Candles twinkle in the windows of the 286-year-old French Castle. Outside the imposing stone structure, lanterns line Old Fort Niagara's walkways as soldiers in cocked hats and wool coats prepare their muskets to perform a grand feu de joie, a firing of joy, in honor of the holiday season. Fifes and drums play traditional music and artillerists prepare their cannons to join in the salute.
This is the scene that will greet visitors to Old Fort Niagara on Saturday evenings, Dec. 15 and 22, as the historic site presents its annual "Castle by Candlelight" program. In addition to the outdoor activities, there will be plenty to see within the walls of the great stone house. Cooks will prepare traditional holiday fare, including wild game, while period characters entertain visitors with tales of winter in the 18th century. A recollect priest will recite the Christmas story in the traditional Latin in the fort's chapel while fur traders and French soldiers downstairs pass the winter evening in more boisterous pursuits.
Elsewhere, Native Americans and frontier residents from 250 years ago discuss how they survive the long Great Lakes winter. Visitors will also witness demonstrations of woodworking, horn smithing, and the preparation of traditional hot chocolate, and will have the opportunity to write with a quill pen and play a traditional game.
The castle will feature holiday decorations created by the Youngstown Garden Club. This year's theme is "upstairs/downstairs." Holiday arrangements on the building's second floor will be regal, while the first floor will offer more rustic decorations.
The event takes place from 7 until 8:30 p.m. each night. Visitors can arrive anytime between these hours. The grand feu de joie, featuring the rolling fire of muskets and cannons, will be performed by the massed garrison at 8:30 p.m. The fort's log cabin will also be open, offering hot beverages and live holiday music.
Admission to the event is $8 per person with proceeds benefiting the fort's educational programming. Visitors are encouraged to dress for the weather, wear walking footwear and bring a flashlight.
Visit OFN at www.oldfortniagara.org.