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‘You can smell the history’: Victorian era Christmas celebrated at Halifax Citadel

Parks Canada hosts Christmas celebration at Halifax Citadel
Halifax Citadel visitors experienced what Christmas would have been like for soldiers during the Victorian era.

With the smell of a crackling fire permeating the crisp November air, dozens of families, couples and wide-eyed individuals, took to the top of the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site to experience Christmas from the Victorian era.

“Victorian Christmas is an annual event, we’ve been doing it for 30 years,” said Hal Thompson, the visitor experience officer with Parks Canada. “So this is our 30th anniversary and really what it is, the site is open, the Halifax Citadel is open and we’ve Christmas-themed everything. Christmas was a big part of life in the Victorian period, just like it is today.”

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78th Highlanders were featured during the Victorian Christmas experience. Soldiers demonstrated how meals were cooked in the field.
78th Highlanders were featured during the Victorian Christmas experience. Soldiers demonstrated how meals were cooked in the field. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

Thompson says the 19th-century British fort is transformed into a holiday-themed experience that aims to connect visitors with a vision of Christmas that transpired over 100 years ago.

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The frosty barracks were where the soldiers called home and cooking nutritious food was a challenging endeavor that was on display as part of the event.

“This is our Christmas in the field exhibit. It’s basically a display of how British soldiers would have cooked throughout different time periods. So the campfire in the ground represents basically the mid-1700s, around the time period of Seven Years’ War, or the American Revolution,” said Craig Hyatt, the assistant program manager of the Halifax Citadel Society.

Christmas tree to Boston
Christmas tree to Boston

For families like the Gouda’s, who immigrated to Canada from the Middle East, absorbing a glimpse of Christmas from another time period was an experience that left them smiling from ear to ear.

“It’s a blessing because I really love history and I’m really interested in it. So, just knowing a little bit more about how people use to act, how people were here, it feels really amazing and I’m glad that I’m here,” Nour Mohamed said.

The Gouda family was all smiles as they experienced the historical holiday event.
The Gouda family was all smiles as they experienced the historical holiday event. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

Mohamed’s mother Nadia was thrilled to learn about how soldiers used to prepare their food in the field during challenging winter conditions.

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“It is beautiful, it is amazing, everything here — you can smell the history. You can see everything that you may (have) missed, from the history,” Nadia Gouda said.

The Victorian Christmas event began in 1989 and each year donations are collected for Feed Nova Scotia.

Over $30,000 dollars has been raised for the charity since 2001 by visitors who participate in the Victorian Christmas event.