Evolving Christmas Traditions in Union Mills

Evolving Christmas Traditions in Union Mills

A Christmas Eve poem written in 1886 has been brought to life by a video that highlights some of the evolving Christmas traditions of the families that lived at Union Mills in the nineteenth century. The author, Louis E. Shriver of Union Mills, dedicated the verses to his nieces Winnie and Catherine Shriver. Louis lived in the Union Mills Homestead. His nieces, daughters of Lou’s brother Wirt and his wife Mary, lived with their family on the east side of the old home. The girls found the poem on Christmas morning among their gifts and cherished it as a special letter from Santa Claus.

German Holiday Traditions

Louis Shriver

The poem is notable in reflecting the extent to which Santa Claus had become a part of local Christmas traditions by 1886. Maryland families like the Shrivers that descended from German immigrants had marked Christmas for generations with the Belsnickel and Kris Kindle traditions. Belsnickel was a fearsome character who would make his rounds as a scout of sorts for Kris Kindle prior to Christmas. Kris Kindle (or Christ Child) was the gift bearer for children during the Christmas season. Kris Kindle was a product of the Protestant Reformation, part of an effort to deemphasize the role of St. Nicholas in holiday giving. Santa Claus became popular in the U.S. in the beginning of the nineteenth century, a variant of the Dutch St. Nicholas tradition.

Louis Shriver, who grew up with the Belsnickle and Kris Kindle, fully embraced Santa Claus for his nieces in 1886. The poem involves Santa’s visits to both the Catholic and Protestant Shriver families living in Union Mills, across from each other on the Littlestown Pike. Santa encounters several obstacles along the way, including a mishap on the steep slate roof of the B.F. Shriver family’s home and a few too many ciders in the Homestead’s old kitchen.

Shriver Descendants Collaborate on Video Production

This video rendition of Louis Shriver’s poem is distinguished because members of the Shriver family, directly descended from the Shrivers who lived at Union Mills back in 1886, as well as members of the Union Mills community, deliver the lines of the poem. The cast recorded their segments with smart phones and provided the footage to the Historical Society of Carroll County for editing. The effort was born of a review of local Christmas traditions maintained in the research files of the Historical Society of Carroll County, and produced with the assistance of the Union Mills Homestead Foundation, Inc.

B.F. Shriver Family Home

Avalon, the B.F. Shriver Family home, with the steep slate roofs causing a mishap for Santa in Lou Shriver’s 1886 poem.

The poem’s presenters are: Helen Shriver Riley, granddaughter of B.F. Shriver; Doug Klein, grandson of Winifred Shriver Klein, the Winnie to whom the poem is addressed; Jen Weidman Schoener, a great-granddaughter of Winifred Shriver Klein; Frank Shriver, grandson of B.F. Shriver; Mark Kennedy Shriver, son of R. Sargent Shriver, Jr., whose mother was a young child living in Union Mills in 1886; Bill Jones, grandson of Jeanette Shriver Jones, one of the three children of B.F. Shriver mentioned in the poem, living up on the hill; James M. Shriver, III, B.F. Shriver descendant and Union Mills resident; Jane S. Sewell, Homestead Foundation Executive Director; Sam Riley, Foundation Board President; Eve Klein, great granddaughter of Winifred Shriver Klein; and Jane Sharpe, Union Mills area resident and long-time Homestead Foundation Board Member.

We hope you enjoy this holiday production!


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  1. Merry Christmas to all especially all us Shrivers. My Grandma was one of those three girls in the house on the hill. Her wonder and joy was passed to my mom and her brothers snd sisters. May they all rejoice in heaven that we resurgence with this wonderful poem on Christmas Eve. Thank you.

  2. My family lives in the home built by HMJ & Winefred Shriver Klein. I’ve enjoyed learning about this amazing family & would love to learn more about them if any of their descendants would be willing to connect.

  3. Delightful, fresh with charming old photos of ancestors and Santa. Good to see all those who participated in making this … a fun project all around. Thank you and Christmas and NewYear’s Blessings to All.

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