Explore "Christmas past" this weekend when the Friends of Belmont Hall host "A Civil War Christmas at Belmont Hall" this weekend. Historic homes will also be open for visitors this weekend for a Sunday afternoon home tour.
With one eye on the past and one foot rooted firmly in the present, several local organizations will host a handful of Christmas-themed tours and activities this weekend.
It all starts with a "Civil War Christmas at Belmont Hall." Using the historical house—it was finished in 1773 by Thomas Collins, a man found on many pages of Delaware history books due to various positions in the politics and military movements of the day—as a backdrop, the Friends of Belmont Hall will host a tour of several of the home's rooms as well as a Civil War encampment.
"There will be between 15 and 30 Civil War re-enactors set up outside with tents," said FBH volunteer Morgan Booker. "We were supposed to do the reenactment in October but we had all that rain, which forced us to cancel the event and move it to Christmas."
In addition to the encampment, there will also be sleigh rides around the property, ornament-making activities, a conversation about "Christmas on the Home Front" by Sarah Kuntz, performances by the Field Soup Camp Band, readings of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and, of course, a visit from Santa Claus.
Visitors will also get a chance to see the home decked out in holiday trimmings, many of them reminiscent of the history of the house. Tours will take guests through five decorated rooms, showcasing three large-scale Christmas trees. One of the trees boasts a theme dedicated to the early 20th century with replicas of ornaments from the 1920's, the 1930's and the 1940's.
One of the largest trees this year is a nod to the home's Victorian heritage. At eight or nine feet tall, FBH President Susan Wolfe said that they needed a ladder to decorate the top of the tree.
"We just started decorating it today," Wolfe said on Monday while at Belmont Hall. "I think it's going to take us about five hours to decorate because we've got hundreds and hundreds of ornaments to place."
The ornaments include a combination of natural elements as well as a nod to the technological advances made at the time like chromolithography, a method for making multi-color prints.
"We've got quite a few Victorian reproductions like three-dimensional angels, small musical instruments, cards, crocheted snowflakes and shadowboxes," Wolfe said. "We try to utilize ornaments that represent what people would have used back then."
She added that, with the help of the Duck Creek Horticulture Society, the tree will also feature fruit and fresh components like pine, boxwood and hydrangeas that would have been found on the property.
"The Victorian era tree is my favorite of the trees this year," Wolfe said, explaining that reminders of the time period harken to a time when the holidays weren't so commercial. "I'm just not into the glitz. I don't need the multi-colored lights, the blinking lights and the ornaments that talk. I mean, they have their place but the trees that I most admire remind me of Christmases past."
Wolfe's love of history leads her to gush about the weekend's other big holiday event, sponsored by the Downtown Smyrna Renaissance Association: "The Holiday Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Smyrna." At press time, there were six homes confirmed for the tour but more homeowners could decide to participate, she said.
"By keeping it as a free event, we're able to add and subtract homes as people can participate," Wolfe explained. "Keeping it free keeps the event casual, too, and lets us focus on our mission to just make people aware of our historic district and how worthwhile it is."
Maps will be available Saturday at Belmont Hall and at the Smyrna Museum. The museum will also be open from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., for anybody who wants to stop by and pick up a map. The tours will continue until 6 p.m., but the last maps will be given out at 5 p.m., so people have enough time to visit each stop.
"With both SDRA AND Friends [of Belmont Hall], our goals are similar," Wolfe, who is a member of both, said. "We just want people to see how accessible these places are and to experience everything Smyrna has to offer."
The only event with an admission fee is "Christmas at Belmont Hall." Adults will be charged $5 while children (through 18 years old) will be charged $2. All the other events, including the Smyrna Museum's Open House and the walking tour of historic homes are free. On Sunday, Friends of Belmont Hall will also open the house up for free to guests who'd like to tour the rooms and see the decorations, free of the hustle and bustle of Saturday's events.