On two chilly December evenings, Old Fort Niagara will open its doors and warmly welcome visitors to a candlelit and festively decorated French Castle for its annual "Castle by Candlelight" fundraiser, which benefits its educational programming.
Between 6:30 and 8:15 p.m., Saturdays, Dec. 5 and 12, the 18th century historic site will offer guests a unique yesteryear experience in a setting untouched by consumerism, but enhanced by natural elements such as evergreen boughs and pinecones, and accented with ribbons and homemade ornaments courtesy of the Youngstown Garden Club. Candles and lanterns will illuminate the outdoor walkways and indoor rooms.
"We invite the community to leave the present behind and step into the past to enjoy the purity of the holiday season in the Great Lakes' oldest existing building," said Robert Emerson, executive director of the fort.
Unique to this event are the "feu de joie" (firing of joy) musket and cannon firings, which recreate an 18th century military ceremony usually employed to celebrate a great victory, at 7:15 and 8:15 p.m. each night. In addition, visitors will meet historical characters - soldiers, Native Americans, fur traders, skilled artisans and camp followers - and do hands-on activities such as writing with a quill pen, playing an 18th century game and making cornhusk dolls.
The festive atmosphere will include music of fifes and drums, Celtic favorites and tavern songs. Cooks will prepare and discuss traditional holiday fare, while period characters entertain visitors with tales of winter in the 18th century. A Recollect priest will recite the Christmas story in Latin in the fort's chapel while fur traders and French soldiers downstairs pass the winter evening in more boisterous pursuits.
Homemade soup, hot cocoa and cookies will be for sale onsite at the Trading Post (while supplies last), while musicians provide live holiday music for customers.
The fort's Museum Shop will be open, offering a wide variety of books, apparel, historic reproductions and other unique gift items. The shop is also open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Lastly, on these nights only, gifts of four-person family admission passes will be on sale in the Visitor Center for $30 (a 25 percent discount) for those wishing to give a cultural gift this holiday season.
Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $10 per person, available at the door. Visitors are encouraged to dress for the weather, wear walking footwear and bring a flashlight.
Visit Old Fort Niagara online at www.oldfortniagara.org.