While present-day Savannah is all aglow in anticipation of Christmas, it was New Year’s Day that called for the fancy party attire and festive celebrations at the Davenport House in the early 19th century.
So, to give patrons a taste of those early traditions, the Davenport House Museum will host its annual Holiday Evening Tours by Candlelight from 6-8:30 p.m. Dec. 26-30. The event falls between Christmas and New Year’s to celebrate “mutual congratulations of feasting and merriment.”
According to Jamie Credle, director of the museum, guests can come any time during the tour hours, but it’s best to arrive no later than 8 p.m. to get the full tour experience, which can last up to 50 minutes. Also, the tour requires that guests be able to walk up and down stairs and maneuver in the candlelit rooms.
Credle explains the family who lived in the home during the early part of the 19th century was of Scottish heritage and would have put much more focus on the New Year’s celebration during the holidays.
“Our emphasis is to be as accurate as we can as to how the holidays are interpreted, so we talk more about New Year’s than Christmas …” she says. “Our research … comes from the mentions of the celebration of New Year’s that was reported in the Savannah newspaper during that time.”
She adds that one of the displays in the museum is dedicated to the types of small gifts that would have been given during Christmas, if any gifts were given at all.
The tours feature a candlelit experience in the historic house museum with a spotlight on the traditions of the season, including music, a period dance demonstration, festive treats and conversations with trained docents about early 19th century holiday celebrations. Guests will also have a chance to taste shortbread and cider in the garden.
According to Credle, one of the highlights of the evening is the dining room table, which will be set for an intimate adult meal for the New Year’s Day celebration, and the drawing room, which will be set up as if ready for a dance.
“Guests are greeted at the door by someone dressed in costume …” she says. “There is a moment where we all hold hands and sing together ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ which was written by a Scottish man named Robert Burns … And upstairs there is a dramatic presentation … and we reenact ‘The Night Before Christmas.’”
Credle adds that seeing the dining table is “pretty spectacular.”
“This is a grand adult celebration with what would be on a Savannah table during that time with turkey, ham and rice … and we have oysters. And being a port city, we would have peas year-round and exotic items like a pineapple.”She adds that the meal is just for show and not for consumption.
She says one of the most special moments of the evening for her is joining hands in the drawing room in the candlelight to sing “Auld Lang Syne.”
“It’s very poignant … and it’s like what they have done in the hills of Scotland …” she says. “It’s a moment that I remember … because it’s a wonderful thing to join hands this time of year.
“It’s the idea that you’ve made it through another year … you are surrounded by friends and family or people you love … So, it’s a time to just step back and think about making it through the year … It’s a great memory to take away from the evening.
“That’s why our volunteers do this … They just get jazzed by making people feel good for a little bit and giving them a taste of authenticity … They just love that. It’s our chance to celebrate the community.
“Savannah is so pretty at night and this event gives people a chance to do something with the people they enjoy being with while experiencing our city.”
IF YOU GO
What: Holiday Evening Tours by Candlelight
When: 6-8:30 p.m. Dec. 26-30
Where: The Davenport House Museum, 324 E. State St.
Cost: $12 in advance, $15 at door for adults; $6 in advance, $8 at door for children 6-18
Info: davenporthousemuseum.org, 912-236-8097