Quaint the Town

A Colonial Christmas, minus the disease and horse manure

illlustration by brad fitzpatrick

The day after Thanksgiving, the missus said, “Let’s do something different.”

I was excited and a little worried — my back isn’t what it used to be — but then she said, “Let’s go to Historic Quaintsburg.”

Quaintsburg is one of those living history museums where they recreate Colonial life in a New Hampshire town, except without all the disease and horse manure. During the holidays, they do “Christmas in Quaintsburg,” which she thought would be fun. Personally, I’d rather stand in line at the DMV, but she caught me off-guard, heavily sedated with turkey as I was.

Next thing I know, there we were, touring a village full of old houses that look just like yours would if you had a team of carpenters, painters, and interior decorators working for you full-time. These places had been decked out with enough holly, ivy and fake snow to give a nervous twitch to anyone who isn’t a fan of that Pinterest thing on the interweb.

The tour started at the schoolhouse, where folks were making vintage Christmas gifts, like a pomander made from an orange decorated with cloves — the kind of thing you gave your Aunt Edith when you were young, which her kids discovered after she died and wondered why she had a shrunken head in her underwear drawer. Another old-time activity involved making Christmas cards for mailing to friends and family just like people did back in the 1990s.

After that, we wandered into Ye Olde Gifte Shoppe, where they sell reproductions of antique items made by the village’s basket makers, tinsmiths, potters and other liberal arts majors still trying to find themselves. I thought about picking up a Christmas present for the missus until I checked the prices and got that dizzy feeling I get whenever I’m about to spend more money on a handmade bar of soap than I did for my first car.

We ate lunch at Colonel Fleabane’s Tavern, where they were advertising a holiday buffet of authentic fare from the past: tripe, boiled tongue, dandelion greens and other dishes guaranteed to make you feel a whole lot better about the Big Mac you ate the other day. Then we stopped by Gramma’s Bakery, where they were whipping up traditional holiday goodies like Winter Wafers, a hearty cookie with the delicate flavor and texture of architectural shingles.

Later, we joined some Christmas carolers — folks in period costumes that smelled of only slightly of mothballs — as they went from house to house singing while the townsfolk inside reenacted the historic tradition of pretending not to be home.

Finally came the candlelight stroll to the meetinghouse, where there was a live nativity scene with sheep, goats and a donkey. That was fine until one of the wise men kneeled down in a present that the donkey had deposited next to the manger and said a few words that, while accurate, weren’t exactly appropriate in front of the baby Jesus. (The wise man, not the donkey.) Inside the meetinghouse, we gathered around a live Christmas tree complete with actual candles, which let us relive the thrill and excitement of worrying that the whole place was going to burn down.

Yes, there’s no place like Historic Quaintsburg for the holidays.

Except possibly the DMV, which can be quite nice this time of year.

Fred Marple is the non de plume of Ken Sheldon, humorist, author and creator of the fictional town of Frost Heaves. Read all about “the most under-appreciated town in New Hampshire” in his new book, “Welcome to Frost Heaves.” It’s available at frostheaves.com.

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