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’Decembers Past And Present’ Sparkles With Celebrations Of Hamptons Settlers

Originally Posted: November 19, 2009

Edward Callaghan

Sonia Quispe, Gabriela-Argote Albrecht, and Vicki Almiron celebrate "Decembers Past and Present." Photos by John Wegorzewski

Southampton - Once again the Southampton Historical Museums and Research Center has opened its doors to the entire community to create an exhibition that displays the winter traditions of the diverse communities that have helped settle the area.

Jacqui Lofaro and Judge Deborah E. Kooperstein.

"Decembers Past and Present" a colorful and festive exhibition opened with a special reception on November 15 at the Rogers Mansion on Meeting House Lane in Southampton. In conjunction with "Decembers Past and Present," the Museum is also showcasing a wonderful exhibition of winter scenes by noted photographer Dana Shaw who also serves as photo editor of The Southampton Press. The images are a perfect accent to the whole exhibition.

This annual holiday tradition at the Southampton Historical Museums, the brainchild of Executive Director Tom V. Edmonds, has in a few short years become one of the most eagerly anticipated highlights of the Holiday season. It is a unique celebration of the variety of communities that make up our community.

The historic 1843 Rogers Mansion is decorated with holiday trimmings and displays from Southampton's many ethnic and cultural communities. Festive tables, gaily trimmed trees, installations, tableaux and mannequins represent the many cultures and countries. The exhibition illuminates the traditions of Poland, Costa Rica, Colombia, Russia, Croatia, Peru, Paraguay, England, Brazil, Greece, Ireland, Mexico, Italy, The Shinnecock Nation, African American and Jewish culture.

Cassandra and Isabel Sepúlveda-de Scanlon, the publisher of Voz Latina.

For the opening reception, the amateur "curators" and their families and friends contributed a dazzling spread of holiday dishes and specialty drinks representing their heritage. There were steaming platters of the Kielbasa with horseradish and plates of poppy seed cake from Poland. Linda Ruiz and her mother-in-law Ofelia Ruiz of Paraguay contributed among other specialties their native country's holiday drink "clerico" and chita guaza bread. Says Linda," It is very hot during Christmas time in Paraguay. Therefore we make a special beverage whose name is clerico. We use pineapples, melons, bananas, grapes, apples and pears. We chop and blend it altogether. Then, we add fruit juice or soda or sparkling cider or wine with a lot of ice to make a refreshing beverage. All members of the family can enjoy this delicious clerico anytime on Christmas Day."

From Peru there was a veritable meal in itself: Papa a la huancaina (potato and egg dish), empanadas, flan, potatoe causa (potato cake) and a dessert dish of sweet corn. From Colombia, there was Pan de bono, tasty cheese bread, and from Greece there was Vasilopitta (St. Basil's Bread).

Strolling through the magnificent rooms some of which have been recently refurbished, attendees were treated to an around the world trip allowing them to see and understand how their neighbors observe the holidays of the season.

Mary Welker, Tom Edmonds and Debbie Tuma.

In one corner was the Shinnecock Nation display which Shinnecock native Josephine Smith explained "The decorated tree in this display reflects a part of our lives as Shinnecock. It is decorated with ornaments of wood and shell, of bone and beads, of cornhusks, hides and feathers. From scrub brushes of white oak, to felt figures and painted bulbs, the ornaments are made by Shinnecock artisans and artists from native nations across this hemisphere. They reflect our connections to our heritage, to traditions past and present."

Shinnecock Indian Nation tree.

Peruvian Karla Faloon explained the holidays in her native country, "Christmas is one of the biggest holidays celebrated in Peru. Two or three weeks before December 25th, people start to embellish their homes with the Nativity scene and colorful decorations. On December 24th, the family gathers together around the Nativity scene waiting until 12 midnight. As soon as 12 arrives they have a toast with champagne. At the same time, fireworks illuminate the sky with a variety of colors."

Continuing, she says, "With Christmas music in the background, the children start to open their presents. Traditionally, the meal that night consists of turkey, hot chocolate and panneton (cake with mixed nuts and raisins). Finally, Peruvians continue the celebration on the streets where they meet friends and neighbors.
Nativity scenes, unwrapping gifts at 12 midnight, a great meal and finally to meet friends and neighbors. Clearly life in the Andes is much like life in Southampton in many ways.

Throughout the mansion, there were gorgeous evergreens all trimmed with the ornaments, fruits, nuts and toys indigenous to each culture, many with beautiful hand crafted crèches with the figures bearing the facial features of each ethnic group.

Owain Hughes and Kimberly Goff.

As the show points out so well, the holiday season is not simply about the Christian holiday of Christmas. The exhibition also dedicates displays to the African-American celebration of Kwanzaa and the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah - both very significant events to many Southampton residents.

The Chanukah table featured a menorah and the traditional toy of the season - the dreidels - on a shimmering blue cloth, which is the national color of Israel. The Kwanzaa display featured a lavishly decorated display of Kente cloth items and the candelabra aglow with black, red and green candles - the colors of African unity.

In England the real celebration is Boxing Day, which falls on December 26, the Feast Day of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Some historians believe that this very British holiday dates back as early as 400 AD, but its roots can definitely be traced to 1500 AD. During the Middle Ages, when wealthy merchants filled boxes with food left over from their great Christmas feasts and distributed them to their servants and the less fortunate. Apprentices used earthenware boxes to collect money door to door from their master's clients, and after church services the "Poor Boxes" were opened and money was distributed to the needy.

Marymay Mendoza with her Colombian Christmas Tree.

To celebrate her English roots, Christina Redding created a magnificent mantle display with evergreens and brightly wrapped boxes tucked in. As she explained, "As December 25th was a working day for people in service to the great houses in Britain, so the next day was theirs to celebrate and to receive gifts and money from their employers. Boxing Day was then and still is a day of appreciation and thanks. When I was a girl in England, I remembered the postman, the milkman, the dustman, and the window cleaner coming to our door the day after Christmas to drink a glass of sherry and receive their "Christmas Box" and an envelope with money discreetly slipped into their hand at the front door on their way out."

Each of the displays comes with its own unique story, lists of special foods and drinks and long held traditions of Holidays past. Viewing this delightful exhibition is truly a marvelous way to get to know our neighbors customs. Stop by and give yourself a little boost of cheer and good tidings for all. "Decembers Past and Present" runs through January 2, 2010 at Southampton Historical Museums and Research Center, 17 Meeting House Lane, Southampton, 631-283-2494. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., www.southamptonhistoricalmuseum.org.

Christina Reeding's Boxing Day mantle display.


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