SIDNEY — Lots of grandmothers have scrapbooks of photos of their grandchildren.
They can watch the kids grow up over and over again as they page through the pictures.
Candy Huber, of Sidney, can do that with a book devoted to photos of her grandchildren with Santa at the Ross Historical Center, here. Since 2000, the first time the Shelby County Historical Society presented Christmas of Yesteryear, Huber’s grandchildren have met there so Huber could have a picture of them to include in her Christmas cards.
When they gather again, Dec. 1, it will be for the 19th consecutive time.
The 2018 Christmas of Yesteryear will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the center, 201 N. Main Ave. Admission is free; however, photos with Santa cost $5 each. In addition to photos, children can decorate graham cracker “gingerbread” houses and bent-twig wreaths, make clay ornaments, watch woodcarvers at work, enjoy a model train exhibit and taste popcorn and chestnuts roasted over an open fire.
Huber has 10 grandchildren, but not all of them pose with Santa every year. Many of them have “aged out” of visits with the jolly old elf.
“I told my kids, ‘If you’re under 18, you have to go. If you’re over 18, you can decide,’” said Huber’s daughter, Shelley Smedley, of Sidney. Smedley’s six children range in age from 28 to 8.
Neither Smedley nor Huber can remember why it was decided that first year to go to the Ross Center, but it was easy to decide to return every year after. The children liked the Christmas of Yesteryear activities once the photos were taken.
“We enjoyed going there. And the photos weren’t copyrighted so we could make copies,” Huber said.
The family doesn’t try to get everyone to smile for the annual shot.
“If they were crying, we’d take them as they are. It’s fun to look back now,” Huber said.
In 2000, there were six granchildren. The photo included two of Huber’s children, because their toddlers refused to get close to Santa without the parents being nearby. So Tracy Littleton, of Piqua, and Marc Burdiss, of Sidney, are holding their little ones.
In 2017, just two youngsters were in the picture: Smedley’s youngest, Elizabeth, 11, and Catherine, 8.
There is just one year, 2010, when all 10 grandchildren are in the photo.
This year, Huber’s first great-grandchild will join the group. Isabeau Smedley is 10 months old. Her father is Robert, 28. It’s likely, he’ll be holding Isabeau in this year’s shot.
That, Huber noted, will bring the annual gathering full circle, which will continue as other grandchildren become parents.
“The older grandkids will step in to hold the great-grandkids. They’ll be in the pictures again,” Huber said.
Smedley’s husband, Troy, and she are also parents of Hunter, 24, Victoria, 22, and Tanner, 19.
Littleton and her husband, Jimmy’s, daughters are Chloe, 18, and Alyssa, 17.
Marc and his wife, Kristie, have raised Alex, 20, and Erin, 17.
The family arrives at the Ross Center about 15 minutes before the doors open, so they will be near the front of the line and not hold up lots of people behind them while taking the photographs.
“We never specified what they should wear,” Huber said of the family.
“Sometimes my girls like to dress up. Sometimes, not,” Smedley added. All of them liked receiving candy canes from Santa as they said good-bye to him.
Victoria, of Sidney, remembered that it was always fun to get together with her cousins.
“It was the first kick-off of holiday festivities,” she said. She, too, treasures the photos most that include crying, younger cousins.
“As an older kid, you’d be trying to comfort them. You’d say, ‘This is happy. This is Christmas,’” Victoria said.
As Huber’s granchildren have grown since that first event, so has Christmas of Yesteryear.
In 2000, about 250 people participated.
“For the first five or six years, it stayed pretty consistent. Gradually the numbers grew,” said Shelby County Historical Society Director Tilda Phlipot. Last year, for the first time, attendance broke the 1,000 mark.
“We try to do activities that might have been done in the mid-1800s,” Phlipot said. For instance, members of the Shelby County Woodcarvers demonstrate how 19th-century fathers would carve dolls and toys for their children.
Without a doubt, however, the most popular activity is decorating the graham cracker houses.
“In the beginning, we helped the children make the ‘gingerbread’ houses. As time went on, the volunteers couldn’t stand to see the houses fall apart as the kids went down the stairs. So about 13 years ago, the decision was made to premake the gingerbread houses,” she said. Weeks before the event, the society purchases 48 boxes of graham crackers. One volunteer spends two days breaking the crackers into the right-sized pieces.
A group of society volunteers joined members of the Delta Kappa Gamma sorority on this year’s construction day. The 14 of them worked six hours to complete 350 houses.
Later this week, they’ll mix together 20 pounds of powdered sugar, powdered egg whites and water to make enough icing for children to each get a tube of it. The kids decorate their houses with the white icing and colored candies.
“It’s really messy,” Phlipot said, but lots of fun. “I’ve seen parents stand in line for over an hour to make a gingerbread house,” she added.
Not quite so messy is another craft: children can decorate bent-twig wreaths with ribbon. Two volunteers bend the twigs to make all the wreaths in advance.
The third craft is making a tree ornament from clay. Fifty pounds of clay is used to make 400 ornaments.
“We roll out the clay, and kids make an ornament that will dry in 24 hours. They can paint it at home and hang it on their tree,” Phlipot said.
Then there are the chestnuts. Ten pounds of them arrived from Michigan a month ago.
“They’re stored in the refrigerator, and they have to be turned in the fridge every other day until they’re cooked,” Phlipot said. The chestnuts and 10 pounds of popcorn will be “cooked” over an open flame in the yard of the Ross Center on Dec. 1.
That day, 35 volunteers will arrive at the center to assist in making the day special for their 1,000 guests, in the center, adorned with trees that have been trimmed by local Girl Scout troops.
The event was Phlipot’s idea, 18 years ago.
“Christmas of Yesteryear is all the things my mother did with us as children,” she said. It’s a program that gives a child a lot to take away.
“Children will have two items to give to their parents,” Phlipot noted, “a house for them to eat and enjoy, and a memory of a simpler time, when Christmas was about handmade gifts of love.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.