“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” laments Jo March in the opening scene of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But in this year’s Christmas program, “An Alcott Christmas Stocking” at the real-life Alcott family home in Concord, MA, the residents of Orchard House ensure that Christmas will certainly be Christmas for a lucky girl named Polly. “Every year for decades now, we do a program that’s a little different from the year before, but has similar elements—certainly [it has] the element of charity. The Alcotts were very giving,” says Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House Executive Director, Jan Turnquist. An Alcott Christmas Stocking ran the first 3 weekends in December, starting December 3 and finishing December 18, 2016. Each Christmas program is inspired by one of Alcott’s writings, with this year centrally focused on the poem, “What Polly Found in Her Stocking.”
When guests step into Orchard House, a guide welcomes the group and enlists one lucky visitor to send everyone “back in time.” In one of the groups on December 18, a woman eagerly volunteered and knocked on the pale gray door before a voice rings out: “Come in!” The door swings open and the group enters the study, whereupon we enter the 1870s and meet Louisa May Alcott herself, played by Turnquist. Always in character, Alcott converses with the group and welcomes everyone into her home with as much warmth as if they were coming for a spot of afternoon tea or dinner. She even mentions that her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, may be out and about walking with Mr. Thoreau, making the guests imagine for a moment that the men are really out taking a stroll. “[Guests] enjoy the reenactment idea. They feel a little like they are traveling back in time. But they especially like the ideas that they can interact,” says Turnquist of the resounding feedback from previous years. “Some people, in fact a fair number of people, tell us that they come every year. […] It’s become a Christmas tradition,” she adds.
Each member of the Alcott family in the program speaks about how charity work was important to them. “They loved having their friends over and they loved helping people. That was very much the character of the Alcotts so it tends to come through in all the programs because it tends to be who they were and people resonate with that,” says Turnquist. This theme carries through in this Christmas program as the audience helps the Alcott family fill a stocking with treats for Polly after they hear another stanza of the poem.
Turnquist, as well as all of the interpreters portraying Alcott family members, portray each role naturally and with exuberance and detail akin to each character, making the audience forget that the real-life counterparts have been dead for over 150 years. The Alcott matriarch, Abby May, known as “Marmee” to her daughters, greets visitors in Louisa’s room. She sprinkles in historical tidbits about the items in the room very naturally as if she was showing the room to a friend. She points out Louisa’s writing desk by the window that holds the next toys for the stocking, including a jump rope and red mittens. The audience also meets bubbly May Alcott, who introduces the guests to her artwork-covered bedchamber, while Bronson Alcott tells the group about how he and his wife instilled a great sense of giving and selflessness in their daughters at young ages.
The guests meet Anna Alcott Pratt in the parlor, which is decorated in historically-appropriate evergreen boughs and ribbons for the holiday season. “[Christmas at Orchard House] was certainly simpler than today,” says Turnquist. “Christmas trees by this time were very much a part of many, many New England Christmases.” A tabletop tree sits in the corner of the parlor, decorated in baubles and cobweb-like strands of milkweed. “We do keep our ideas simple with homemade decorations. The Alcotts love nature and they were very likely to use very simple items from nature and that’s the way the house is decorated today,” Turnquist adds.
Honoring the Alcott spirit, the program finishes with a short performance of the opening Christmas scene of Little Women. “The [Alcott] girls really did often give, as a gift, a play that they had written and they would perform it as a Christmas gift,” Turnquist said. As the audience sings Christmas carols and ring sleigh bells, for a moment, you feel transported into the world of the Alcotts, full of a warm, genuine feeling of togetherness. When the song ends and a guide ushers us back into 2016, one woman in the group ardently vocalized, “I don’t want to go back!” The rest of the visitors then echoed the same sentiments, unanimously wishing that they could take up residence at Christmastime with the Alcotts. But if we can’t stay there permanently, we can remember their passion for charity and take a bit of Alcott Christmas Spirit with us all through the year.
For more information, visit Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House website here.
© Chelsea E. Dill 2016