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Historic house tours to benefit ACCESS

The Boxing Day tradition of giving will continue Wednesday, Dec. 26, at the historic Beekman House, 470 E. California St., Jacksonville, with tours that can be enjoyed for $2 along with a donation of canned goods for ACCESS.

Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, was traditionally a time when service workers were given gifts in the United Kingdom. Queen Victoria declared it a national holiday in 1871, but the custom may date from the Middle Ages, although its origin is uncertain.

“We are aware that people tend to be more giving before Christmas, but then things can get kind of leaner,” said Carolyn Kingsnorth, president of Historic Jacksonville, Inc., which puts on the tours. “This is a way to help out afterward and also to celebrate the end of the 12 days of Christmas.”

Attendees have filled the house during the event the past three years, said Kingsnorth. Those who don’t bring canned goods will be charged the regular $5 entry fee, but $3 of that will be donated to ACCESS.

Tours run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., take about one hour and start every 15 minutes. No reservations are needed. Visitors will move from room to room in the two-story house, where they will be greeted by docents dressed in period attire and talk about Boxing Day and Christmas traditions in Jacksonville of the late 1800s, where many different cultures came together with their own traditions.

“We do it with a story that unites everything,” said Kingsnorth. “It relates to parts of the traditions and how the Beekmans might have used the rooms and furnishings, how they would have celebrated during the 1800s.”

Boxing Day’s name may have come from the Middle Ages. The day after Christmas churches would break open the alms boxes kept in worship areas and distribute the money to the poor. A 1663 English diary refers to a day when tradesmen would collect “Christmas boxes” that would include money and presents. An older British tradition was giving servants the day off after Christmas to allow them to visit family, and employers would give them boxes with gifts, bonuses and leftovers from the previous day’s dinner.

Ireland and Catalonia in Spain celebrate St. Stephens’s Day the day after Christmas, while Hungary, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and Scandinavia celebrate a second Christmas Day Dec. 26. In England, Boxing Day has become a major shopping day and also a time for numerous soccer and rugby matches.

Cornelius Beekman, one of the wealthiest men in early-day Jacksonville, and his family were the only ones who occupied the residence built in 1873. The house remains completely furnished with family artifacts. The city of Jacksonville now owns the house, and Historic Jacksonville, Inc. conducts tours and makes efforts to preserve it.

Visitors will be able to consume part of the family’s fare. Each guest will get a sugar cookie made from Julia Beekman’s original recipe. Children frequently get a second cookie, said Kingsnorth.

Joyce Stevens, a former Colorado music professor, will play music on the family’s 1890 Mathushek hand-carved piano during the event. Beekman left the piano to his daughter, Carrie, who was known for her musical activities in the town.

While Beekman was wealthy, he was also known for his generosity. One year when two boys lacked the Sunday clothes that everyone else would be wearing in a Christmas pageant, Beekman bought them new suits. He donated land for First Presbyterian Church, helped pay for its construction, bought the church bell and frequently paid the minister’s salary, said Kingsnorth.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

{ }On Wednesday, Dec. 26, tour admission is $2 with a donation of canned food for ACCESS, or visitors who pay regular admission can have the difference donated to ACCESS. Call 541-245-3650 or email info@historicjacksonville.org.