It was a history lesson disguised as fun and then draped in 19th century garb at Christmas at Allaire, one of the last of more than 60 programs held by the Historic Village at Allaire each year.
The annual Christmas event is tailored to show how a typical day might have been during the Christmas season in 1836, said Allaire Village Board of Trustees chairman Bill Gerhauser.
Gerhauser, dressed up as St. Nicholas in a red cloak and holding a Bishop's Crosier – or staff – broke character intermittently to explain the principle behind the event, while handing out candy canes to every visitor 3-feet tall and under.
"We try to present, as best we can, how a typical day would be at Christmastime in 1836,'' Gerhauser said.
The historic Village, located inside Allaire State Park at 4265 Atlantic Ave., is a living history museum celebrating the life and times of James P. Allaire and the people of his Howell Iron Works Company. It is in its 53rd year of continuous operation, staffed almost enitrely with unpaid volunteers who depict typical residents of the village.
As St. Nicholas roamed the village, a horse-drawn wagon passed, filled with visitors heading away from the Visitor's Center, one of the special features during the Dec. 4-5 Christmas celebration.
Up the road in the circa 1750 Manager's House – considered an opulent home with closets and windows in each of its eight rooms – two women dressed in period garb tended to an open hearth, demonstrating cooking as it was executed in the 1800s.
While Dutch ovens covered with blazing hot embers cooked cornbread, a chicken –held aloft by a string – twisted and turned the plucked bird near an open flame.
Hearth cook Flo Spinazzola explained the procedure of cooking to visitors, who were happy to take the time out from the barely-above-freezing temperatures outside to hear the tale.
The food, once done, is lunch for the village volunteers, Spinazzola said.
"They come in here like crazy, starved locusts and devour everything,'' she said.
At 1 p.m., more than 100 visitors file into Christ Episcopal Church for a traditional 1836 song and dance program, led by a fiddler and a harpist who accompanied costumed performers in a variety of solo and group performances, ending in a raucous, audience participation rendition of "The 12 Days of Christmas.''
The weekend's events drew visitors near and far, including Vivian Morgan from Shirley, NY.
"It was wonderful,'' Morgan said of the day's festivities.
Morgan, a repeat Allaire Village visitor, said she heard about the weekend event from a family member in the area.
"I said 'we must do this,' so we came down for the day,'' she said. "We did the bake shop, the general store, took the tour of the mansion. I think we've done just about everything here.''