CANTERBURY - Hundreds of visitors came to Shaker Village Saturday afternoon as volunteer Shaker history buffs and local artists showed, through short plays and informative displays, how a faith based on human purity once enjoyed Christmas.
The fifth-annual "A Christmas in Canterbury" is a two-Saturday event that concludes next Saturday from 3 to 8 p.m. at the 694-acre Shaker Village, which is dedicated to preserving the 200-year legacy of the Shakers.
The Shakers, a denomination that formed in late 18th century England and soon moved to New England, believed in personal communication with God and felt a caretaker-like devotion to mankind and to the Earth.
Living a self-sufficient lifestyle, they came to be known for their architecture, crafts, and furniture.
Though the Shakers were known for their simple, tranquil way of life and daily work routines, they treasured Christmas as a time to celebrate by helping and giving to each other and to their community as a whole, said Sally Stanton of the Shaker Village.
On Christmas, Shakers made a special effort to forgive each others' sins and made small, often useful presents for each other. Negative emotions were suppressed in favor of the greater good.
"They celebrated in a very simple way," Stanton said. "Because it is so simple, it shows what Christmas can be like without all the commercialism."
As the parking lots filled with cars, candle-lit lanterns lined paths to several of the 25 restored original Shaker buildings and four reconstructed Shaker buildings. Children rode horse-pulled hayrides outside.
In one house, actors dressed in 19th century costumes portrayed a Shaker schoolhouse during the Christmas season, with a large hand-decorated Christmas tree at the front of the room. In another house, actors portrayed a doctor and a nurse.
Dozens huddled in one house to hear traditional Christmas tunes performed acoustically by the Jordan Tirell-Wysocki Trio. In another building, Marcel Durette, a teacher at the Homestead Woodworking School in Newmarket, demonstrated the art of wooden ornament-making.
In the basement of one building, an ongoing gingerbread spectacular displayed 15 entrants' gingerbread cakes and pastries.
The winner will be determined by Shaker volunteers on Saturday and will receive a $200 prize.
A People's Choice Award will also be given.
Stanton said the last Canterbury Shakers, who have died in the past few years, used to sit and greet visitors as they arrived.
"It's easily one of the favorite events here," Stanton said.
For more information, go to shakers.org.