GLEN DALE, W.Va. (WTRF) — To walk into the Cockayne House at Christmastime is to step into a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.

With toys by the tree, the soft glow of flickering flames and a roaring fire preparing a home-cooked meal…this is the American dream in holiday form.

It’s Christmas with the Cockaynes—a recreation of the life of four generations of the Cockayne family, one of the first in the Glen Dale area.

Rather than just looking at their artifacts on a shelf, the farmstead lets visitors see history face-to-face.

A lot of museums will decorate, but I’ve never seen any where they put a story with it, and in costume.

Kara Gordon, Site Manager, Cockayne Farmstead

Guests are greeted by actors in the first-floor rooms of the historic house, each representing a different decade—the 1820s, the 1850s, the 1860s and the 1930s.

The family members are all dressed according to their time period, and speak in character on what their December 25th held for them.

It really feels like you’re immersed in the past in a different sort of way. There’s the sounds, the sights, the smells, the clothing, just the whole experience, really.

Kara Gordon, Site Manager, Cockayne Farmstead

The Cockaynes of the 1860s show off their very first Christmas tree just as they’re becoming fashionable…and the first images of Santa make their way into the papers.

Meanwhile in the ’30s, a young Sam Cockayne enjoys the new technology of 20th century life.

Creating such a portrait-perfect scene isn’t easy—it takes specific research to see how things really were.

Decorating the whole house is a colossal effort that requires a lot of people. So we usually have a decorating day and we make it fun.

Kara Gordon, Site Manager, Cockayne Farmstead

But the end result of the popcorn garlands, the candles and the handmade clothes is a realistic trip through the hardship and change of West Virginia life…and the origin of the small developments that led to Christmas as we know it.

I think a lot of times people can feel disconnected from their heritage, people can feel disconnected from the past. It’s very nice to be an interpreter and to bring these old stories back to life.

Jariel Henthorn, Plays Elizabeth Cockayne Caldwell

And proving that we can sympathize with and learn from our ancestors, as long as there are people willing to retell their stories.

They were people just like you and I are.

Jariel Henthorn, Plays Elizabeth Cockayne Caldwell