The morality tale "A Christmas Carol" might be as much as most Americans know about the Victorian era. But for a devoted group of Victorian interpreters, this is the time of year when their hobby blossoms in all its glory.
"The 21st century is so dull," says Walter Nelson, one of the founders of the Social Daunce Irregulars.
To make it a little more interesting, he helps organize a Victorian grand ball three times a year and also founded the Art Deco-themed Avalon Ball, as well as a Jane Austen evening. "The modern world is so informal," Nelson says. "It's nice to get dressed up now and then. And the music and dancing were so much more sociable than modern social dancing. The music isn't so loud that people can't talk to one another. In fact, talking to your partner while dancing was very common during the Victorian era. Dancing was the way people socialized back then."
Many Victorian-themed events -- including lamp-lightings, dances, tours and historical reenactments -- are planned this holiday season. Beyond the stereotypes of prim morality that often dominate common perception of Victorianism, the simplicity and social formality of the period resonate with modern-day participants.
Rancho Los Cerritos offers a uniquely California twist on the notion of a traditional Christmas. During its candlelight tours, visitors are given the role of passengers on a stagecoach that has unexpectedly stopped at the ranch the night before Christmas. As the horses are resting and getting water, visitors are led on lamplight tours of the house where they can see the family -- patriarch Jotham, his wife, Margaret, and her father, Rev. Hathaway, a strong believer in temperance -- and some of the rancho workers (definitely not strong believers in temperance) preparing for Christmas.
"A lot of the adventure we face today is driving down the freeway and trying not to get hit. But back then you had the possibility of diseases, gunfights and stagecoach accidents," says Steve Iverson, the historical curator of the rancho. "This is a way to have an adventure and be part of history."
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Holiday Lamplight Celebration 4 p.m. Sat.-Sun., Heritage Square Museum, 225 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena. $20 adults, $10 children 6-12; 25% discount for members. (323) 225-2700, Ext. 224; www.heritagesquare.org. Authentic Victorian party with musical ensembles, dancing, parlor games and Victorian interpreters.
Victorian Christmas Celebration 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Banning Residence Museum, 401 E. M St., Wilmington. Free. (310) 548-7777; www.banning museum.org. Victorian seasonal decorations, strolling carolers, Victorian Christmas stories and a horse-drawn trolley to take visitors to the nearby Drum Barracks Civil War Museum.
Civil War Christmas 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Drum Barracks Civil War Museum, 1052 Banning Blvd., Wilmington. Free. (310) 548-7509; www.drumbarracks.org. Reenactors of the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry set up camp depicting the Civil War soldiers' holiday, complete with handmade ornaments and seasonal tunes played on a restored 1864 Steinway piano.
Victorian Christmas House Tour 1-5 p.m. Sun. Grier Musser Museum, 403 S. Bonnie Brae St., Westlake. $12 adults, $6 children; www.griermusser museum.com; (213) 413-1814. This annual Christmas party in a restored Victorian setting features guided tours and refreshments.
Christmas Candlelight Tours 6:30-8:30 p.m. Dec. 7-8. Rancho Los Cerritos, 4600 N. Virginia Road, Long Beach. $10; $8 members and students; 3 and younger free. (562) 570-1755; www.rancholoscerritos.org Costumed docents lead lamplight tours of the 163-year-old adobe house, which is filled with costumed living history characters acting out vignettes of life in Los Angeles in 1878.
A Victorian Christmas With John Doan 7 p.m. Dec. 15. Museum of Making Music, 5790 Armada Drive, Carlsbad. $20; $15 for members. (760) 438-5996, Ext. 212; www.museumof makingmusic.org With the help of harp guitars, trembelins, classical banjos and ukelins, John Doan reenacts what it might have been like to celebrate Christmas a century ago.