Credit: Gina Van Bell

The Whaling Museum & Education Center in Cold Spring Harbor will kick off a new series of holiday walking tours on Dec. 10. The tours will start at the museum, where people will be welcomed with hot chocolate and cookies, notes Brenna McCormick-Thompson, curator of education for the museum.

“We’ll give a little introduction into what holidays people were celebrating back in the 1800s,” says McCormick-Thompson. “The Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Company operated from the 1830s to the 1860s, so that’s really the time we’re focusing on.”

In terms of holidays, that was a very interesting time period in U.S. history: Americans celebrated the 4th of July and Thanksgiving, but Christmas wasn’t celebrated in Colonial America.

“In fact, in many places it was illegal to celebrate Christmas before the 1800s because it had a reputation as this rowdy mob holiday,” she says. That all changed with the Victorians, who reclaimed Christmas as a family-centric, warm welcoming period of celebration.


WHEN | WHERE: Dec. 10, 11, 17, 18 at 3 and 5 p.m.; Dec. 30 at 4:30 p.m.; The Whaling Museum & Education Center office, 279 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor

ADMISSION: $15 per person

INFO: Register online;

Tour guides will take people on a walk through Cold Spring Harbor, pointing out several of the historic structures on Main Street, talking about the whaling families who lived there, the businesses and churches that existed during that era and the historical development of the holiday season.

“There’s an interesting interplay between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” says McCormick-Thompson, noting that “Jingle Bells” was originally a Thanksgiving song.

The tours, which run between 45 minutes and an hour, take you back in time to explore various aspects of holiday celebration, like what people were baking and eating back then and how Christmas cards were first coming into fashion.

“It is very much tied to the architecture and the history of the buildings themselves, using that as a backdrop to explain the history of the holiday season,” she says.

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