December 20, 2019

5 Cool Christmas Objects from National Trust Historic Sites

  • By: Priya Chhaya

Every year, families who celebrate Christmas gather together to bring in the holiday cheer with their unique traditions.And whether they bring the wassail, sing carols, or exchange gifts the night before, there is often a practice that connects families year after year through generations.

In much the same way, these Christmas objects from our National Trust Museum Collection—a treasure trove of objects from our portfolio of National Trust Historic Sites—help tell a story about the people who inhabited these homes and how they celebrated the holiday season.

Enjoy this slice of seasonal history, and have a wonderful start to the new year!
1961 edition of the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke More with illustrations by Gyo Fujikawa

photo by: Kykuit

"The Night Before Christmas" by Clement Clarke Moore
Kykuit, Tarrytown, New York

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…

So begins the remarkable poem by Clement Clarke Moore. This illustrated copy of the 1823 poem is believed to be from Nelson Rockefeller’s residency at Kykuit. Offering one of the earliest images of Santa Claus—St. Nicholas—in American popular culture, this book was probably meant for Rockefeller’s two boys Mark, and Nelson Jr.

This particular edition from 1961 was illustrated by the Japanese American Gyo Fujikawa. During World War II she worked for the Walt Disney Company in New York while her family was sent to an internment camp in Jerome, Arkansas. She is known for writing and illustrating over fifty books for children and was most notable for the fact that she was the first illustrator to include children from multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds in her books, promoting inclusivity and representation in children's literature.

A 1905 stereograph image featuring Helen Gould and her niece during Christmastime.

photo by: Lyndhurst

Christmas Photograph
Lyndhurst Mansion, Tarrytown, New York

In this photograph at Lyndhurst Mansion, Helen Gould sits with her niece in front of a decorated Christmas Tree. The niece sits on a toy elephant and is surrounded by a wide range of gifts including a stuffed dog, and a tea set. Taken in 1905, Helen Miller Gould Shepherd was a devoted philanthropist who focused much of her efforts on improving the lives of children. At her Lyndhurst home she hosted children living at the nearby children’s hospital at Woodycrest, providing fresh air, healthy food, and fun activities. She housed several vocational programs at Lyndhurst to train young girls and boys in carpentry, sewing, and cooking.

In addition to adopting three children with her husband Finley Johnson Shepherd, she also often welcomed her brothers’ children into her home and cared for them.

Image of a player piano roll of Christmas Carols from Villa Finale.

photo by: Villa Finale

Christmas Carols Player Piano Roll
Villa Finale, San Antonio, Texas

Part of the collection at Villa Finale in San Antonio, Texas, this roll of music is for a Bechstein Welte Piano and included ten songs of Christmas carols featuring a wide variety of artists. This player piano reproduction system was produced by Welte & Söhne; they controlled which keys were played by controlling the flow of air through a series of perforated holes stamped into a strip of paper. The fascinating thing about this process is that the location of the holes were created by recording the actual performances and movements of famous pianists, making them more than just notes on a sheet of music.

An image of President Woodrow Wilson during a dinner in France in December of 1918.

photo by: Wilson House

Photograph: President Wilson's Christmas Day in France
President Woodrow Wilson House, Washington, D.C.

This photograph, found in the collection at President Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, D.C., features a dinner in December 1918 a few weeks after the Armistice for World War I. On Christmas Day, the President addressed an audience of 10,000 troops and then dined with American and French military leaders at the hospital and army headquarters of the 26th division at Chateau at Montigny-Le-Roi.

An image of Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens which was part of Charlotta Drayton's personal collection.

photo by: Drayton Hall

"Christmas Stories" by Charles Dickens
Drayton Hall, Charleston, South Carolina

This collection of stories from Charles Dickens came from the library of Charlotta Drayton at Drayton Hall. This particular collection, an early 20th century edition, includes the classic tales of A Christmas Tree and The Haunted House.

Charlotta was born in 1884, the daughter of Charles H. Drayton who inherited the estate a year before her birth in 1883. Upon Charles' death in 1915, the estate was divided equally between his wife and three daughters, so Charlotta only originally inherited a quarter of the estate. She outlived the other three to eventually take over the entire estate until her death in 1969.

While her day job is the associate director of content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Priya spends other waking moments musing, writing, and learning about how the public engages and embraces history.


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