In the early evening hours of December, the red brick streets of the small territorial-themed town of Guthrie, Oklahoma, were alive with the strains of Christmas carolers. With the clatter of turn-of-the-century carriages and the clatter of horses’ hooves on the streets, combined with the smell of warm, spiced cider, the crowds in their finest Victorian robes don’t seem at all out of place.
As one of the first communities to form after the Land Run of 1889 in Oklahoma, where thousands upon thousands of settlers lined up at the border of what was then Indian Territory, waiting for the starting gun to race and land to claim Guthrie holds firmly to his territorial Victorian roots.
Overnight, 10,000 settlers from the 1889 Land Run established the community of Guthrie, which became Oklahoma’s first territorial capital. The city was founded during the Victorian era and its surviving historic buildings and houses were built in the Victorian style. History comes alive on its streets every day.
During the holiday season, however, Guthrie is transformed into a Victorian-era Christmas wonderland with the multi-week Guthrie Territorial Christmas Celebrations.
“We are a Victorian town. We have the traditional Victorian brick buildings all over the city. We have beautiful Victorian homes that are still standing today and just walking through downtown really feels like stepping back in time,” said Shawna Rooney, secretary of the Guthrie Territorial Christmas Foundation.
“We wanted people to get something that they don’t get in other cities, like big lighted Christmas trees and ice rinks and Christmas chapels and stuff like that. We want you to feel like you’ve stepped back in time, especially as we still have Victorian architecture throughout the city.”
Over three separate weekends in November and December, the quaint southern town of Guthrie takes you on a Victorian Christmas with live reenactors, special performances, historic home tours and more.
Opening Weekend: Get into the spirit of Christmas in charming Guthrie
Opening weekend, which takes place on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving (November 26), is the only non-historic weekend of the Guthrie Territorial Christmas. This day’s events, running from 9am to 9pm, coincide with the city’s Small Business Saturday Shopping Event with a Small Business Saturday Sidewalk Sale and Street Fair in historic downtown Guthrie. Downtown is closed to pedestrian gaming, food and drink vendors, shopping, gaming and live entertainment until 5 p.m.
Opening Day celebrations continue into the evening with the annual Christmas parade and illuminations of the State Capitol Publishing Museum and Honor Park.
“During this nightly parade we have people running for territorial governor. They raise as many funds as they can, and whoever raises the most funds becomes our territorial governor for the year,” Rooney said.
“Then we light up the face of the State Capitol Publishing Museum and all the trees and railings in Honor Park that honors our veterans, and that’s our city’s version of a big Christmas tree.”
Take a journey back in time: The Victorian Walk is a journey into the past Christmas season
On the second and third Saturdays in December, historic downtown Guthrie is transformed into a Dickensian-era Christmas scene as vendors, street vendors, performers and patrons don their finest Victorian garb to shop, socialize and attend holiday events.
“Everyone wears Victorian clothes. We have reenactors and cimarron reenactors, territorial dance groups and live windows,” Rooney said.
“In the live windows you can watch women dressed in Victorian attire knitting, or see a Victorian Father Christmas and Mrs Claus sitting in a window. There are a lot of really cool displays to see. We even have steampunk groups this year that will have a light show at the end of the night.”
Visitors are not required to dress in Victorian robes but are more than encouraged to attend the celebration. The Guthrie Territorial Christmas Foundation even has a handy little fact sheet to help visitors “dress up” without putting in too much expense or hassle.
The Victorian holiday tradition, now in its 37th year, was started by the inner city merchants to pay homage to the small town’s history. Today it is one of the most popular Christmas events across the country.
Pro Tip: This year, the celebrations welcome the trendy “steampunk” reenactors. In the past, these Victorian walks only relied on costumes that fit the Territorial Victorian Christmas theme. To appeal to a wider and younger audience, steampunk clothing is now recommended, incorporating traditional Victorian pieces such as corsets, petticoats, suspenders and dresses, but with a edgier, almost post-apocalyptic feel.
Buy and win: Sweepstakes sweeten the deal
As part of Guthrie’s Shop Guthrie & Win promotion for $20 each spent at local merchants around town Through December 9, 2022, buyers will have a chance to win cash prizes of up to $3,000. In fact, over the opening weekend, shoppers can earn two $20 raffle tickets to be spent and winners will be drawn live during the final Victorian Walk event on December 10, 2022.
This charming small town has a wide variety of eclectic, unique shops offering homemade crafts, art, antiques, cowboy boots and apparel, boutique clothing and more.
Follow the music: carolers, carriage rides and sweets
Shopping and window watching isn’t the only fun to be had during the Guthrie Territorial Christmas events! Itinerant bands of Victorian-themed carol singers will perform throughout the evening, particularly at the State Capitol Publishing Museum, which will also serve hot cocoa and cider.
Historic Victorian carriages will whisk visitors through the red brick streets to marvel at Christmas displays and lights, while Victorian vendors sell homemade peanut brittle and other goodies along the shopping streets.
“We will have carriages that will take people anywhere in the city where vehicles are not allowed. We also have carriages that are just there to be photographed and looked at,” Rooney said.
“We also have a family who dress in Victorian costumes and carry around baskets full of peanut brittles and other Christmas treats that they sell on the street. So there is something going on everywhere.”
Victorian Mansions Come to Life: Guthrie’s Distinctive Home Tour
One of the biggest fundraisers for the Guthrie Territorial Christmas is the Distinctive Home Tour. In addition to the National Register of Historic Places area downtown, Guthrie’s residential areas also have original Victorian mansions and other distinctive, more modern homes to show off.
For $15, visitors can take a self-guided tour for an exclusive look at some of Guthrie’s most iconic homes and historic buildings, which are decorated for the holiday season on December 3 from 10am-4pm.
“We have between five and seven houses across town and they will all be completely decked out in Christmas decor,” Rooney said. “People invite you into the house and let you see all the Christmas decorations and tell you the history of the house. The tour also includes the Guthrie Territorial Museum and Carnegie Library, the Publishing Museum and our Methodist Church.” Tickets can be pre-booked online.
For a truly historic and unique Christmas experience in one of southern Oklahoma’s most charming towns, Guthrie Territorial Christmas is sure to transport you to a Victorian-era Christmas experience like no other.
For more information on traveling to Oklahoma, see these articles: