It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
● By J. Chambless
Longwood Gardens is decorated inside and out for the holidays.
With Thanksgiving on Thursday, it's time to start the Christmas season in Chester County, and there's nothing like visiting a traditional holiday favorite to get the whole family in the Christmas mood. Our area has world-class attractions that you might not have visited for a few years, so make a point of getting out to see what's new -- and what remains delightfully the same -- at these holiday events.
A Brandywine Christmas
The museum’s model train display, a family holiday favorite since 1972, offers a dazzling array of both toy and scale model trains made by Lionel, Williams, Atlas, Mike’s Train House, K-line and others. With more than 1,000 pieces -- including locomotives, passenger and freight trains, and trolleys, all moving along 2,000 feet of track -- the Brandywine Railroad is one of the largest modular model railroad installations in the world. At the Brandywine River Museum of Art, "A Brandywine Christmas" offers visitors of all ages a spectacular holiday experience, with a gallery filled with a model train display, another filled with dozens of antique dolls ranging in size from 3 to 30 inches, along with holiday trees decorated for the season with handmade "Critter" ornaments. The museum is open late on Thursdays in December, with dinner available.
On view on the museum’s first floor, "A Holiday Fantasy: The Ann Wyeth McCoy Doll Collection" features a stunning collection of antique dolls. Approximately three dozen dolls are placed for the holiday season in a grand dollhouse filled with hundreds of miniature objects. On one side are six rooms from a large-scale dollhouse, filled with hundreds of miniature objects. Larger dolls, up to 30 inches tall, will appear nearby in two holiday vignettes. Ann Wyeth McCoy (1915-2005) started her doll collection as a young girl and added to it throughout her life.
Critters are distinctive ornaments and tabletop decorations, each made by hand using natural materials. Each Critter has its own unique personality and expression -- no two are exactly the same. From animals to angels and stars, the decorations come in all shapes and sizes. Using their imaginations, volunteers work with raw materials such as pine cones, acorns, egg shells, flowers and seed pods, to give each piece its own unique personality and expression.
Brandywine volunteers have been creating critters for more than 40 years, with all proceeds benefitting the Volunteers’ Art Purchase Fund, and art education and programming. The annual Critter Sale starts on Dec. 1 from 5 to 9 p.m., and continues on Dec. 2, 3, and 4 from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The museum will be open until 9 p.m. on Thursday evenings, Dec. 1, 8, 15, and 22, with musical performances, drop-in creative art activities for all ages, and holiday tours. The Millstone Café will serve dinner until 8 p.m. with a different holiday entrée each evening, and stay open until 9 p.m. to serve beverages and desserts.
Special holiday events and activities will take place throughout the season. The list of events includes:
The Polar Express Read-Aloud Pajama Night family program
Thursday, Dec. 1, 7 to 8 p.m.
Children are invited to wear their pajamas as they delight in the tale of "The Polar Express" and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies. Tickets are limited. $15 for adults; $8 for children, including museum admission.
Children’s Christmas Party
Wednesday, Dec. 7, 6 to 8 p.m.
Visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus and enjoy entertainment, costumed characters, face painting, model trains, antique dolls, trees adorned with hundreds of Critters, and Cookie Land. $15 for adults; $12 for members; $5 for children ages 3 to 11; free for member children and children under age 3.
Breakfast with the Trains all-ages program
Saturdays, Dec. 10 and 17, 8:30 to 10 a.m.
Join a behind-the-scenes visit to the Brandywine Railroad. Discover how the extensive layout is created, and the complicated multitasking it takes to keep everything running. This before-hours event includes a private tour of the trains in action with the railroad’s engineer, special activities for the youngest train fans and a continental breakfast in the Millstone Café. Children will receive a Brandywine Railroad souvenir; ages 3 and older accompanied by an adult are welcome. Tickets are limited. $25 per person.
Christmas with the Dolls family program
Saturday, Dec. 17, 11 a.m. to noon
Bring your favorite doll to the museum for a morning of creative crafts and light refreshments. Participants will cut and color paper dolls based on the Ann Wyeth McCoy doll collection, make matching bracelets for themselves and their dolls, and enjoy an informal tea party. Best for ages 3 and older accompanied by an adult. $15 for adults; $8 for children, includes museum admission.
Terrific Trains family program
Saturday, Jan. 7, 10 a.m. to noon
See the Brandywine Railroad one more time before it’s all tucked away for another year, and create a colorful train to display at home.
The Brandywine River Museum of Art is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day) and is on Route 1 in Chadds Ford. For more information, call 610-388-2700 or visit www.brandywinemuseum.org.
A Longwood Christmas
"A Longwood Christmas" rings in the holiday season at Longwood Gardens with a musically inspired display from Nov. 24 to Dec. 8. Explore the warm four-acre Conservatory and be enchanted by more than 50 trees adorned with an array of red, gold, and green glass ornaments. Outside, illuminated stars twinkle above, colorful fountains dance to holiday music, and a half-million lights brighten the night.
Inside the Conservatory, 16,000 seasonal plants, including poinsettias, cyclamen, and anthurium, flourish. A 30-foot floral tree takes center stage, formed with poinsettias, euphorbias, and white phalaenopsis orchids. The Music Room décor features an 18-foot Fraser Fir tree rotating in a wooden music box decorated with a garland of real musical instruments. Guests entering the Conservatory will see a 22-foot tall Concolor Fir nestled next to an antique baby grand piano, with flowing lights traveling up the tree, decorated with red and gold ornaments.
Throughout the season, Longwood’s Grand Ballroom will feature free and ticketed holiday-inspired performances, as well as daily holiday sing-alongs performed on Longwood’s pipe organ. Strolling Olde Towne Carolers add to the holiday charm Thursday through Sunday from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. For a complete listing of performances, visit www.longwoodgardens.org.
More than 500,000 outdoor lights adorn 124 trees, with the tallest topping more than 90 feet. Outdoor favorites return, including the illuminated Italian Water Garden, and a 10-foot Concolor Fir in the Hourglass Lake Pavilion, ornamented with materials found in the Meadow Garden. The popular Wildlife Tree entices animals to nibble on edible ornaments made from wheat, apples and birdseed. The Gardener’s Tree showcases gardeners’ creativity with handcrafted ornaments and garland made with angel vine and burlap draping the 26–foot Concolor Norway.
Created by Longwood craftsmen and local artisans, three fire pits will be placed throughout the Gardens, allowing guests to warm up by the fire with loved ones. The fire pits will be available every night throughout the holiday season, weather permitting.
In the Open Air Theatre, fountains dance day and night to holiday classics. Young and old will delight in Longwood’s outdoor train display, located near the Birdhouse Treehouse, as it travels past miniature Longwood landmarks lit for the holiday season. In the historic Chimes Tower, the 62–bell carillon plays holiday music every half-hour.
On New Year’s Eve, Longwood offers a variety of performances for the family. Organ music will fill the Ballroom from 3 to 9 p.m., Rob Dickinson and the Brandywine Christmas Minstrels perform from 2 to 8 p.m. throughout the Gardens, Galena Brass will create a festive atmosphere at the Peirce du Pont House from 4 to 9 p.m., while rhythmic Steel Drums take center stage at the East Plaza.
Admission to the Christmas display is by Timed Admission Ticket, with tickets purchased in advance for a specific date and time. There is no admittance to the gardens without a timed admission ticket. Guests should buy their tickets before arriving at the Gardens to ensure admittance. Tickets can be purchased online at www.longwoodgardens.org.
For more information, visit www.longwoodgardens.org or call 610-388-1000.
Holidays at Hagley
Celebrate the season at Hagley Museum and Library with "Holidays at Hagley," on display from Nov. 25 to Jan. 1.
“Holidays at Hagley” features Eleutherian Mills, the original du Pont family home, specially decorated for the holiday season.
This year’s decorative theme, “A Child’s Delight,” will evoke memories of past holidays and remind visitors of the delight in children’s eyes when they notice their gifts for the first time. Decorations will feature toys, games, and dolls, including a case filled with small ceramic animals well-loved by some of the du Pont family children. Child-related items will also be part of the display, including an early 20th-century stroller called an Oriole. The Christmas décor at Hagley is designed to give visitors a taste of what it might have been like to experience the holiday season with the du Pont family at Eleutherian Mills. The house will be decorated with dried flowers, fruit, greenery, and other natural materials, along with soft lights and Christmas music.
Visitors can also experience early du Pont family French holiday traditions with a display of gifts that were given to E.I. du Pont’s children on New Year’s Day, as well as displays commemorating the celebration of Twelfth Night, or “le Jour des Rois,” a holiday based around the Epiphany. The museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The holiday display is included in the cost of admission and is free for members. Visitors should use the main museum entrance off of Route 141.
Hagley’s popular Twilight Tours of Eleutherian Mills will also be returning this holiday season. Twilight Tours offer a chance to explore the du Pont residence at nightfall. Tours will be offered Tuesdays and Wednesdays from Dec. 13 through 28. Tours are $10 per person and free for Hagley members, and will run every 30 minutes from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Reservations are required; call 302-658-2400, ext. 261.
The Hagley Museum Store will feature a selection of special holiday merchandise including books, gifts, and children’s items. The store will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with hours extended until 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in December for Twilight Tours of the residence.
For more information, call 302-658-2400 weekdays or visit www.hagley.org.
Yuletide at Winterthur
Discover one of the Brandywine Valley's most spectacular holiday showcases as you tour Henry Francis du Pont's dazzling former home, decorated in holiday style. The majestic dried-flower tree is on view in the Conservatory and features more than 60 varieties of flowers.
This year's Yuletide Tour highlights the holidays through the eyes of children. Kids of all ages will delight in our new 18-room dollhouse mansion, decorated for Christmas and filled with more than 1,000 treasures. The 6-foot-by-3-foot, slate-roofed, fully electrified dollhouse, inspired by Queen Mary's Dolls' House, was assembled by creator Nancy McDaniel over 30 years and recently gifted to Winterthur.
In addition to this miniature masterpiece, visitors will also enjoy viewing American Christmas vignettes, from skating and sleigh ride scenes inspired by the work of Currier & Ives to a Mississippi family's holiday decorations on the eve of the Civil War, to the White House in the early 1900s, and more.
For tickets and information, call 800-448-3883. Reservations are recommended. Open New Year’s Day. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Winterthur is open daily (including Mondays) during Yuletide, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The last Yuletide Tour is at 3:30 p.m. The Visitor Center Café and Cottage Café are open until 4 p.m. Galleries and stores are open until 5:30 p.m. There will be exrtended hours on Nov. 23 and 30, Dec. 7, 14 and 21 from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Yuletide Jazz & Wine
6 to 8:30 p.m.
Enjoy extended hours on Nov. 25 and 26, and Dec. 26 and 27. Last Yuletide Tour tickets sold at 4 p.m. Galleries stay open until 6 p.m. Stores stay open until 6 p.m.
Yuletide Brunch with Santa
Dec. 17 and 18, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Santa will appear from 9 to 11 a.m. Tickets are $34.95 per person (children ages 2 to 12, half-off; children under 2 are free). For reservations, call 302-888-4826.
Holiday Brunch with Dickens
Thursday, Dec. 8, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
There will be light fare food stations, soft beverages, and a special appearance from Gerald Charles Dickens. Reservations and advance payment required ($30 per person). Reservations can be made through firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 302-888-4826.
Glass Matters Wine Seminar and Tasting
Hosted by Riedel, The Wine Glass Company, on Dec. 4 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Brown Horticulture Learning Center. This seminar features Riedel crystal and delicious wine. The speaker will demonstrate how the shape of the glass influences our perception and enjoyment of the wine. Price includes comparative tasting of four different wines and four crystal glasses from Riedel's Veritas Collection to take home (a retail value of $138). Purchase tickets online or by calling 800-448-3883. Tickets to this event include admission to Yuletide Jazz & Wine in the Galleries Reception Atrium on that evening.
Yuletide Touch-It Room Hours
Monday to Friday, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.; weekends, 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.
University of Delaware Chorale Performs 'Carols by Candlelight' (Dec. 11, 4 to 4:45 p.m.). $10 per member ($20 per non-member, $5 per child ages 10 to 17. Advance purchase recommended.
Dec. 18, 1 p.m., Copeland Lecture Hall. All ages will get in the spirit as the award-winning Chesapeake Silver Cornet Brass Band performs holiday favorites. $10 per member ($20 per non-member, $5 per child ages 10 to 17. Reservations encouraged.
Live Performance of 'A Christmas Carol'
Dec. 7 at 1 p.m., Dec. 8 at 1 and 6 p.m.
This heartwarming one-man show is performed by Gerald Charles Dickens, the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens, who depicts 26 characters of the classic tale. A book signing will follow. The Visitor Center Café will be open until 6 p.m. Performance-only tickets are $19 per member; $22 per non-member; and $12 for children under 12. For tickets, call 800-448-3883.