Local museums go all out for the holidays, using them not only as a crowd-pleaser but also as educational tools that reinforce their missions. Here are some don’t-miss favorites.
Longwood Gardens Christmas
Through January 11
One of the season’s most eye-popping spectacles, this celebration showcases the horticultural gem’s floral displays, which last year included winterberry, winter-flowering begonias, tulips, amaryllis, narcissus, cyclamen, snapdragons and, of course, thousands of scarlet poinsettias. Guests also gasp when they enter the Music Room, which traditionally depicts a room decked out for the holidays. Last year the room was outfitted in silver and white for a glittery feast. This year it will become a sumptuous country gentleman’s retreat.
It’s fun to wander inside the 4.5-acre conservatory, especially in winter, but the wonder extends beyond the towering glass walls. Consider the more than 500,000 outdoor lights draped on 74 trees, an outdoor skating rink, music and a collection of Christmas trees.
The display attracts about 200,000 visitors each year. “The Christmas season is the busiest time of the year at Longwood,” says Amy Shearer, head of marketing and public relations. “For some guests, it may be the only time of the year they visit, so it is important to us that the spectacular gardens, outdoor lights, ice skating shows and concerts create a truly memorable experience.”
The increasing traffic has prompted a new timed ticket admission fee. Tickets are issued for specific dates and times, limiting the number of guests who can tour during each period. Call (610) 388-1000.
Yuletide at Winterthur
Through January 4
During the holidays, select rooms in Winterthur, an American Country Estate, the former home of Henry Francis du Pont, are repositories for past and present traditions. Last year, for instance, tableaux demonstrated how, over the course of the 19th century, the holidays evolved from an adult-centric celebration in the colonial period to a child-centric festival.
The focus this year is on “generations of celebrations,” says Vicki Saltzman, senior communications manager. “We’re looking at different types of holiday celebrations, not just here at Winterthur but at other du Pont houses.”
For the first time, Winterthur will display a giant poinsettia tree, which will be located in the conservatory. The tree was a mainstay at Mt. Cuba, the former home of Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland.
Elegant tablescapes designed by Tiffany & Co. will add a touch of holiday style to the Winterthur conservatory. Lavish tabletop settings will flank the stunning pink poinsettia tree, adding Tiffany’s inimitable style to this year’s Yuletide sights.
One room in Winterthur will pay tribute to the du Pont family’s practice of calling on relatives on New Year’s Day, a tradition since the 1800s, Saltzman says. Male members of the family make the rounds while females stay home to serve refreshments to the gentlemen, who bring small gifts, such as chocolate. “By the end of the day, there’s lots of chocolate,” Saltzman notes.
The 45- to 50-minute tours typically include the fifth floor, home to the conservatory, the du Pont dining room and the Chinese Parlor. The parlor was created from three rooms to showcase a full set of 18th-century Chinese wallpaper that du Pont purchased.
Last year the yuletide event also included the sixth floor, and this year, the fourth floor will receive the spotlight. As usual, The Court, which is comprised of four historic houses’ facades, will also be highlighted.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for Tuesdays in December, which are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The museum is closed on Christmas Day.
Admission, which includes entrance to the galleries and garden, is $22 for adults, $20 for seniors and students, and $12 for children ages 2-11. For information, call 888-4600 or visit www.winterthur.org.
Page 2: Visit a Museum continues…
Christmas at Hagley Museum & Library
Through January 1
The ancestral home of the du Pont family, Eleutherian Mills, is bedecked to befit the season—and its history. Built in 1803, the Georgian-style residence housed five generations of the family before opening to the public in 1964. The last owner and the home’s restorer, Louise du Pont Crowninshield, lived here in the spring and fall. Raised at Winterthur, which later became her brother Henry’s home, she was a founding trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
During the holidays, guides discuss notable family heirlooms, such as the painting of DuPont Co. founder Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, as well as seasonal traditions. For instance, raspberries—grown in greenhouses—were a holiday favorite. Dried flowers and leaves served as festive decorations. Today the stunning wreaths and garlands are made on site.
The dining room is ready for Twelfth Night, which marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas and the coming of Epiphany, a Christian feast day that celebrates the magis’ visit to Jesus. While in the room, check out the wallpaper, which illustrates the many cultures that comprised the original American colonies. The Frenchman who created the work had never been to America, and in places that shows. Native Americans look more like Arabs.
The house also features a 3-foot feather tree decorated with hand-carved miniature toy animals. The trees, made with hand-dyed goose feathers, were all the rage in 19th-century Germany due to deforestation.
This year Hagley’s event will highlight children’s toys, including alphabet blocks and a French porcelain miniature tea service from the late 18th century, which entertained E.I.’s daughter Sophie. “There’s even a version of Old Maid from 1887,” says Meg Marcozzi, public relations coordinator.
Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Museum admission is $11 for adults, $9 for students and senior citizens, $4 for children 6-14, and free for children under 6. Call 658-2400, or visit www.hagley.org.
A Brandywine Christmas 2008
Through January 1
The Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford is part of the Brandywine Conservancy, which has been instrumental in permanently protecting more than 40,000 acres of land. The relationship is celebrated during the holidays, when the museum displays trees decorated with ornaments made from natural materials, including pine cones, teasel and milkweed pods. “Nothing is dyed, painted or tinted,” says Lora Englehart, public relations coordinator. “The only thing that is not natural is the glue.” Even the trees are real.
Children and adults will have difficulty leaving the toy train exhibit. Shiny silver and gold trains chug around the track, creating a delightful cacophony. The sleek engines streak past miniature neon signs and, last year, a tiny drive-in theater complete with real movies and teeny speaker boxes for car windows.
The special art exhibit will feature seasonal images from the museum’s collection of works by such artists as Winslow Homer, Maxfield Parrish and Jesse Wilcox Smith. In addition, the museum will showcase jewelry by Donald Pywell, who in the 1980s began creating custom pieces for the Wyeth family inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s work. T. Mark Cole has crafted shadowboxes for the jewelry that, like a frame, complements the art.
The museum is open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except Christmas. December 26-30, hours extend until 6 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults; $5 for seniors 65-plus, students with ID and children ages 6-12; and free for children under 6 and Brandywine Conservancy members. On January 10 the museum will offer free admission. Call (610) 388-2700 or visit www.brandywinemuseum.org.
Historic Houses of Odessa
Through December 30
Actress Anne Hathaway isn’t the only one who’s Becoming Jane. This season, the Historic Houses of Odessa’s holiday theme is A Jane Austen Christmas: Vignettes of Customs and Traditions. Thanks to its Georgian style, the Corbit-Sharp house will serve as the theme’s centerpiece. Expect a thoroughly Austen holiday with plenty of mistletoe, holly and ivy. Each room will demonstrate how 18th-century revelers either celebrated the holidays or prepared for them. Expect games and charades in the parlor, a Twelfth Night ball in the upstairs parlor and a table dressed for a Christmas feast in the dining room.
Hours are 10 a.m to 4:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. The houses will be closed December 24-25. The fee is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, $5 for children ages 6-11, and free for children 5 and under. Call 378-4119 or visit www.historicodessa.org.
Page 3: Go Nutty | The holidays wouldn’t be the same without “The Nutcracker,” the fairy tale ballet set to Tchaikovsky’s music.
The holidays wouldn’t be the same without “The Nutcracker,” the fairy tale ballet set to Tchaikovsky’s music. Mark your calendar for these performances.
December 6-7 The Ballet Theatre of Dover this year will perform at the Schwartz Center for the Arts. Performances are at 2 p.m. each day and also at 7 p.m. on December 6. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students, children and senior citizens. Call the center for tickets, 678-5152 or (800) 778-5078.
December 13-14 Anna Marie Dance Studio’s performances are 2 p.m. both days at Archmere Academy in Claymont. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for seniors and children under 12. Call 475-3949.
December 13-14 The Delaware Dance Company’s 25th anniversary of “The Nutcracker” at John Dickinson Theatre in John Dickinson High School is at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday and on 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets range from $18 to $30, depending on the seat location. Children 10 and under receive $5 off the ticket price. Call 738-2023.
December 5-7 The Sussex Ballet’s fifth annual production of “The Nutcracker” is at Cape Henlopen High School’s Little Theatre in Lewes. Performance times are 7 p.m. each day and also at 1 p.m. on December 7. Tickets are $16 for adults, $12 for seniors and children 12 and under. Call 645-7855.
Page 4: Taste It
December 2, 9, 16 & 23 The Belin House Restaurant on the grounds at Hagley Museum and Library is offering a Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to accompany the museum’s holiday exhibit. The cost is $14.95 for adults and $6.95 for children 12 and under, excluding gratuity. You must pay extra for your “bloodies” and Mimosas. Call 425-5540.
December 5, 12 & 19 Enjoy free holiday concerts in the Garden Cafeteria at Winterthur, an American Country Estate from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
December 6 Have your child’s photo taken with Santa from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at the Kennett Senior Center before breakfast, which lasts until 11:30 a.m. Call (610) 444-8188 or visit www.historickennettsquare.com for fees and further information.
December 6, 13, 20 Breakfast with Santa takes on a certain savoir faire when it’s held at Winterthur, an American Country Estate. Santa hosts the buffet, which in addition to food features stories and holiday crafts. The breakfasts are at 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Call 888-4826 for reservations.
December 7 A singing Santa will make an appearance at the Rehoboth Beach Main Street’s Community Unity Spaghetti Dinner at the Convention Center from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nicola Pizza will provide the food and the Tim Laushey Trio will provide the fun. The cost is $8 for adults and $5 for seniors. Children under 12 are admitted free if accompanied by a paying adult. Call 227-2772.
December 13 Santa will join children for breakfast at 10 a.m. at the Kennett Inn. The cost is $10.50 for adults and $7.50 for children. Call (610) 444-8188 or visit www.historickennettsquare.com.
December 13-14, 20-21 Breakfast with Santa at 8 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. before taking in the flora and fauna at Longwood Gardens. The cost is $34 for ages 12 and up, and $20 for ages 5-11. Children under 4 get in free. The fee includes admission to Longwood. Call (610) 388-1000.
December 20-23, 26-31 and January 3-4 Longwood Gardens hosts its Yuletide Buffet with carving stations, sides, soups and desserts at 8 p.m. each day. Reservations are required. The fee is $48 for ages 12 and up and $22 for ages 5-11. Children under 4 are admitted free. Groups are welcome. Call (610) 388-1000, ext. 512.
December 21 The Bernard and Ruth Siegel Jewish Community Center in North Wilmington continues its Jewish baking series with latkas at 3 p.m. “Children come with a parent—they’re not dropped off,” says Katie Glazier, assistant director for special projects. “It’s an activity for them to do together.” The cost is $10 for each parent-child team for JCC members and $15 for nonmembers. Each additional child is a $5 flat fee. Visit www.siegeljcc.org or call 478-5660.
Page 5: Take a Tour | Collect some holiday decorating ideas on these popular home tours.
Collect some holiday decorating ideas on these popular home tours.
December 6 The 35th annual Christmas Tour of Lewes gives participants a gander at some of the area’s most historic homes, along with Historical Society of Lewes’ properties. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 the day of the tour. For information, call 645-7670.
December 7, 14, 21, 28 Horse-drawn Carriage Rides. Tours aren’t confined to two legs. Kennett Square offers free downtown carriage rides from noon to 3 p.m. every Sunday in December. The rides start from the Genesis site on State Street. “It’s a fun way to see downtown,” says Mary Hutchins, executive director of Historic Kennett Square.
December 13 Part of the Milton Holly Festival, the Holiday House Tour in Milton showcases many historic homes. The tour, which runs from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., is $10 in advance and $12 the day of the event. Proceeds benefit the Milton Theatre. Caroling in Milton Park begins after the tour. Call 684-3400.
December 13 As part of the annual New Castle Spirit of Christmas House Tour, about six homes receive visitors from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. There’s no fee, and the event is followed by a tree-lighting ceremony. Call 328-3279.
December 13 Georgetown Historical Society’s Christmas House Tour usually features eight to nine houses, and runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fees to be determined. Call 855-9660.
December 13 Delaware Art Museum Holiday House Tour, sponsored by the volunteer Delaware Art Museum Council, takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and coincides with holiday activities held at the museum on the same day. This year, there are 10 destinations, including the museum, where there will be live holiday music, refreshments and vendors selling crafts. Though not Christmas-y per se, the miniature exhibit has become a holiday tradition. Major works of art on a miniature scale appear in dioramas. Visitors vote on their favorites. The exhibit runs through January 11. The fee for the house tour is $25. Call 571-9590.
December 14 The annual Holiday Home Tour of Kennett Square, which runs from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., features more than 10 homes in the borough. “Many are older homes, but they don’t have to be old to participate,” says Mary Hutchins, executive director of Historic Kennett Square. You can walk to many of them. Tickets, priced at $20, are available online at www.historickennettsquare.com, or call (610) 444-8188.
Page 6: Sing a Song
December 2 Caroling in the Square was long known as Caroling on the Square. The event was renamed to promote Wilmington’s In This Together campaign. The event, which begins at 7 p.m, draws several celebrities, both local and international. “Santa will help the mayor light the tree,” says Beverly Zimmermann, program manager for Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. Visit www.ci.wilmingotn.de.us.
December 8 Caroling on The Circle which starts at 6:30 p.m., doubles as a community food drive, so bring a canned good or other nonperishable food item. Sponsored by the Sussex County Council, the event is held regardless of weather. If it’s raining or snowing, the group will take shelter in the Georgetown Fire Hall, just a block from The Circle. Call 855-7700.
December 10 Caroling on The Green in Dover might include a few politicians among the warblers. The event traditionally starts at 7 p.m. Call 678-0892 to confirm.
December 14 Christ Church’s choir will perform “Messiah” in Greenville beginning at 3 p.m. Call 655-3379.
December 27 Singer Shira Kline will perform a Hanukkah concert at the Bernard and Ruth Siegel Jewish Community Center in North Wilmington at 6:30 p.m. Kline, who recently released a CD of Hanukkah tunes, writes original songs about such subjects as Shabbat and Passover. “This is a big thing for us,” says Katie Glazier, assistant director for special projects. Admission is $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Packages are available that include the CD and the opportunity to light a menorah candle on stage. Come early at 6 p.m. for a jelly donut. Visit www.siegeljcc.org or call 478-5660.
Page 7: Go Celebrate
December 1 Rehoboth Beach Hometown Christmas Parade, which begins at 6:30 p.m., starts at State Road and travels east to the boardwalk, then west to the convention center. Visit with Santa afterward. Call 441-8615.
December 5 Newark salutes the season with Winterfest, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the Academy Building lawn at Main and Academy streets. Roast chestnuts, watch an ice-carving demonstration, sing carols and enjoy holiday music. The event is free. Call 366-7060.
December 6 Lewes’ 77th Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade begins at Lewes Middle School at 5 p.m. and ends with Santa’s arrival at King’s Ice Cream at Market Street. Afterward, the town will head to Zwaanendael Park for the tree-lighting and caroling. The event is part of a three-day festivity that starts on December 4 with Hospitality Night, which showcases Lewes merchants.
December 13 The annual Holly Festival, held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., is a beloved tradition in Milton, once called the Holly Capital of the World. The town at one time produced more holiday holly wreaths and decorations than anywhere else, which is why the American holly is the state tree. Look for—what else?—holly wreath-making demonstrations, hot cider and cookies. Kids can make Victorian Christmas ornaments. The festival is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Milton Fire Hall. Visit www.HistoricMilton.com. The Milton Museum from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. will feature an exhibition on the holly wreath industry on that day.
December 13 New Castle Spirit of Christmas, sponsored by the New Castle Presbyterian Church and the New Castle Visitors’ Bureau, runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Expect vendors selling holiday gift items, a tree-lighting ceremony, food and a house tour. The fundraiser will focus on $20 gifts with donation, which benefits the Friendship House, a shelter for homeless people. “You get a valuable gift for $20, because that’s what you want to have and we let you know what that $20 will buy at Friendship House,” says Irv Lipp, a member of the New Castle Presbyterian Church. “All the money goes to charity. Last year we raised $5,000.” Call 328-3279.
Page 8: Luminaries
Longwood Gardens and Winterthur, an American Country Estate, are known for dazzling displays, especially during the holidays. But without the talents of lighting geniuses Mack Truax of Winterthur and Troy Sellers of Longwood, seeing them would be impossible.
Truax is responsible for all indoor lighting systems in Winterthur’s period rooms and exhibit galleries. By working with partially concealed track lighting and Lutron dimmers in period rooms, he creates the effect of natural lighting while protecting the integrity of paints and textiles.
“Fading is just the beginning of the damage light can do to textiles,” Truax says. “An item’s chemical composition can also be altered due to the heat from the bulbs and lamps.”
Lighting plays a major role in showcasing Winterthur’s gallery exhibitions, most notably the current exhibit, “Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table,” which reveals a view of the evolution of cutlery. Felice Jo Lamden, director of exhibitions at Winterthur, says Truax’s ability to enhance displays with various lighting techniques is what makes him “truly a genius.”
Troy Sellers is the man behind the sweeping outdoor feats of illuminated creativity at Longwood. He starts with 77 robust trees, then blankets them with 500,000 bulbs and 23 miles of cord. It takes 70 horticulturists a year to create the yuletide spectacle.
It may seem that lighting thousands of bulbs zaps any chance of energy conservation. Not so. Longwood’s use of diode bulbs and lamps cuts down significantly on the garden’s power usage.
“The diode bulbs are durable and watertight,” says Sellers. “They use so much less power than regular lighting.” His prediction: “Those bulbs will take over the whole market eventually.” —Emily Riley