Fort holidays historic

Next time the temptation to complain about the office Christmas party arises, think about how the traders at Fort Langley’s Hudson Bay Company fort marked the holidays back in the 1800s.

“Traditionally workers got the day off and Christmas Eve,” said Nancy Hildebrand, the marketing manager at the Fort Langley National Historic Site. “They [the company] gave a ration of rum and the chief trader would host a feast.”

Feast would be defined as foods like fish, salted meats, potatoes, peas – in other words the same foods they ate day in and day out, just more of them.

Decorating for Christmas wasn’t a part of the culture. Most of the traders had First Nations wives unfamiliar with western holiday practices.

A lot of the men, being French or Metis, would have been Catholic but there were no churches.

Occasionally a priest would visit the area to formalize marriages and conduct other religious rites and duties.

There were also men of Scottish ancestry with the company and even Hawaiians who has migrated into the area.

When pioneer families started to settle in the area, the traditions associated with Christmas became more common, such as decorating, having a Christmas tree, holiday baking and caroling.

To give people a sense of how Christmas was celebrated many decades ago, the national historic site hosts Heritage Holidays at the Fort Dec. 20 to Jan. 4.

There will be crafts and kids activities.

At 2 p.m., join a costumed interpreter for chestnut roasting and stories around the cosy fireplace in the cooperage.

Daily, join a guided tour at 11 a.m., watch blacksmithing at 12:30 p.m., barrel-making at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., and the flag lowering song at 4:30 p.m.

The fort is closed Dec. 25 and 26 and again Jan. 1.

Learn more about the fort, the holiday program and its many other activites during the year at www.pc.gc.ca.

To hear more about the history of the site, there is a new audio tour, which is free for annual pass holders.

Annual passes are on sale for $39.20 and pass holders receive a discount at Sxwimel Gifts, the Kwantlen First Nations gift shop at the historic site.

Regular admission is $7.80 for an adult or $19.60 per family.

Admission rates apply for Heritage Holidays at the Fort, but alas, the fort no longer offers the menfolk rations of rum.

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