In 1823, a poem called "A Visit from St. Nicholas" enchanted readers throughout the country.

That poem later became known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and it resonates still. Reaction to the poem in Savannah might have been mixed, because not everyone there celebrated Christmas.

Even those who did experienced something far different from the holiday we know today.

For a better understanding of how an 1820s Savannah Christmas was celebrated, the Holiday Evening Tours by Candlelight at the Isaiah Davenport House offer a rare glimpse into the past.

This year's tours will run from Dec. 26-30.

"The elements of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' are fairly new for us," says Jamie Credle, executive director of the Davenport House. "We'll have a young girl who has just accidentally discovered this poem about Christmas.

"The Davenports don't keep Christmas because they're Presbyterian. But she reenacts the poem with a sleigh and pack of toys."

The tours will be presented "in the spirit of mutual congratulations, of feasting and merriment" from 6-8:30 p.m.

"People will be playing music in the pharmacy until the dance demonstration," Credle says.

The Davenport Dancers will perform four dances - the March, Pavane, Quadrille and "The Delightful Dance," which was choreographed just for the Davenport House.

"It's a very cute dance at our level," Credle says.

The dancers were trained by Elizabeth Albe, a professional dancer and instructor from San Diego.

She choreographed "The Delightful Dance" after a visit to Savannah.

"It's energetic and sprightly, a partner dance," Credle says. "It gives us an opportunity to see how people used to interact during the holiday season."

The dancers have performed for Rhodes Scholar groups and professional groups visiting the house.

"We've done research on dancing but haven't gotten out and shown the public," Credle says.

"Dancing was what people did to be sociable," she says. "They'd dance with a variety of partners."

When the waltz was introduced, it was considered scandalous, Credle says.

"It's been corrupting the morals of young people for 200 years," she says.

This year's program will have a special focus on cakes and cookies.

"Guests will have a better understanding of the treats people would have gotten," Credle says.

"To us, a layered cake with butter cream frosting is what we think of as a cake. People back then wouldn't have recognized that as cake. Cake back then was very dense, like pound cake and spongecake and fruitcake."

Icing was practically unheard of, she says.

"We found a reference for how they frosted cakes," Credle says. "They put on an outer coating of sugar and egg whites, then put the cake back in the oven to harden. That would allow the cake to keep longer.

"The frosting would have been put on with a brush or some feathers," she says. "We had a hard time believing that feathers is what they frosted cakes with, but that was indeed what they frosted cakes with."

Cakes of the day were a lot like bread.

"The big difference between cake and bread was taking the yeast out for cakes," Credle says. "They'd cream butter and flour for an hour. Cakes were the result of laborious activity.

"Cookies back then were little test cakes," she says. "Rusks or jumbles are historic recipes people would have understood as cookies."

Other featured treats will include jellies and syllabub, a drink or dish made of milk or cream, curdled by adding wine, cider or juice.

Love chocolate cake? You'd be out of luck.

"They didn't have chocolate cake," Credle says. "Chocolate cake was what was eaten when you drank chocolate; it wasn't the cake itself."

With the exception of pound cakes, sponge cakes and fruitcakes, many of the treats back then would not be seen as treats today,

"It is an acquired taste, but would have been the treats they would have had," Credle says. "People had favorites.

"It's a remarkable thing. We talk about bounty on our table, when we can go out and have pizza for lunch or a hamburger or shrimp cocktail every day.

"These treats must have been looked forward to for weeks or months," she says. "It required a lengthy period to create them."

In the early 1800s, some religious denominations didn't celebrate the holidays.

"The Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists didn't keep Christmas," Credle says.

In Clement C. Moore's poem, St. Nicholas is carrying a bag of gifts.

"Some people were giving gifts, but it was little things, tokens of love," Credle says. "If you got a seasonal gift, there was probably only one."

During the tour, everyone will link hands to sing "Auld Lang Syne," which may have been a tradition in the Davenport House.

"One of our volunteers went to Scotland, where they would link hands on a hilltop and sing that song," Credle says.

"With most of the groups, we join hands to sing 'Auld Lang Syne' in this beautiful house with simulated candlelight, the way it had been done in that house almost 200 years ago," she says. "It really is a hallmark, a highlight of the Christmas season."