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A Swetland Tradition

Mary Ruth and Aoife Burke string popped corn for a tree at the Swetland Homestead.

Ciaran Burke, 11, plays a fiddle as he portrays young Eleazer Swetland, a 19th-century resident of the Swetland Homestead.


Katie Kearney portrays Hannah Swetland circa 1797.

10-year-old Roisin Burke portrays Kate Pettebone in 1855. In those days of unheated upstairs rooms, Kate would have worn a hat to bed.

Anthony T.P. Brooks and Lisa Lewis portray Payne Pettebone and Caroline Swetland-Pettebone in 1855. In honor of a special day, Caroline would have attached a lace collar and cuffs to her dress. Payne would have worn his best waistcoat.

By the Victorian era, elaborate Christmas decorations adorned the tree.

If you woke up in the Swetland Homestead on Christmas morning long, long ago, you probably wouldn’t have dashed downstairs to open presents.

“It wasn’t a day off,” said Mary Ruth Burke, acting executive director of the Luzerne County Historical Society. “The homestead was a farm, and there were chores to do.”

After those earlier residents of Wyoming Valley had pumped water and fed the animals, then they could think about celebrating – perhaps with candy-filled cornucopias and a feast of oyster stew, ham and turkey.

If you’d like to see how families of the past made merry, the Historical Society invites you to candelight tours of the Swetland Homestead in Wyoming on Thursday through Dec. 7

As you walk through the historic building, costumed re-enactors will offer a glimpse into the lives of real Swetland family members.

Representing 1797 – the earliest year portrayed — Hannah Tiffany Swetland can be found in the kitchen, reading her Bible.

By 1810, Hannah and Luke Swetland’s son Belding and daughter-in-law Sally were raising children at the homestead. In the re-enactment, the family decorates a small Christmas tree with such natural materials as nuts and popped corn, and 14-year-old Eleazer Swetland plays the fiddle while his mother teaches his sisters, 12-year-old Betsy and 5-year-old Almira, to dance the minuet.

By 1855, the family’s decorations and clothing had become more elaborate.

In keeping with Victorian style, Caroline Swetland Pettebone wears a fancy lace collar and cuffs on her dress, her husband, Payne, wears his best waistcoat, and the parlor boasts a larger Christmas tree, complete with a “garden village” beneath it.

Modern visitors won’t taste the turkey, ham, beets and salsify (another root vegetable) of past Christmas feasts at Swetland, but there will be some refreshments.

“We’ll be serving hot spiced apple cider and baked goods,” Burke said. “It’s a Swetland tradition.”

If you go

What: Candlelight Tours

Where: Swetland Homestead, 885 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming.

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday and Dec. 5-6; 1 to 5 p.m. Dec. 6-7.

Admission: $5 general, $3 children.

More info: 823-6244

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