in PUBLIC HUMANITIES
Gingersnaps and Lemonade
The holidays are upon us and if you are surprised you haven’t been in a retail establishment since oh, mid-September. If the holidays—and specifically I mean Christmas—were a person it would be that kid who tries to sneak up on you but the jingle bells blow her cover. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy cookie baking, tree trimming and festive parties but this bleed-through into not just Thanksgiving but Halloween and even earlier has gotten out of hand. By the time December rolls around everyone is suffering from Christmas fatigue.
Here in museum land we decorate for the holidays pretty early ourselves and it has been inching its way into November over the past couple of years. We used to decorate in the week between Thanksgiving and the first of December but then we started an event to encourage families to come to the museum ostensibly to see Santa. Once in the door parents get information about our family and children’s programming, kids get the opportunity to do a craft and everyone can wander the exhibits. To get the jump on some of the other Santa-related events we schedule it for the Sunday after Thanksgiving, which then of course pushes up the decorating to before turkey day.
Then there’s the annual holiday open house event. Here in Frederick we are fortunate to have a pretty active historic sites consortium that coordinates two events a year for which members of the consortium agree to be open at a particular time and day and have something to engage visitors. For some of the very small sites this event and the one in the spring constitute the total of their programming for the year and in fact are the only times the sites are open. Others offer people a bit more through the year, while a few of us are open year round. Typically what this means is that not much changes at the smaller sites for this holiday event; there might be some decorations but the interpretive content is the same as any other day. Those of us whose museums are open year around try to do something different for the open house in hopes that the exposure to the museum will encourage people to come back to take part in the regularly offered tours. This can backfire with people who think the open house is an opportunity to see the museum without paying admission.
What I would like to see is how this event overall resonates with the public. Yes it is a holiday program and some have started to make it a tradition to attend each year. But do these events help future visitation? How does the combination of season specific programs at one site and non-seasonal programs at other sites resonate with visitors? Does it seem disjointed or unorganized or do they even notice? Do visitors expect to see the same program year after year, like the annual watching of A Christmas Story, or would they enjoy discovering something different each year?
What do you do at your site?