Visit Old Salem during Christmas break

aweigl@newsobserver.comDecember 15, 2013 

  • If you want to go

    Old Salem Museums & Gardens has several events during the holiday season:

    • Self-guided holiday tours are available 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and 1-4:30 p.m. Sundays.

    • Saturdays with St. Nicholas is 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the final one is this Saturday. The event includes a souvenir photo with St. Nicholas, a holiday snack from the Winkler Bakery, Victorian carolers from noon to 1 p.m., an heirloom puppet show and storytelling of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Cost: $7 per person. Children ages 2 and under are free. It is held at the Frank L. Horton Museum Center (924 S. Main St.). Tickets must be bought on the day of the event there or the Old Salem Visitor Center, (900 Old Salem Road). The last ticket will be sold at 2 p.m. Info: oldsalem.org/saturdays-with-stnicholas.html.

    • Christmas Week at Old Salem: all the history and decorations plus after-Christmas sales in the retail shops from Dec. 26-29.

    • The Carolina Chamber Symphony Players will perform “Peter and the Wolf,” at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Dec. 27. This event will be at the James A. Gray Jr. Auditorium at the Old Salem Visitor Center. Tickets cost $5.

    Note: The annual Christmas by Candlelight tours are already sold out.

    Old Salem Museums and Gardens, 600 S. Main Street, Winston-Salem, 336-721-7300, Info: oldsalem.org

    If you are going to Winston-Salem, consider adding these stops to fill an entire day with holiday events:

    • Tanglewood Festival of Lights claims to be one of the largest holiday light displays in the Southeast. It stretches along 4 miles inside Forsyth County’s Tanglewood Park and includes more than 1 million individual lights and almost 100 separate displays. The park is open from 6-11 p.m. each night from now through Jan. 1. The event includes hayrides, a chance to have a photo taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus and a shopping area with wares made by craftspeople. Visitors should expect a two-hour wait on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Wait times are shorter on Mondays-Thursdays. Ticket prices start at $10 per car but vary depending upon the night and type of vehicle. Carriage rides are already sold out.

    Tanglewood Park, 4201 Manor House Circle, Clemmons, 336-703-6400. Info: forsyth.cc/parks/tanglewood/fol/

    • Reynolda House, the historic home of tobacco mogul R.J. Reynolds and his wife, Katharine, is decorated for Christmas with magnolia leaves, nandina berries, mistletoe and other natural greenery that Katherine would have used. Self-guided tours are available 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Sundays. Holiday greeting cards from the museum’s archives are on display. The house’s Aeolian organ – a massive pipe organ that the house was built around (it was that era’s version of surround sound) – plays Christmas carols at 2:45 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The house is also home to the Museum of American Art. Cost: $14 per person.

    Reynolda House, 2250 Reynolda Road, Winston-Salem, 888-663-1149, Info: reynoldahouse.org

    For more holiday activities in Winston-Salem or if you want to see what hotel and event packages are available, go to visitwinstonsalem.com/holiday.

— The Moravians know how to do holidays. Their traditions especially shine at Christmas: sugar cake, wafer-thin spiced cookies, music and candlelight services.

There’s no better place to experience the Moravian Christmas spirit than Old Salem, what remains of the North Carolina settlement started by these Protestant missionaries who came to the United States from what is now the Czech Republic in the 1700s. The historic site, museums and gardens draw people to Winston-Salem from all across the state and beyond to learn about what life was like more than 200 years ago.

A December trip to Old Salem is a new tradition for Megan Von Isenburg, her husband, Jay, and their daughters, ages 1 and 6. They traveled from Durham earlier this month to attend one of the Home Moravian Church’s candle teas at Old Salem.

Von Isenberg grew up in Winston-Salem and her parents joined the Moravian church seven years ago. Last year, her then 5-year-old daughter, Astrid, was captivated by the experience. This year, she wanted to volunteer with her grandmother, which involved dressing up in old-fashioned clothes and handing out music programs.

“She loved it,” Megan Von Isenburg said, adding that a visit to Old Salem will be a family tradition for many years to come.

Even though Old Salem’s candle teas and candlelight tours are sold out, there’s still plenty to see there to experience a Moravian Christmas. The self-guided tours, available any day the site is open, guide visitors to the various buildings decorated for Christmas. Several buildings, including the Single Brothers’ House, Salem Tavern Museum and the Vierling House, have a “putz” on display. “Putzen” means to decorate in German and the Moravian tradition led to today’s tradition of placing miniature Christmas villages under trees or on mantlepieces.

A Moravian putz doesn’t look anything like the porcelain Department 56 villages so popular today. A traditional putz illustrates a story from the Bible. The one at the Vierling House shows a Nativity scene made from natural materials: pebbles, moss, greenery, sticks and wood-carved figures.

Then there’s the Christmas pyramid, also on display at the Vierling House. It is a four-level wooden structure decorated with holly and evergreen branches, hand-carved wooden Nativity figures, apples and candles. Each decoration has its own symbolism: apples for original sin, holly for the crown of thorns, evergreen for eternal life and candles representing Christ as the “light of the world.”

However, Joanna Roberts, Old Salem’s interpretation supervisor for living history, makes clear about the pyramid: “It was not instead of a Christmas tree. It was simultaneous.”

A trip to Old Salem isn’t worth the gas money without a visit to the Winkler Bakery, where Jeffrey Sherrill has spent the past 11 years working as a baker. Every day, Sherrill churns out dozens of loaves of fresh bread and square pans of brown sugar-crusted sugar cake.

His favorite part of the job: seeing people’s reaction after tasting sugar cake for the first time. He said, “You’re actually creating joy.”

That moment certainly embodies the Christmas spirit.

Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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