I may not be a really big fan of Halloween, but I am head over heels for Christmas. In my childhood years, Christmas was not the happiest of times. It usually meant unemployment for my father, a carpenter by trade in New England where outdoor work came to a halt in late November, resulting in lean times until spring came around. In spite of that, I never lost my optimism that Santa Claus was out there somewhere trying to find me.
In later years, raising my own family, I threw myself into Christmas wholeheartedly, maybe trying to make up for the first two and a half decades of my life. As long as carols were playing in stores and Christmas displays were up, there was no such thing as too early. It became our family tradition to go in search of the perfect Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving. To this day, I watch every sappy Christmas movie on television, no matter that I’ve probably seen them before, and watch the Alistair Sim version of Scrooge every time it’s on.
So, I fit right into the holiday spirit here at MAC. We no sooner strip the Physick House and surrounding grounds of Halloween decorations than we start decking the halls for Christmas. We stretch the season to seven weeks, beginning the week before Thanksgiving on what we call Holiday Preview Weekend, which is coming up this weekend: Nov. 17-19.
There’s something about Christmas in Cape May, in general, that just resonates with that elf inside of me. What better place for a Christmas fanatic than a Victorian village? It suits my holiday style, as well: You won’t find cutouts of Mickey in a Santa hat or blow-up snowmen gracing the lawns of a B&B along Columbia Avenue. Instead, these wonderful old properties are decked with miles of evergreen garland, twinkling white lights, and brilliant red bows. The town looks like it belongs in a snow globe, waiting for a giant hand to set the flakes whirling.
Holiday Preview Weekend is always a wonderful start to the season, with thousands of visitors, mostly local residents, visiting the Physick House, watching Santa light the tree, and enjoying our “Old-Fashioned Christmas” exhibit in the Carriage House Gallery.
This is always especially gratifying to me, as it reflects my inspiration of a huge Christmas tree, as seen from below. Beneath the tree, we have two levels of houses, shops, people, and dozens of other accessories from a Dept. 56 Dickens Village collection, graciously donated to MAC by Ernie and Betsy Heegard.
It started with a cedar log I dragged out of the woods behind my house and grew from there. We draped evergreen garland until it looked like a tree, added plenty of colorful LED lights and an over-abundance of ornaments and the result -- with well over 300 pieces below it -- houses, churches, train stations and so much more – is simply breathtaking.
This is the either the sixth or seventh year we’ve done this. I explain the repetition of doing it by comparing it to childbirth: once you see how beautiful it is, you forget the pain it caused. Each year, we add more to it. It began with the tree and the Dept. 56 Dicken Village. We added more “stuff” to the walls every year. This year, I constructed a Christmas tree on the wall that we use to raise money for the Coast Guard Stocking Drive. That project, the tree, that is, actually started with the cat, who “deconstructed” an artificial tree I had up in the loft area of my home. No longer useful in its original capacity, I kept looking at it, thinking I could surely use it for something.
We have old family photos, contributed by our staff, which are wonderful to look at and stir memories among all our visitors. We have a tribute to Dickens, with quotes from my favorite rendition of “A Christmas Carol.” And more. In the true Victorian spirit of more is better, we believe in excess at Christmas time. Please come see it. I’ll be the one hovering over it like a mother hen, along with Barbara Hubmaster, my trusted accomplice without whom this wouldn’t be possible.
So, now the holidays begin in earnest. House tours and trolley tours, a chance to eat cookies and drink hot chocolate and wassail, not to mention other fun and tasty food and wine events. All this designed to remind you that Christmas is still an old-fashioned wonderland, without overcrowded malls of grumpy people, right here in Cape May. Shop for one-of-a-kind gifts, not “as seen on TV,” take a trolley tour, relax and come back to the Christmas you remember.
-- Jean Barraclough is manager of publications and website at MAC