In the early 19th century, Christmas—the way we know it with decorated trees, carols and Santa Claus—wasn’t widely celebrated. In fact, Christmas Day wasn’t recognized as a federal holiday in the United States until 1870, when many of the Christmas traditions we celebrate today were first popularized. That’s challenging for an interactive history park that features an 1836 Prairietown.
Chris Petrelli is the director of programs and education at Conner Prairie, a Smithsonian Institute affiliate in Fishers, Ind. depicting Midwestern life in the 1800s; he’s been charged with rethinking the park’s holiday program.
Currently, Conner Prairie presents “Holidays on the Prairie,” which allows guests to experience winter in the 1800s. The park also displays a Gingerbread Village and invites adults to “Holiday Cheers,” a one-night park visit featuring food, drink and a candlelight stroll through the park’s 1836 Prairietown.
“Holidays at Conner Prairie can be pretty tricky. If we try to remain historically accurate, then we run into some challenges with Christmas and Christmas themes,” said Petrelli, who is pursuing an MBA in the Evening MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business on the IUPUI campus. “But we think there is an opportunity to expand our audience during the holidays, and we want to create an exciting and dynamic experience for people.”