Updated 12/12/2015 11:00 p.m.
Holidays: Clark County Museum offers a glimpse of Christmas past during the annual Heritage Holidays celebration
– The Clark County Museum opened its gates to the public for a rare after-hours holiday celebration Dec. 11-12. The fourth annual Heritage Holidays was a fully free event featuring roaming carolers from Green Valley High School, crafts for children, light refreshments and electric train displays decorated for the holidays.
The festivities centered around Heritage Street, a collection of vintage regional structures relocated to the museum grounds. The buildings, which date from the 1920s to the 1960s, were decorated for the holidays in a manner accurately reflective of their eras.
“We are going to try to continue what has been very successful for us,” says museum curator Malcolm Vuksich in preparation for the event.
“It is a family- themed event at the museum. We will have volunteers here to provide holiday specific information about the decades in the homes they are representing. We have homes from the 1910s through the 1950s.”
Vuksich oversaw the event for the first time since replacing Dawna Jolliff, who retired at the end of 2014 after serving as curator for nearly four decades.
“We are trying to let people know the holidays were not always celebrated the way we celebrate them today,” he said. “It was sometimes simpler, more enthusiastic, sometimes much more family-related and we are trying to incorporate a general neighborhood feel into the program.”
“It is a gift to the community,” said Clark County Museum system administrator Mark Hall-Patton. “Our museum guild has free hot chocolate. We have a craft for the kids. What we try to do is something that is historically accurate in each of the houses. The decorations fit the house. But also is something anybody can come to and enjoy.
“There is no money involved. It is not a commercialized event. And so many things at Christmas are. This is an attempt to have the kind of holiday event that we used to have, where you just go caroling, you go visit, that sort of thing. So we are giving people a little of that back. A little of our heritage back.”
What would the holidays be like for families in the early days of the Valley’s modern history?
“They would have gone up to Mount Charleston and gotten a Christmas tree,” explained Hall-Patton. “They would have done popcorn strings with cherries and things like that. You would not have gotten electric lights outside the house. They did not have them at that point.”
This will evoke memories. And it allows conversations to start up, in a very gentle way.
And the practice of placing dozens of candles to brilliantly illuminate a freshly cut tree? Probably a rarity by the early twentieth century, said Hall-Patton.
“One of the things people tend to remember because (they) have seen images is the idea of putting candles on the tree — and that was done,” he explains. “But what people do not understand is that they were lit only one night.
“Everybody were ushered out of the room and somebody — dad or whoever -– would light the candles. There was always buckets of water and buckets of sand right there next to the tree — then everybody would come in and ooh and aah over the tree and then they would blow them all out. But it was very short and they were careful.”
“We try to be very specific inside the home with period correct decorations,” says Vuksich. “And that means popcorn and cranberry strands on the tree for the 1910s or it could be bubble lights in the 1930s. Or sparser decorations in the 1940s.
“Especially in a small desert community, there weren’t many large stores where you could go and buy the most recent decorations.”
“And they might be very excited about what they might see in the catalogues from Los Angeles or New York or Chicago but some of those things would not be available to them.
“Today, a family may live in a home two or three times the size of these homes. We try to show that society has changed but still there was a strong sense of community that interlinked the families and the home in the neighborhood as a place of shared values and shared aspirations.”
The wedding chapel was decorated as part of the event for the first time. “It will be more 1960s commercial decorations as you would have seen at that particular wedding chapel,” said Hall-Patton. “We also have a Chanukah house so visitors can see what it was like for Jewish residents here.
“As in any visit to the museum we hope that conversations happen between the kids and adults because they can tell their stories,” said Hall-Patton.
“This will evoke memories. You can say ‘you, know when I was your age your grandmother had one of those.’ Those kinds of comments help everyone understand the reality of history. And it allows conversations to start up, in a very gentle way. This is just, ‘have fun.’” | iH
This article was featured on page 14 of the November 2015 issue of Inside Henderson Magazine.