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Holiday traditions of homesteaders showcased at annual winter festival

November 30, 2018

Every Christmas, the McAlister family brings a taste of Scotland to Homestead National Monument.

The family’s Scottish Christmas display is perhaps the most elaborate of all the cultural displays at the park’s Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures.

The festival features trees at the monument’s Education Center and Heritage Center representing the cultures of the various groups that claimed land as part of the Homestead Act of 1862 — German, Danish, Polish, Czech, Welsh and others. There are also table displays that tell the stories of Jewish and Hispanic traditions, according to park ranger Charlotte McDaniel.

“We even have our Nicodemus tree from the African-American homesteading settlement in Kansas,” said. “They would use a cottonwood branch and hang things like silverware, especially during that first Christmas.”

Lori McAlister, a former Gage County resident who now lives in Missouri, started helping set up the Scottish, Irish and Welsh displays in 2002.

In 2004, McAlister grew the Scottish display from a tree into full-out replica of a Scottish house during Christmas. McAlister is part Scottish.

The display, which is at the Education Center, features a Christmas tree decorated with lights and traditional Scottish paper ornaments, in addition to a fireplace mantle built by Bob Hancock, a table and other traditional Scottish pieces. First-generation Scottish immigrants tell stories of their homeland in oral recordings that one can hear at the display, as well.

“This has always been a big tradition in our family,” said McAlister on Wednesday as she helped set up the display.

This holiday season marks the last year the McAlister family will put up the display, Lori McAlister said, as they pass the torch to Carol Legge of the Scottish Society of Nebraska.

“It’s always been a pa rt of our Christmas tradition...we’re going to miss it,” McAlister said.

Homestead Superintendent Mark Engler said the annual holiday festival is a great way to learn about other cultures.

“I think it’s a fun, educational way to reflect upon the various traditions that the different ethnic groups brought with them when they traveled to the United States to claim land through the Homestead Act,” Engler said. “It’s also a festive, colorful exhibit that I’m sure everyone will enjoy.”

The displays are open to the public seven days a week during regular hours until Jan 7.

In addition to the cultural displays, speaker David Marsh will present the program “Music Around the World,” this Sunday, Dec. 2, at 2 p.m. at the Education Center. Marsh’s presentation is made possibly by Humanities Nebraska.

“With over a dozen instruments and stories about each, David enterains with music from around the world,” a news release read.

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