If you've ever gone to Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, you know that it makes you feel as if you've traveled back to a time when there wasn't cell phones, computers, or any of the social media outlets like Facebook or Twitter because you see them do demonstrations of blacksmithing and other tasks without the use of modern machinery.
A couple of months ago, Erath County residents got a little taste of that at By-Gone Days on the Bosque at the Stephenville Historical Museum. Just being there a mere 5 minutes made you feel as if you had ridden in a DeLorean traveling at 88 miles per hour to the 1800s as Civil War reenactors fired off cannons and muskets, actors dressed as Wild West cowboys demonstrated gunfights, ladies dressed in antique costumes demonstrated the use of a spinning wheel and a butter churn, and Buttermilk Junction provided old-time string music without the use of amplified instruments.
There are several movies at Christmas that have a historical feel such as "The Nativity Story", which gives a great re-telling of the birth of Christ, just watching it for an hour gives you a sense that you're back in the Biblical times and if you've ever watched any version of "A Christmas Carol", especially the 2004 musical version featuring Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge, the actors make you think you're in the Victorian Era.
In Michael Martin Murphey's hit song "Cowboy Christmas Ball" he tells you of an event by the same name, which was started in the days of the Old West. In fact, they still observe this tradition to this day in Anson, Texas, where patrons and musicians dress in antique Western outfits and go by the rules of that time period.
I'd like to tell you of a living history presentation that used to take place in my hometown. Beginning in the '50s around the first week of December, usually right before finals, the Cisco Junior College vocal ensembles, the Wrangler Chorale and the CJC Singers would team up with the Drama Department and present a Middle Ages-style production known as the Madrigal Dinner. For this performance, the musical groups would take the stage dressed in costumes from the Renaissance Era (14th through 17th Century) as the audience dined on traditional cuisine such as Cornish game hen, a salad, dessert, and wassail to drink. The Drama department also provided entertainment as they performed comedic skits during certain musical numbers.
In its early years, the production was held in the Roof Garden, which was the top floor of downtown Cisco's Laguna Hotel until the late '80s, when it was moved just across the street to the newly renovated Conrad Hilton Center (once home to the world's first Hilton Hotel). I got to be a part of the Madrigal Dinners beginning in 2001, when I was a student at Cisco Junior College and a member of the CJC Singers. My costume was a dark brown velvet hat, a light brown doublet (Renaissance version of a men's shirt), a big dark brown velvet piece with an attached skirt known as a jerkin (no, it was not a dress. Don't know how many times I got asked), and brown tights. As our group took to the stage, our director, Ms. Abel made her keyboard sound like a harpsichord (instrument that was popular during the Middle Ages) as we sang Madrigal selections such as "Gloucestershire Wassail,” "Boar's Head Carol" (I sang this as a solo), "The Flaming Pudding Carol" and of course, we observed the true meaning of Christmas with carols such as "Gesu Bambino" and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."
As the name implies, this was a dinner theater performance but unlike most of these, where the meal is served before the show and dessert is served at intermission, the food was brought out during the show as carols like those mentioned above introduced the audience to each course, including the drinks.
I got to be a part of this production once again in 2002 only this time, I had a more comfortable costume, sang a different solo ("O Little Town Of Bethlehem"), and our group introduced a new act to the show, Renaissance-style dancing. Sadly, that was the last time we would get to observe this beloved tradition due to State budget cuts forcing the college to suspend the music program at the end of the 2003 Spring Semester.
Although we were all sad to see the Madrigal Dinner come to an end, I have to say I was glad to be a part of it because it always took me back to a time when Christmas was simple and we didn't rely on video games and other modern technology to be happy but back during its glory days, both the Roof Garden and the Hilton were transformed into a Renaissance dining hall for two nights in December and we were all treated to a Christmas from days gone by.
Tim Turnbeaugh is a musician who was born and reared in Eastland County, Texas but currently resides in Stephenville. Tim can be contacted at email@example.com.