WINTHROP — History came to life on Saturday as members of the town’s historical society dressed up, offered food, sang songs and taught lessons about various eras of Christmas, from the Moravian celebrations of the 1740s, all the way up to the postwar Christmases of the 1950s.

A carved pineapple tops a Moravian Christmas pyramid Saturday at the Winthrop Congregational Church.  Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The program began over 15 years ago in the town of North Anson. The library needed $10,000 to automate its catalog, and decided to raise money by selling tickets for a historical tour showcasing “Christmas Through the Ages.”

North Anson residents Carol McLaughlin and her sister Beverly Tripp organized the first tour by using costumes they’d saved and finding five houses and three volunteers to present the information.

After hosting the program for five years, the library passed everything to the Kingfield Historical Society, who then passed it to the historical societies of Phillips and Farmington. Most recently, Farmington passed the program to the Winthrop Historical Society, whose members ran it for the first time this weekend.

Lynda Pratt, president of the Winthrop Historical Society, said 83 people had bought tickets and signed up for the tour, which took between six months and a year to organize and prepare.

“It’s exciting,” said Pratt. “This is the first time we’ve done anything on this level.”


The tour was separated into five parts, beginning in the Winthrop Congregational Church with the Moravian celebrations of the 1740s. Pastor Chrissy Cataldo explained that Moravians were members of a protestant sect who, in the early 1400s, broke away from the Catholic Church. Their celebration of the birth of Christ included a “Love Feast” held on Christmas Eve which included plenty of music and food. They also created a “Moravian Pyramid Tree,” an artificial tree with layered shelves and presents on each level.

For the second stop, at the Winthrop History and Heritage Center, Linda Quaste portrayed Catherine Williams, a character she created who was born in the late 1700s and later moved from England to the Kennebec County area when it was still part of Massachusetts.

Quaste said she based her story on a combination of historical accounts, fiction, and the life stories of people who lived during those times.

“I read a lot and I love England,” she said. “I’m an anglophile. So it just all kind of came together with being in colonial America. There wasn’t a lot about Christmas at that time, other than the feast. There was no tree, and there were no toys for the children. No Santa Claus coming down the chimney.”

The next stop was Priscilla Thoreson’s house, where members of the tour learned about Victorian-era Christmases. Her home was adorned with candles, decorations, and food and drink of the era.

People sip wassail Saturday as Priscella Thorsen, right, talks about Victorian-era holiday traditions during a “Christmas Through the Ages” tour stop at her home in Winthrop. The tour, which included five stops and was sponsored by the Winthrop Historical Society this year, rotates between area historical societies. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The Victorian Christmas marks the time when St. Nicholas began to be associated with the holiday in his current form, which is largely inspired by the 1823 Clement Clarke Moore poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”


The tour then moved to the C.M. Bailey Library, where Adult Services Librarian Calla Orion spoke about Christmas during World War II, and how the holiday focused on creating a pleasant experience for children despite the war. It also marks the era in which Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer made his debut.

Calla Orion plays guitar and leads carols from the World War II-era Saturday during the “Christmas Through the Ages” tour stop at C.M. Bailey Public Library. The tour, which included five stops and was sponsored by the Winthrop Historical Society this year, rotates between area historical societies. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Orion played acoustic guitar and sang a couple Christmas songs of the era after discussing the history of Christmas during wartime.

Eben Thomas of the historical society, led the fifth and final section of the tour at the Thomas Insurance Agency. The building was filled with food, records, a table with an ashtray and a pack of Winston cigarettes, and a Christmas tree adorned with tinsel and bubble lights.

“The 1950s was a time of prosperity,” Thomas said. “Most of the people that were adults at that time had grown up in the ’30s with the (Great) Depression, the ’40s with the war and rationing.”

Mary Richards, board member and organizer for this year’s event, said that the Winthrop group reached out to Readfield’s historical society about hosting the next tour.

Dale Potter-Clark, secretary and historian with the Readfield Historical Society, joined the tour with a few other members who planned attend and then report back to the rest of the board so that members could make a final decision about hosting next year.

“I love local history, I love historical interpretation and I love learning about history,” she said, “so I’m just looking forward to what I can see and learn.”

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