For an up-close look at a traditional German-style Christmas celebration of 1870s Missouri, don't miss the chance to visit the Augusta History Museum during the 33rd annual Christmas Candlelight Walk on Friday nights, Dec. 4 and 11, in historic Augusta.
The small town is transformed by more than 1,500 glowing luminaries marking the walking path for the holiday event. Pick up a map and scavenger hunt guide at the Visitor Center, then wander at your leisure -- by foot or on the free trolley -- through the town, stopping in shops, wineries, restaurants and, of course, at the museum.
Situated at the corner of Webster and High streets, the Augusta History Museum is in a brick house built in 1861 by German immigrants August and Catherine Sehrt. The Sehrt house is one of seven houses in Augusta that are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Back in the day, August built furniture and caskets in the stone-walled downstairs part of the house, and the family lived upstairs. Grape vines and fruit trees grew around the house.
Today, both levels of the building are filed with documents, artifacts, photographs and memorabilia from Augusta's long history. The settlement was founded in 1822 and incorporated as a legislative charter town in 1855.
The museum, which opened in the early 1990s, is the project of Anita Mallinckrodt, town historian, and a handful of like-minded history enthusiasts who form the Friends of Historic Augusta. Although the building belongs to the town, the Friends organization is responsible for maintaining it and for disseminating the history of the town.
For Anita, as well as for Friends members Clarence and Jeanette Sehrt, the building has a special connection. Anita's grandmother, Elisa, grew up there, as did Clarence's grandfather, Henry. Elisa and Henry were two of ten Sehrt siblings.
"Most of the members of Friends of Historic Augusta are third-generation descendants" of early Augusta families, said Anita. "They are reaching back into history and their memories to prepare the museum for Christmas."
A fresh cedar tree with typical German decorations welcomes visitors as they enter the museum. Cardboard nativity scenes -- manufactured in the 1870s and extremely fragile and rare -- are on display downstairs, along with toys and other decorations. As was the custom, the table holds a plate of nuts with one orange for each child.
Although there will not be baked cookies for sampling this year, guests can help themselves to free recipes for traditional German cookies.
The museum does not have regular hours because of a lack of staffing. The museum holds spring and fall open houses and a summer speaker series, but plans for 2016 are incomplete. The annual Christmas Candlelight Walk is a prime time to count on the museum being open and staffed with well-informed volunteers.
After you've soaked up Augusta history in the museum, head out to enjoy the other activities.
There's a bonfire in the town square park, with children romping on the playground equipment and families enjoying snacks and beverages at the food stand. Don't miss the bottle tree -- made with wine bottles, as is only fitting for Augusta, the first American Viticultural Area in the United States.
Visit with Santa Claus at the Olde Wine Hall, shop at the arts and crafts booths in the Visitor Center, and drop in at the many shops, galleries, wineries and eateries that are open especially for the evening. Take time to sit for a spell and enjoy singing carols in Ebenezer United Church of Christ. Treat yourself to a horse-drawn carriage ride around the town.
It's a Christmas scene from yesteryear, just right to create your own holiday memories.
* Augusta History Museum is at the corner of Webster and High streets, Augusta, 63332. Hours are by appointment; call Anita Mallinckrodt at 636-228-4821, or Clarence Sehrt at 636-482-4558. There is no admission fee, but donations are appreciated. There is no gift shop.
* The Christmas Candlelight Walk is from 5 to 10 p.m. Dec. 4 and 11; the museum is open from 5 to 9 p.m. both nights. There is no fee to participate in the walk. For more information, visit the Greater Augusta Chamber of Commerce website at www.augusta-chamber.org or call 636-228-4005.
Note: This story first appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Show-Me Missouri Magazine. For more info, visit www.showmemissouri.net.