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Victorian Christmas
in the 209

A Victorian Christmas at the McHenry Mansion


By Sabra Stafford

When it comes to a Victorian Christmas, the McHenry Mansion in downtown Modesto gives visitors a chance to experience what it was like to celebrate the holiday during this time period.

The historic home was built by the McHenry family in 1883 and opened to the public in 1983. Each year the stately mansion is decked out in traditional holiday decor with the decorations selected to match the overall theme of the room.

“It’s absolutely magical looking,” said McHenry Mansion Foundation President Susan Baudler. “I’m floored every December by how gorgeous it all looks.”

Baudler said it takes about a month to get all the decorations up, which all are within the Victorian style of the home and the work is done by Lisa Mesa, the exhibit and rental coordinator at McHenry Mansion. “She’s a miracle worker,” Baudler said.

The McHenry Mansion Foundation has two special events for the Christmas season. 

The Christmas Tea is a chance to celebrate the season with a traditional high tea popular in the Victorian era. Set up in the basement of the mansion, the tea features a menu reminiscent of the time period, like scones with clotted cream, tea sandwiches and mini desserts.

“They bring out the massive collection of tea cups and saucers for the service,” Baudler said. There will be two seatings: 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Dec. 5. Cost is $40 per person.

The McHenry Mansion Foundation will offer two nights of the Candlelight Tours this December. This gives guests a chance to tour the mansion decorated in all of its Christmas finery by candlelight. 

“The Candlelight Tour is a chance for visitors to experience what it was really like to live in that house during Christmas in 1883,” Baudler said. “It’s also the only time they light the chandelier in the front parlor. It’s the only one remaining that is gas.”

The tours will be on Dec. 15 and Dec. 16. The Tours begin at 5 p.m. and the last entrance is at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children under 10 years old.

Along the tour, guests will learn about some Victorian holiday traditions like Christmas trees, candles, candy canes, gingerbread houses, poinsettias, stockings and many more.

Visitors will also want to make a stop at the gift shop where they have a stock of Christmas collectible ornaments from Old World, Christopher Radko and Ink Schaller.

For tickets or more information visit

A Victorian feast at the City Hotel


By Kristina Hacker

The Columbia City Hotel Restaurant will once again host holiday revelers from near and far for a unique Victorian feast, which features traditional English fare and a historic melodrama to get the digestive juices flowing.

The Victorian feast at the City Hotel has its origins in decades past, but has seen its share of starts and stops over the years. This year’s event will see some of the original actors and carolers taking part in the event, following a three-year pandemic hiatus.

Tom Bender has been part of the Victorian feast since the beginning and is excited to see its return.

“We’re looking forward to reviving it again this year, and we’ve had a great response from our own membership,” said Bender, referencing the unique ownership of the City Hotel Restaurant and What Cheer Saloon.

The hotel restaurant reopened one year ago as a cooperative corporation with more than 290 local shareholders. Three years ago, the parks department discontinued the contract to operate the hotel and restaurant and it sat empty in the middle of the Columbia State Historic Park that preserves the town’s Gold Rush era past.

“The locals felt we needed our watering hole, we need our City Hotel back,” said Bender and that’s when the idea for a coop came about, with hundreds of locals pooling their money together to reopen the historic restaurant and saloon. The state parks reopened the hotel for a few months this year but has since closed it again.

Bender is hoping the return of the Victorian feast will bring back the many visitors who made it part of their holiday traditions in years past.

The feast will feature a historic four-course meal starting with Champagne and oysters, followed by a soup course, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and dessert with an English holiday game. There will be a ring (predicting love in the coming year), a coin (foretelling fortune) and a thimble (which means hard times ahead) in the dessert and guests are encouraged to find their treasure.

“It’s always fun to pass those around the dining room and look for who’s found it you know, without a trip to the dentist you might say,” said Bender.

This year’s drama will once again see the original founders of the City Hotel — George and Margaret Morgan — hosting guests for a holiday dinner in the 1870s. A shady politician may unexpectedly join the festivities and talks about that new-fangled hydraulic mining may come up. Never fear, the dinner is sure to end with holiday toasts, carolers and musicians.

Not will the hosts, musicians and other actors be dressed in their Victorian finery, but guests are also encouraged to don their best 1870s apparel. 

The City Hotel Restaurant’s Victorian Feast will be held Dec. 8, 10, 14 and 15. Tickets for the feast are $150 and include the four-course meal with four wine selections, along with the entertainment. The City Hotel Restaurant is located at 22768 Main St., Columbia.

To purchase tickets, visit or call (209) 396-1981.

Step into a 'Christmas Carol' at Jackson landmark


By Sabra Stafford

The Charles Dickens classic novella “A Christmas Carol” is the epitome of a Victorian Era and those in the 209 have an opportunity to see it in a unique setting when it’s staged by the Baker Street Players acting troupe.

Located above the Hein and Company Bookstore in Jackson, 221B Baker Street West is a replica of Victorian London with shops that pay homage to the locations and characters in Sherlock Holmes stories. It will be the staging for the production of “A Christmas Carol.”

“A Christmas Carol” tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his three ghostly visitors sent to rekindle his generosity to humanity. Dickens penned the novella to shine a light on the growing level of poverty he was witnessing, especially among children. The first edition was published on Dec. 19, 1843 and had sold out by Christmas Eve.

The story has never been out of print and has been retold in numerous other productions.

The show will be performed at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 10.

There is a bit of a mystery as to whether or not this could be the last staging the troupe does of the holiday classic because the group is having to vacate the upper level of the bookstore sometime in early 2024 by the owner of the building.

“Our future is still unknown, but we intend to emulate the Phoenix and rise again ~ hopefully in Jackson, the town we love ~ to continue our good work,” the group wrote in a Facebook post announcing the end of their 10-year long location. “Our landlord has conceded to us the use of our marvelous and impressive space until early 2024 so that we may produce our beloved Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.” It means more than ever to us now.”