By Marianne E. Weaver
’Tis the season … to decorate! Across Prince William, historic places, families and entire neighborhoods have pulled out all the stops to deck the halls. Some decorators have drawn from the region’s storied past, some take the traditional approach, some light up the night, and in one neighborhood, dozens of homeowners tapped into their inner Martha Stewart, hoping to win one of the coveted awards up for grabs.
For more than a decade, Leesylvania State Park, located along the Potomac River at 2001 Daniel K. Ludwig Drive, Woodbridge, has presented a Civil War Christmas. Despite this dark time in American history, families found a way to celebrate.
“The decorations were simple. They mostly used what they had in their houses,” said Sarah Percival, chief ranger, who added that the hands-on approach to the history of the Civil War and Christmas traditions features family-friendly activities and the chance to interact with costumed interpreters, who share stories about life in the 1860s.
“We make popcorn and cranberry garland, clothespin soldiers and pomander balls—the Visitor Center smells wonderful with this one,” she said. “The gentleman who plays Santa is truly wonderful. He had his costume made to fit the times, and his beard is authentic.”
The special event begins Saturday, Dec. 16, 10:00 a. m. to 4:00 p. m. For $2 per person or $6 per family, visitors are encouraged to try a little bit of everything the park has to offer: making ornaments, tasting food from that era, talking to Santa, listening to period music and taking a winter walk on one of the many trails.
Less than five miles north, Rippon Lodge (15520 Blackburn Road, Woodbridge), has put together a holiday program depicting Christmas through the ages. Built circa 1747, the house is situated between Neabsco Creek, the Potomac River and Route 1. Rippon Lodge is listed on the National Register of
Historic Places and is maintained by Prince William County’s Historic Preservation Division, a public works department. The interior and exterior of the historic house will be decorated for the holidays.
“This is our third year doing the Holiday through the Ages program,” said Jessica Maria Alicea, historic site manager of Rippon Lodge. “We decorate several rooms on the first floor in different periods of Christmas and explain how traditions and decorations have evolved.”
This year, four periods are featured: Colonial times, the Victorian era, the years of World War I, and the 1930s. Without revealing too many details about the much-anticipated decorations, Alicea offered an overview of what visitors might expect. Colonial Christmas, she said, was celebrated very differently
than the holiday is today. “It was the era of Twelfth Night, which started on Christmas Day,” she said. “People went to church quite often since it was a religious holiday. Anglicans, such as Richard Blackburn, sang psalms and hymns at church, while English Christmas carols, such as ‘Joy to the World,’ were sung at home.” And although there was some gift-giving, she said it was mostly among adults.
“In Victorian times we see the shift, and Christmas Day becomes more of the focus for celebrating,” she explained. Whereas Colonial decorations are more natural, during the Victorian era, families brought out their best china and silverware and set out extravagant food displays.
“This is also when we had the introduction of the Christmas tree,” she said. In keeping with theme, the Victorian room includes a tree trimmed with wrapped presents and glass ornaments. By WWI and throughout the 1930s, Christmas traditions became more secular, many featuring Santa Claus.
The Holidays through the Ages tour is available every Saturday in December from 11:00 a. m. to 4:00 p. m. The cost is $5 per person, and children under 6 are free. Santa arrives at Rippon Lodge on Saturday, Dec. 9 from 1:00–3:00 p. m. Cost is $2 per child. Reservations are recommended for groups larger than four.
Holiday Home Tours
On the second Sunday of December—this year that’s Dec. 10—the Manassas Women’s Club hosts its annual Holiday House tour from 1:00–4:00 p. m. Tickets cost $20 per person, and the proceeds are
used for scholarships awarded to local high school students.
“We have people come in from as far as Maryland,” said Robin Armentrout, Manassas Women’s Club member, who serves on the ways and means committee that organizes this fundraiser.
“Manassas is an old Civil War town, and the shops are decorated for Christmas. This history and the quaintness draws people.”
Armentrout, responsible for recruiting homeowners to participate, said ideally homes would be located within the Manassas city limits. However, she’s been known to expand into Bristow if more than one house in the neighborhood joins the tour.
“Some homes are modest with just a Christmas tree and some decorations, but they are homes with beautiful architecture, artwork or furniture from their [owners’] travels,” she said. The only commitment the homeowners make is to decorate their homes. Some decorate just one room; others decorate from top to bottom, inside and out. If necessary, club members will pitch in and help with decorating.
When Armentrout’s house was on the tour a few years ago, she decorated every room. She said the decorations were traditional, featuring a Christmas tree covered with homemade ornaments and a snowman collection. Her bedroom was all-Virginia, including a tree with state-themed ornaments. In her kitchen, she had a table-top, cookie cutter tree.
“The homeowner has option to stay or take free tickets to go on the tour,” said Armentrout, who explained that Women’s Club members are stationed throughout the house for the duration of the tour.
“When visitors come in, I give them a history of the house if there is one. Then I send them where they need to go.” Club members make cookies and pastries, which are offered with punch, with homeowners’ permission.
Lighting Up the Night
Some homeowners put candles in their windows; some string lights on their trees. Some do both. But the Anderson family of Woodbridge takes their Christmas light display to a new level.
“This started as a competition between my husband and brother-in-law,” said Teresa Anderson. That little competition has evolved into a five-acre, drive-thru light show with lights, music, inflatables, a Nativity display and Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
“My mother-in-law loves Christmas. She started this when they were little, and now it’s gone hog wild. My husband is the mastermind behind it all.”
From Dec. 1 through Dec. 30 (excluding Christmas Eve), cars line up at 15615 Bushey Drive, just off Cardinal Drive in Woodbridge, to view the display from 5:30 to 9:00 p. m.
“My favorite is the drive-thru lighted arches,” said Anderson, noting that only eight cars enter at a time, which explains the line. “It’s all about the kids and the adults. They are the biggest kids of all. They get so excited. Some have been doing this for 15 to 20 years.” Almost 5,000 cars tour the light show each year.
The Jaeger family (and brother-in-law Jamie Brown) draw the crowds by setting their light show to music. “My brother-in-law started decorating his Springfield condo porch in 2008,” said Doug Jaeger. “After four years of decorating his balcony, resources and space began running out. Jamie then came to us to see if we wanted to use our house.”
That balcony display has evolved into a nightly six-to-nine song and light show. And the family decoration project has become a community building event. “Our first few years of decorating were an attempt to do something for kids in the neighborhood,” said Jaeger. “Then the wheels started turning, and we began to see we could use this [occasion] to collect food and money for the local food bank.” Tubs will be set out for canned food donations.
The show opens every Thanksgiving night at 5552 Reagon Court, Woodbridge.
In Gainesville, Meadows at Morris Farm homeowners do it all: lights, inflatables, synchronized light shows, window candles and whatever else they think will win the judges’ votes for the neighborhood Christmas display contest.
“Our neighborhood has always done a great job of decorating for the holidays,” said Matt Megel, neighborhood real estate expert and owner of CAZA Gainesville. “Neighbors had been commenting on nearby neighborhoods with official competitions. As our community’s Facebook administrator and real estate agent, I thought it would be a fun way to let people know about some of the stellar decorating jobs done in the neighborhood.”
Megel created award categories and offered a snow blower as the grand prize. More than 20 residents decorated their homes in an effort to claim one of the coveted yard signs:
- The Clark Griswold Award for the Brightest Home,
- The Martha Stewart Award for Most Elegant Home,
- The Picasso Award for Most Creative Home,
- The Jim Carrey Award for the Wackiest Home, and
- Grand Prize and Best Overall
“If you are looking for some of Prince William’s finest decorations, come check out our little neighborhood,” said Megel. “In fact, we hereby challenge other neighborhoods to meet our awesomeness.”
Marianne Weaver ([email protected]) is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and an MJ from Temple University.