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‘History Chat’ explores holiday traditions

WESTFIELD-For residents who enjoy sharing their memories of life in Westfield, the next History Chat at the Westfield Athenaeum explores winter holiday traditions.

The chat, hosted by Kate Deviny, Athenaeum director, and Susan Creighton, archives and museum coordinator, is slated Dec. 4 from 2 – 3 p.m. in the Elizabeth Reed Room. The topic is “Celebrating the Winter Holidays” and the event is free and open to the public.

“We want to hear from folks what winter holiday traditions they had growing up that have remained meaningful to them,” said Deviny, adding, “pictures, letters and memorabilia are always welcome.”

Creighton noted that the holiday season is oftentimes when family traditions are observed.

“Sharing those memories keeps them alive and adds to our knowledge of what it was like to live in Westfield,” said Creighton. “Westfield is a city that has welcomed a number of different ethnic and cultural groups, all of whom bring their own special holiday traditions with them, and learning about what those are helps paint a more vivid picture of Westfield’s unique history.”

While Deviny and Creighton will lead off the discussion with a brief favorite holiday tradition of their own, they are more interested in hearing from attendees.

“We’ll also have some information from the archives to share about winter holiday traditions from the past in Westfield,” said Creighton.

A new exhibit in the front lobby cases will also be on display in December that focuses on cooking in Westfield – since cooking is often a part of holiday traditions, added Creighton.

“We’ll be showcasing some different cookbooks and recipes from different eras in Westfield, as well as some history of how food was prepared, and a display of historic cooking utensils,” said Creighton. “Some of the cooking utensils date back to the 1700s.”

For everyone who attends the gathering, there will be handouts of an apple pie recipe that has lasted through the decades.

“We’ll have four different recipes from different times spanning the mid-1800s to today,” said Creighton.

A smaller display in the Reed Room will also tie into the history chat discussion.

Creighton noted the goal of the Archives Department is to preserve Westfield history, and that includes people’s experiences.

“It’s so valuable to learn about Westfield’s history firsthand from people in Westfield,” said Creighton. “Even if your everyday experiences now don’t seem noteworthy, it’s worth remembering that in another 100 years, it will be a treasure to someone to have firsthand accounts of what life in Westfield was like.”

Creighton added that our experiences today are the future’s history.

“We try to focus on topics that speak to the everyday experiences of living in Westfield,” she said. “Even if folks think they have nothing to say or talk about, they might find that comments from others spark thoughts and memories to share.”

Both women also noted that the history chats with people’s personal reminiscences can “help fill in the gaps in our knowledge” from what is in the archives.

Creighton noted that a new feature of the chats includes recording them with a high-quality microphone. The archival-quality recording will be kept in the archives as an oral history conversation.

“As a result, researchers in the future can listen to the voices of Westfield residents talking about their own experiences,” said Creighton.

At the beginning of each chat, Creighton talks about privacy and permission with the participants, and if there is anyone who chooses not to be recorded, their wish is respected.

“If people agree, they sign a simple permission form granting us permission to record them, and share the recorded conversation with any interested researchers who come to the archives,” said Creighton.

Creighton added that conducting a history chat as a group has several advantages.

“First, if someone can’t remember particular details of some event, others will often help fill in the gaps,” said Creighton. “Collective memory is a valuable thing here! Second, doing it as a group conversation puts everyone at ease, and most times, everyone has spoken up about something by the end of the chat.”

For more information on the gathering, call (413) 568-7833 or visit

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