A weekly column by Catherine Dugan. This week: House Tours at Christmastime
Bah! It’s easy to condemn Ebenezer Scrooge for calling Christmas a “humbug,” but he was part of a long tradition of downplaying the holiday. Puritans in England had banned all Christmas celebrations in 1644, and even when the holiday was once again legal, it was considered a bit decadent. Young Ebenezer remained alone at school during Christmastime and knew little of mince pies, holly wreaths and good cheer; the generous Christmas celebration organized by his employer, Mr Fezziwig, was likely his first. Yet the 1843 story of Scrooge’s transformation into a man who knew how to “keep Christmas well” gives us a peek into the homes of Victorians at Christmastime.
You can peek into Victorian homes this Christmas without any ghostly guides. Cape May lights up at Christmastime, and it’s a sight no Cape May lover should miss. The restored houses are decorated with gingerbread, after all, and they are equally Christmas-y inside. Start your planning with a visit to the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts booth on the Washington Street mall (or on their website, if you are planning ahead.) The Candlelight House Tours include churches, inns, refreshments and HEATED trolleys. You will appreciate the warmth – the same sea breeze that tickled you in summer can knock you out in December. Taste your first cup of wassail – even if you don’t like the spicy punch, the cup will be warm. The price of the tour includes the exhibit: “An Old-fashioned Christmas: Holiday Traditions through the Years” in the Carriage House Gallery. Other options include Fairthorne Cottage – this year’s Designer Show House – currently decked out in Dickensian glory. The Lamplighter Tour features self-guided evening tours of five inns. A private home, The Cherry House, built in 1849, is fully restored and features hand-painted murals. Even if you miss its scheduled tours, take a stroll by. Hughes Street would make Mr Fezziwig feel right at home.
Each house tour offers something different. Perhaps you’ll be charmed by a collection of hats or period dolls. You’ll be intrigued by a tiny back staircase and imagine the servants who used it – how hard they must have worked to keep these ornate households running. Generations of renovations have left exterior walls inside, windows to nowhere and pretty little nooks. You may hear details of the restoration and find yourself inordinately grateful for SheetRock™ and fire extinguishers.
Keep Christmas well with a Cape May house tour!
Next week: The Lighthouse