Each year, using armloads of greenery and native plants, authentic decorations from days of yore, and some pretty clever food-styling tricks, the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum’s “Three Centuries of Christmas” tours show in fascinating detail how the American holiday season evolved over the past 300 years. The 2016 season kicks off with the lively WDS Holiday Preview Party on Friday, December 9, from 5 to 8 p.m. Guests will delight in a candlelight preview of the dazzling holiday decorations throughout the museum, stroll from house to house enjoying delicious food, wine, ale, and live holiday music, and chat with Mr. and Mrs. Silas Deane, Mrs. Claus, and guides in period dress.
Admission is $30 for members, $35 for non-members.
Advance tickets: webb-deane-stevens.org/celebrate-three-centuries-of-christmas
Candlelight Tours, with guides in period dress, will be on Friday and Saturday, December 16 and 17, 5 to 8 p.m. Daylight holiday tours will be on December 10 – 30, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Sundays (from1 to 4 p.m.), closed Tuesdays. Admission for tours is $12.
The “Three Centuries of Christmas” enchanting, historic view of holidays past begins in the Silas Deane House, circa 1770, where New Year’s Day was the main holiday, rather than Christmas, due to the Puritanical customs that lingered in New England. The house reflects the preparations for the Deane’s “New Years’ Day Calling,” when prominent gentlemen in the community would call on the lady of the household. It was also the day when individuals who owed the family money would meet privately with the master of the house to settle their debts or make a New Year’s resolution to provide goods or services to settle their accounts in the coming year.
The Isaac Stevens House is decorated to depict the holiday celebrations of a middle-class household during the early to mid-1800s, when many of the Christmas traditions known today were adopted in New England. The “best” parlor features a charming table-top tree decorated with candles, gilded eggshells and edible treats, in keeping with the era. The Stevens House also includes a special exhibit with enlarged color illustrations by Thomas Nast from the museum’s rare 1888 copy of Clement Moore’s “An Account of a Visit of St Nicholas.” The colorful images tell the tale of how the secular Christmas known today was created in the early 19th century, which coincides with the museum’s interpretation of Christmas at the Stevens House.
At the Joseph Webb House visitors are dazzled by decorations typical of the early 20th century, a period of stunning decoration and celebration. The home is prepared for a Christmas open house that was typical of the times, including a sumptuous dessert buffet set up in the dining parlor. The culmination of several weeks’ work, the lavishness of the dessert and decorations could make or break the hostess’ reputation. Decorations include three Christmas trees, evergreen roping, fresh greens, fruit, and a collection of period ornaments. Also featured are a fine collection of antique iron toys from the late 19th and early 20th century and a charming Victorian doll house.