Seven-year-old Elliot Chong takes a sip from his hot cider at the Christmas at the Fort event at Fort Vancouver before declaring he likes this 1840s historical Christmas re-enactment better than that whole Santa Claus story everyone seems to be talking about this time of year.
"I'm not sure Santa is real," Elliot says, squinting his eyes.
But you know what is real? Axe throwing. And guess what the fort provides as a historical activity? Ax throwing.
"Oh, that was awesome," the youngster beams, eyes now wide open.
His younger brother, 3-year-old Micah, is less enthralled by the whole thing. When his parents ask if he likes the fort or Santa, he shrugs. He did build a toy top at the fort's workshop, however, and
he seems to think that's a pretty great situation as his older brother explains the process.
The Chong brothers' parents, Garett and Anna, brought the boys over from Portland to check out the fort's holiday reenactment. Bagpipes blared, dancers danced, cider was served up piping hot, and yes, even axes were thrown in an effort to show folks what Christmas looked like before the modern day Santa Claus began delivering toys via sleigh and chimney.
The fort did still provide a meet and greet with Christmas' reigning star. Santa was just to the north at the Marshall House for pictures with the youngsters beside the Christmas tree. And yes, he is still taking gift requests as Dec. 25 approaches.
But at the Christmas at the Fort event, folks are taking a look at life before all the gifts were bought in a store. Before electricity was this big ol' thing. Before Thanksgiving had become a national holiday.
"This was the Thanksgiving," said Doug Wilson, a regional archeologist with the fort who was dressed in the red uniform of a British marine. "At the holiday season, it would have been a festive time here. Really a whole week of celebration and religious services. Today, we've brought out some of the family friendly activities. And really what it shows is that perhaps the biggest difference between then and now is it used to be much simpler."
There is something palpable in the simplicity of it. Something telling in the fact that fur traders needed to know how to throw an ax, or how toys needed to be made by hand.
"The whole time I'm here I was thinking how people used to connect in a community over their skills," said Anna Chong. "How they connected to each other during Christmas, and not over a story (like Santa Claus.)"