a good frame of mind as it brings out a good holiday spirit.”