yuletide

Rock Ford volunteers in the Gold Room, preparing for Yuletide. (Nancy Bradley)

In Edward Hand’s day, Christmas was nothing like it is today.

People didn’t anticipate the holiday for weeks or even months like we do now.

Gifts were minimal if given at all, and there were no Christmas trees twinkling with lights in people’s homes.

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Some Christians didn’t celebrate the day at all.

“The Hands were Episcopalians, so they did celebrate Christmas,” says Sam Slaymaker, executive director of Rock Ford, home of Edward Hand and his family. “The Scots Irish barely celebrated Christmas, and the Puritans didn’t like Christmas at all.”

For the Hands, the holidays began on Christmas Day and continued for 12 days until Jan. 6, known as Twelfth Night or Epiphany Eve.

That period of celebration is known as Yuletide.

Rock Ford will celebrate Yuletide beginning the day after Christmas and continuing though Saturday.

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“We don’t have enough volunteers to be open for the entire Yuletide,” Slaymaker says with a laugh. “Everyone would be exhausted.”

Unlike other Rock Ford events, no reservations will be required for Yuletide at Rock Ford.

“It’s like a holiday open house,” Slaymaker says. “It’s not a guided tour. Visitors are free to go through the rooms at their own pace.”

The house is decorated with greens and table settings in the style of the 1790s.

The group Seasons will perform music on harp, hammered dulcimer and, on occasion, violin.

Some older carols, such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” and The Holly and the Ivy,” were popular in the 1790s.

“We will have period dancing in the hallway,” Slaymaker says. “And volunteers will be in the rooms to answer questions.”

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Guests will be invited to the kitchen to see a demonstration of hearth cooking.

“They consumed wines and sherry, which their Pennsylvania German neighbors did not,” Slaymaker says. “And they would wear colorful clothing for Yuletide.”

In the Hands’ time, Jan. 6, also known as the Feast of the Three Kings, was the culmination of the season and a big party was given. It is believed that on this day, the Three Wise Men arrived to see Jesus and declare him a king.

Unlike our celebrations today, families spent the 12 days of Yuletide visiting friends, eating lavish meals and spending time together.

People enjoyed card games and telling ghost stories, which had become a holiday tradition in England.

“We like to tell our visitors a lot of people feel a big letdown when Christmas is over. There is so much anticipation and then it’s done. Yuletide at Rock Ford is a way to mitigate that feeling.

“The Hands enjoyed entertaining,” Slaymaker says. “One of the reasons Hand had Rock Ford built was to keep up with his status.”

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During the American Revolution, Hand served as George Washington’s adjutant general.

After the war, he was chief burgess of Lancaster, a member of the Congress of the Confederation in 1784 and 1785 and a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1785 and 1786.

He was an important member of the Lancaster social scene.

Being invited to a Yuletide celebration at Rock Ford was, no doubt, an honor.

But it was a more intimate celebration than today’s everlasting pre-Christmas celebrations, shopping sprees and endless traffic on the road.

“Yuletide is a reminder of what Christmas should be about,” Slaymaker says. “Friends, family, spending time together, enjoying a nice atmosphere.”