The ways many Americans celebrate Christmas, including those of us here in southwest Kansas, have evolved considerably over the years. Christmas cards, for example, appeared during the 1840s in the United Kingdom and made their way to the U.S. about a decade later. Christmas lights, first known as fairy lights, were unheard of until the 1880s and didn’t surpass candles in popularity until the 1930s.

German immigrants brought us our first Christmas trees in the 1850s, and gift giving didn’t gain widespread appeal until a few years before Garden City’s founding in 1879.

Santa Claus, at least the red-suited gift giver we recognize today, didn’t come down the chimney until the 1820s, and his appearance has changed considerably since that time.


Historic nativity

If you would like to partake in some present-day traditions, we hope you’ll attend our holiday open house at the Finney County Historical Museum from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec. 15.

The come-and-go gathering will feature seasonal snacks, live music and the debut of our Christmas exhibit, featuring the historic nativity from the old St. Mary Catholic Church, which was dedicated in 1918 and demolished in 1971. The exhibit is being assembled by Yadira Hernandez, museum registrar, using approximately 15 weathered manger scene pieces that were displayed outdoors each Christmas season by the old church at 509 St. John. The figures are believed to date as far back as 1939.

Santa knows everyone’s address, but in case you don’t, you’ll find us at 403 S. Fourth St. in Garden City’s Finnup Park, adjacent to the pedestrian arches at Lee Richardson Zoo. Admission is free, and winter exhibit hours are 1 to 5 p.m. daily.


Live music and shopping

During the open house, volunteer carolers will perform between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. In addition, Garden City vocalist and guitarist Al Miller is appearing from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 2 to 3 p.m.

We’re also planning unique Christmas shopping opportunities in the Museum Store, as well as booths with crafts and products offered by visiting vendors. In addition, free antique car rides will be available, and those who attend before or during the event can purchase tickets in a Christmas quilt raffle.

Among those shopping opportunities in the Museum Store, open concurrently with exhibits and during the open house, are four types of long and short-sleeve T-shirts that replicate sugar sack images from the old Garden City Sugar Factory that operated from 1906 to 1955; as well as the nostalgic 1950s Garden City movie on DVD, “This is Our Town.” There are also T-shirts connected to our True Crime exhibit.

The Finney County Historical Society’s 2019 Historic Finney County Calendar will be on sale, featuring colorful architectural and design images from the Mid-Century Modern period of the 1950s and 1960s.

The museum gift shop will also offer gifts linked to Kansas history and culture, goods crafted by southwest Kansas artists and artisans, Santa Fe Trail whole bean coffees, Jumpy Monkey ground coffees in flavors tied to local history, Sage House Soaps, Brian McCallum pottery, regional and local souvenirs, creations by KK and LuLu and a selection of books by local and regional authors, including the new University Press of Kansas biography, “Marine, Public Servant, Kansan – The Life of Ernest Garcia.”


Antique car rides and vendor booths

Several of our visiting vendors are back from the museum’s summer season Flea Market Festival of Antiques, Collectibles, Art and Crafts, and their booths will be set up in the museum meeting room and adjacent hallway. Entry for the open house will be available through the main and north doorways.

The antique car rides are expected to include a 1930 Ford Model A, a 1954 Ford pickup and a 1955 Ford Fairlane, conditions permitting. Vehicle boarding will be available outside the main entrance, with free tickets available inside at the reception desk.


Quilt raffle and invitation

The raffle, with tickets at $5 each, or five for $20, includes a chance to win a manufactured Bedsure Soft and Cozy quilt set in full/queen size. The random drawing for the Christmas-theme quilt will take place at the end of the open house, but tickets are already on sale, with cash or checks accepted. You don’t have to be present to win.

No one knows whether today’s Christmas traditions will still be around 100 or 150 years hence, or even remembered, but it’s a pretty sure bet you’ll recognize them next weekend right here at the museum. Consider yourself invited.


Steve Quakenbush is the executive director of the Finney County Historical Society. Email him at