COLUMBIA, SC — A visit from jolly old Saint Nick wasn’t the only thing guests of Historic Columbia Foundation’s Breakfast with Santa event were treated to Saturday.
Visitors to the foundation’s historic homes in downtown Columbia were able to step back in time and see what Christmas would have looked like in 19th century South Carolina.
Nearly 100 people registered for the annual event featuring a full breakfast, children’s craft area, a visit with a Victorian-era Santa Claus and an inside look at several historic homes decked out with greenery and decorations from a different time period.
Along with candlelight tours, the breakfast is one of the foundation’s most popular year-end programs, said Carrie Phillips, director of marketing and communications.
“The holidays are really a big time for us,” she said. “Probably because it’s a big time for everybody, but it is also the perfect platform to showcase the homes and history of holiday traditions.”
At the Hampton Preston Mansion on Blanding Street, guests learned that smaller-scale trees placed atop tables were the fashion among Victorian-era families. The miniature trees were decorated with handmade ornaments and real burning candles, explained volunteer tour guide Donna Stokes.
“And small pine cones, which were also flammable,” Stokes said, chuckling.
A bucket filled with water was kept nearby should a tree catch fire.
Other Christmas festivities included parties with food served buffet-style from tables dripping with china and greenery. Nearby, elaborate topiary trees decorated with edible, candied fruit tempted small hands, while simple wooden toys or dolls graced the front parlor.
Children, in fact, were the only ones offered Christmas gifts in Victorian times, Stokes said. Prior to the 1860s, she explained, Christmas wasn’t as big, in terms of festivities, as New Year’s Eve.
Much has changed since the 1800s, guests learned Saturday, but in some ways, many seemed to prefer the old to the new.
Melissa Bristol, who had come with her husband and the couple’s two young sons, said attending the annual event has become a tradition in her household.
The family likes the focus on the simpler aspects of the holidays, Bristol said.
“That’s the nice part about it,” she said. “We try to keep things more along the traditional lines, than with all the commercialization.”
Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.