A Civil War Christmas
Left: Cali June and Carson James Kanne visit with St. Nick (Grandpa).

Photos by Steve Birkeland

A Civil War Christmas

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
12/20/2018


OAKDALE—The grounds of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Oakdale was the setting once again for the Oakdale Historical Society’s presentation of a Civil War Christmas last Saturday. This time the weather held out, unlike the inaugural event last year that took place in the middle of a snowstorm.

The day was a joint venture, bringing together the talents of a number of local organizations that helped to make the event both entertaining and informative.

Reenactors from the 67th New York Volunteer Company K and 14th Brooklyn New York State Militia Company H set up camp with tents and military accoutrement, giving visitors a glimpse of what life was like at Christmastime for those serving during the conflict. The tents were arranged around the gravestones on the front lawn of the church, some of them belonging to Civil War soldiers.

Inside the church, OHS members decorated the sanctuary with fresh bough, while a violinist, made possible through the Islip Arts Council, performed period music. Islip historian George Munkenbeck spoke about 19th-century Christmas customs and later on led a Christmas service.

The Angel Choir from Girl Scout Troop 1855 in Oakdale performed traditional carols. “The girls’ hard work in preparing [for the day] earned them a music badge,” said OHS president MaryAnn Almes.  And members of the Bay Area Friends of the Fine Arts Choir volunteered to entertain in period dress. “These lovely ladies and gentlemen made time in their busy holiday schedules to sing for us,” Almes added.

Available for photos throughout the day inside the church were St. Nicholas (aka Steve Birkeland) and the bishop’s wife (Ginny Fields). When asked about the unlikely duo, Birkeland added facetiously, “it’s an Episcopal Church.”

St. John’s, also known as Charlotte Church, is the second-oldest Episcopal Church on Long Island; the oldest, Caroline Church, is located in Setauket. Charlotte was founded in 1765 as a Nicoll family chapel and was named for Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III.

Almes said holding the event at the church was a way to highlight local history, and it was all made possible by the many groups that participated. “It truly was a cooperative event. 

“We achieved all our objectives of the day, those being to raise awareness of our organization and the others involved; to invite our community into St. John’s landmark church; to educate about the Civil War; and most importantly, to share some holiday goodwill and cheer with Oakdale,” Almes said. “Mission accomplished – without snow!!”