Historic houses around the District are lighting up their Christmas trees, putting out poinsettias and proudly displaying their seasonal exhibits as December brings in the holidays this year.
In several local properties showcasing more than 100 years of history, the curators welcome visitors with breathtaking holiday displays that accompany a history lesson about the holiday traditions of the historic families that lived in the homes a century ago.
One of D.C.’s oldest historic houses — Georgetown’s Tudor Place, at 1644 31st St. NW — debuted its annual holiday installation earlier this month. This year’s display features furniture, decorations and household items laid out how they were in December 1914, when the Peter family had recently modernized the home with electricity and a gas line and was preparing to celebrate the holidays.
Grant Quertermous, the curator for Tudor Place, said people should be excited to visit the house and experience Christmas traditions from more than 100 years ago.
“I really like all our holiday installations to reflect a significant time period in the life of the house and the family,” he said, adding that the different themes allow visitors to see something distinctive every year.
This year’s theme — the period when the family was returning home after completing major renovations two weeks before Christmas — represents a turning point for the house and the family. The servants would have had to adjust to the new appliances that had just been installed, such as electric lights, a telephone and a Duparquet gas and coal stove.
The holiday decorations in Tudor Place also reflect the preferences of the Peter family, which traces its ancestry to Martha Washington. The owner at the time, Armistead Peter Jr., was interested in filling the house with the latest technology, some of which was state-of-the-art at the time. But he was also a traditionalist and decorated his Christmas tree with candles instead of electric lights.
Quertermous said the Peter family kept meticulous records, which assists the curators in presenting the house in different time periods. They kept their grocery receipts and other notes, with an “eye for the future” and a desire to share their lives with their future generations and the public, he said.
“It’s a great opportunity to see holiday traditions from this time period,” said Quertermous. “People like that it looks at a Christmas from 103 years ago.”
At Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Forest Hills, the former home of D.C. style icon Marjorie Merriweather Post is the site of an annual holiday celebration, including themed Christmas trees and and a family-friendly annual Russian Winter Festival.
At this year’s winter festival — which took place Dec. 9 and 10 — fortunetellers and mummers roamed the estate to entertain the kids and families traveling around the estate. In addition to exploring the mansion, families could visit the “Spectacular Gems and Jewelry” exhibit and witness authentic Russian dancers and folk music. The luxurious china, jeweled Fabergé eggs, priceless Russian chalices, artwork and elaborate decor that regularly fills the 4155 Linnean Ave. NW property is also on display to visitors.
Meanwhile, five Christmas trees displayed around the mansion and estate are adorned with decorations inspired by the diamonds, rubies, pearls and other gems owned by Post. Live orchids, icicle ornaments and themed decorations also hang from the trees.
“This year, we have a jewelry exhibition,” said Lynn Rossotti, the director of marketing, communications and visitor services at Hillwood, standing in the visitor’s center at the estate. “We just have some dazzling jewels, blinged-out trees both here and in the mansion.”
The annual Russian Winter Festival has also included a children’s show “Grandfather Frost & the Snow Maiden” for the past 18 years, according to Rebecca Singer, the youth audiences manager for Hillwood. The show takes families in the audience to a Russian village and engages children in the audience by speaking to them directly and involving them in a snowball fight among the actors. It leads up to an arm-wrestling competition between Grandfather Frost and Santa Claus.
Singer added that the fortunetellers and the actors who dress up as a circus master and a bear, the national animal of Russia, add another fun and family-friendly element to the festivities.
“That is one of my favorite things actually, just to sort of catch them out there in costume, bringing the estate to life,” Singer said.
One of the main holiday events for three historic houses in D.C. is the Holidays Through History open house, which took place on Dec. 2 and allowed members of the public to tour Anderson House, Dumbarton House and the Woodrow Wilson House in one evening. The event included tours of the houses, which were decorated for the holiday season, plus signature cocktails relating to the drinks the historic families would have had at the time.
Anderson House, the current headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati and the former home of Larz and Isabel Anderson, is located at 2118 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
For the open house, organizers served milk punch — a staple at the family’s New Year’s parties, according to Kelsey Atwood, the weekend supervisor at Anderson House. The drink had milk, cream, vanilla, rum and brandy, she said.
The house is decorated with multiple Christmas trees, greenery, red ribbons, mistletoe and poinsettias added to the everyday furnishings of the home.
Dan Devlin, a docent at Anderson House, said visitors enjoy learning about the Anderson family.
“I think what people love to hear about is the lifestyle, how they entertained, who they entertained, the formality of it,” Devlin said. “The level of the people who came through here, the way they worked in a diplomatic spirit, it’s just really unique.”
Anderson House offers free public tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Dumbarton House and Woodrow Wilson House, located at 2715 Q St. NW and 2340 S St. NW, respectively, offer tours costing $10 for general admission tickets, with cheaper or free options for students, children and senior citizens.