Trees and trufflers at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center

By Lisa Bennett

Photo: Holiday décor on display at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center for Christmas Legends

Holiday traditions remind us to slow down and reconnect with each other.  For Christians, some traditions are fairly familiar, such as putting up a Christmas tree or hanging stockings. In the U.K., children leave mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas, whom they believe will leave presents in their stockings or pillowcases. Closer to home in Norwich, New York, elementary school children gather on the courthouse steps to sing Christmas carols. Four children are then chosen at random to light the town trees while they wait for Santa to arrive on a “train” fashioned from an old fire truck with lots of crafty detail by local artists. But not all holiday celebrations are Christian-based.

For Jews, lighting the Menorah and eating delicious latkes (potato pancakes and sufganiyots (jelly doughnuts) are centuries-old traditions, just as lighting candles, decorating trees, and exchanging gifts are equally ancient customs for Pagans. A relatively new holiday celebration is Kwanzaa, a beautiful and moving African-based holiday that celebrates the seven principles: unity, self-determination, co-operation, mutual support, purpose, creativity, and faith, outlined by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966.  People celebrate Kwanzaa by lighting candles on a candelabra, called a kinara, similar to the Jewish menorah but with seven candles instead of nine. Other Kwanzaa traditions include drumming, dancing, storytelling, and, of course, a delectable feast.

Some holiday celebrations, however, are more, well, unusual, at least for Ohioans. A long-time tradition in southeastern Massachusetts, for example, is to fill quahog shells with vodka and light them on Christmas Eve. Since quahog (hard clam) shells were used by Native Americans as a form of currency called “wampum,” it is believed by some that the liquor and fire in the shells attract good fortune during the coming year. In Jamaica, Christmas is celebrated by exchanging gifts, then enjoying a late-evening dinner that typically consists of chicken, roasted ham, gungo peas, oxtail, and rum fruitcake.

While fiery quahog shells, fire-engine “trains,” and gungo peas aren’t exactly common here in Ohio, visits to the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center are becoming a mainstay of local custom.

The center itself, a 102-year-old mansion donated to the community by Mary Jane Hayner in 1942, is home to a library and museum and used for a variety of cultural purposes, including the celebration of holiday traditions. If you’ve ever wondered about where the legend of Santa originated or why we exchange gifts, this year’s Christmas Legends exhibit is one you definitely won’t want to miss. Curator Judy Deeter and assistants Julie McMiller and Gerri Nichols (who at age 90 remains an active member of the Hayner Cultural Center team) together with the exhibit committee, have assembled an informative and inspirational exhibit that shares the lore behind the legends and shows how they evolved into what we know today. From that zany red-nosed reindeer to kisses exchanged under the mistletoe, every tradition has a story behind it.

“If you google Christmas legends, Rudolph comes up,” says Leona Sargent, exhibit coordinator.  “I find it fun that he’s listed as a legend.” Besides Rudolph, rumor has it other legends like poinsettias, stockings, nutcrackers, and even mistletoe will be presented. Though the full exhibit is top secret until the big reveal, we do know for sure that Joyce Fraas donated 13 cross-stitch pieces that depict various Santa legends. “Legends are how we got our traditions,” Sargent adds. And folks are certainly inspiring new traditions at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center.

In addition to the exhibit, area artists and designers will fill every nook and cranny of the center with seasonal decorations for the Grand Opening of Holiday Décor on Sunday, Dec. 4, 1-5 p.m. Participants include The Three Weird Sisters Studio, David Fair on the Square, Mary Nilsen and Donna Crosier, James Duty and Sheila Fulks; Jackie Boyd, Pam Voisard, Joyce Ellerman, and Brenda Rice; The Miami County Herb Society, Dawn Flory and Home School Art Students and Your Personal Florist. Live music, featuring local soloists and groups, will fill the house throughout the afternoon.  In addition to the decor and the exhibit, Children’s Day will take place, Saturday, Dec. 3, 1-5 p.m.  Along with Santa, youngsters will enjoy a show with the Mad Cap Puppet Theater and a Shreffler Ballet dance demonstration along with crafts and other surprises. Tickets for the puppet show are free but required admission.

Christmas Legends will run from Dec. 3 through Jan. 1 at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center, 301 W. Main St., in Troy. The exhibit will be open Monday,  7–9 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.  Children’s Day, Saturday, Dec. 3, 1-5 p.m.  Grand Opening of Holiday Décor, Sunday, Dec. 4, 1-5 p.m.  All events are free and open to the public. For more information, please visit TroyHayner.org or call 937.339.0457.

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Lisa Bennett
Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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