The Daily Gamecock

Historic Columbia brings past holiday traditions to life

Historic Columbia's Holiday House Tours give visitors a glimpse into Christmases past this holiday season through Jan. 5. 

The ​Holiday House Tours​ takes visitors through the Robert Mills House, decorated as a home might have been in the 1820s. Visitors may notice a prominent Christmas tradition missing: the Christmas tree. 

Directly across the street, visitors can also walk through the Hampton-Preston Mansion. The Victorian home shows Christmas decor of the 1860s and includes many familiar traditions like eggnog and poinsettias. 

The tour takes visitors on a journey through Columbia’s past in providing a feel for the lives of the homeowners and a glimpse into the lives of the enslaved people of the time. 

James Quint, Historic Columbia's education director, placed an emphasis on the thematic changes of Christmas time throughout generations of prominently white Southern homeowners. He said the as tour guides take guests closer to the modern day, the more recognizable Christmas celebrations become as the commercialization of the holiday becomes increasingly apparent. 

"It’s interesting to compare and contrast what we do today versus what they did or did not do, say 200 years ago,” said Fielding Freed, director of historic house museums for Historic Columbia.  

Robin Waites, executive director of Historic Columbia, said the Robert Mills house motivated the founding of Historic Columbia in 1961. As a prominent South Carolinian of the early nineteenth century, Robert Mills was the first federal architect and is most famous for designing the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. 

Historic Columbia was founded by a group of individuals to prevent the demolition of the Robert Mills House, also known as the Ainsley Hall House. The home was the only residence Mills designed, so the founders of Historic Columbia recognized that its destruction would eradicate an important historical artifact that was crucial to telling the story of Columbia’s past. 

“The thought that that was under the threat of demolition, I think today makes us all kind of gasp,” Waites said. “We were founded for preservation initially, but preservation so that the site could be used for education and those are still the primary functions of the organization today." 

Quint echoed that one focus of the history-based organization is preservation. 

“We find creative ways to connect with all members of our community ... and help them find connections with the past and help grow their understanding of history as well as learn the importance of preservation of historic sites,” Quint said.  

Beyond the ​Holiday House Tours,​ other seasonal programs include Breakfast with Santa on Dec. 14 in the morning and ​Candlelight Tours and Carriage Rides in the evening. Through the year, Historic Columbia, serves as a beacon of education and preservation offering educational tours such as Homeschool Friday, special events on Friday mornings for homeschool students, and Statehouse monument tours open to the public.