By Cynthia Wallace-Casey, PhD
University of New Brunswick
There’s something about the experience of a Victorian Christmas that makes many of us feel warm and fuzzy inside. Our sense of nostalgia seems heightened by the festive season. Because of this, perhaps we’re more prone to let down our critical lens on the past, and simply enjoy the visual candy. Surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of the season, we encounter compelling evidence to suggest that we can truly experience the past for real… as it once was.
Andrea Terry, however, in her publication Family Ties: Living History in Canadian House Museums (2015), dispels such nostalgia, as she closely examines the annual Victorian Christmas programs at three Canadian house museums: Dundurn Castle in Hamilton Ontario, Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site in Montreal Quebec, and William Lyon Mackenzie House in Toronto Ontario. With a keen eye for cultural hegemony, Family Ties delves down beneath the sugary surface, to reveal how interpretive Christmas programs in each of these living history museums are actually a product of present-day values, place-based politics, and nationalistic agendas.