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Newport Gets Decked Out for the Holidays


Ruth Myers, founder of Christmas in Newport, wanted to recapture the candlelit holidays of bygone years. Courtesy of Christmas in Newport. NEWPORT, R.I. – "Wander through the narrow, crooked streets of Old Newport and you will find houses and churches dating almost from the beginning of its history...lean over the fence of a garden where box and hollyhocks press close to white clapboards; breathe the atmosphere where Longfellow found his ‘Skeleton in Armour’ and Bret Harte his ‘Lady of the Mignonette.’ Legend, fancy, history; all mingle in Newport’s story," wrote Maud Howe Elliott in her book, This Was My Newport.

 

If you wander through those "narrow, crooked streets" of this historic city in December, you may feel as if you've drifted back in time onto the pages of Charles Dickens as Newport prepares to celebrate the holidays. Located on the southern tip of an island, insulated by Narragansett Bay and the Sakannet River, the city retains much of its colonial charm.

Founded in 1639 by colonists from Portsmouth (Rhode Island’s first settlement) seeking religious freedom, the new colony attracted people of many faiths who combined their ideals and talents to form the base of what became, in the 1860s, America's first resort - a fashionable summer place that reached its climax in the "gay 90s." Soon, the prestige attached to owning a "cottage" in Newport was undeniable. Wealthy families from around the northeast jockeyed for a position in the parade of palatial estates, launching the once-sleepy seaport into an international yachting center and social capital of America.

At any time of year, Newport is a treasure trove of architectural gems - Christmas, however, is special as the city drapes itself in clear bulbs to illuminate the scenic harbor and the wharves as well as the Point, Historic Hill and majestic Bellevue Avenue. The lights echo the candlelit magic of the Victorian era and are the result of community collaboration between residents and businesses.

Now in its 29th year, the phenomenon known as "Christmas in Newport," brings residents together in a two-week festival to celebrate the non-commercial side of Christmas as each year, right after Thanksgiving, they deck the hallowed halls of its stately mansions for the highly acclaimed tradition. The colorful celebration features more than 60 musical, artistic, culinary and narrative activities, drawing visitors from around the world to witness the splendid seasonal spectacle.

Be transported to an elegant French Christmas when you visit The Elms, a stunning Gilded Age mansion. Courtesy of The Preservation Society of Newport County. While the "City by the Sea," as it is affectionately known, has its share of museums, the bulk of its historically significant buildings remain in private hands, some of which, open their doors during this festive season. During this year’s candlelight house tour, set for December 26-28, nine of these 18th and 19th century private homes (three each day) will be lit by candlelight, decked out for the holidays, and open to the public from 4-7 p.m. At the time of the tour, maps of the homes will be available at the Newport Public Library and the Gateway Center. Call (401) 848-4212 for information.

Members of the Newport Artillery Company will be posted in period costume outside each home to greet holiday revelers. The $3 per house admission will benefit the Christmas in Newport organization, a volunteer nonprofit group with a base of 1,500 members.

Additionally, The Newport Preservation Society, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1945 to preserve, restore and interpret the city’s outstanding collection of landmark buildings, showcases three of the historic mansions it oversees. This season, November 26 through January 2, 2000, The Breakers, Chateau-sur-Mer and The Elms will be highlighted, their halls decked in holiday finery and ringing with festive music from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. daily, except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Daytime admission to The Breakers is $12 for adults, $4 for children 6-17; Chateau-sur-Mer and The Elms are $9 for adults, $3.50 for children. Combination tickets for all three houses can be purchased for $24 for adults, $9 for children. Reservations are not required for holiday tours and tickets may be purchased at any of the open houses.

The past comes alive in the Yuletide celebrations at the regal Victorian home, Chateau-sur-Mer. Courtesy of The Preservation Society of Newport County. The Breakers will also be open for eight special Holiday Evenings, inviting guests to stroll through the glittering mansion and enjoy live holiday music while tempting their palates with elegant Christmas treats, cider and eggnog.

These soirées will be held from 5 - 8 p.m. on November 27 and December 2,4,9,11,16,18 and 30. Admission to the Holiday Evenings is $15 for adults, $4 for ages 6-17. Tickets purchased for day admission cannot be used for evening openings.

Santa Claus will visit each of the three mansions on separate Sundays: December 5 at The Breakers, December 12 at Chateau-sur-Mer, and December 19 at The Elms. Each of these days, jolly old Saint Nick will be on hand to greet children and their parents from noon to 3 p.m., and eggnog and cookies will be served. Regular daytime admission prices will be in effect.

Caroling will fill the quaint "crooked streets" throughout the month with performances ranging from jazz to classical and choral to instrumental, beginning on December 1 at various locations throughout the picturesque city.

For children, there will be celebrations throughout December with many kid-friendly programs to include a giant gingerbread lighthouse, Santa’s lost caboose, a variety of workshops, breakfast with Santa and more.

Mock turtle soup is the starter course for the annual "Re-enactment of Colonel Samuel Freebody's ‘Tyrtle Frolic,’" December 23 at 6:15 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel at Goat Island. On December 23, 1752, Colonel Samuel Freebody held the first ‘Turtle Frolic,’ a rollicking party at the former Fort George, now the site of the Doubletree Hotel. As the story goes, a merchant friend of Freebody shipped the Colonel gifts of one enormous sea turtle and a keg full of limes, both from the West Indies. The limes, intended to be mixed with rum and sugar to create punch, spoiled en route, but the sea turtle arrived in good shape and was promptly delivered to the cook. The ensuing banquet was such a success that it is still commemorated nearly 250 years later. In the 20th-century version of the event, chicken is now substituted for the soup’s main ingredient.

Today’s rousing night of merry-making combines a colonial banquet and English country dancing. Tickets are $28.50 for adults, $10 per child. Reservations must be made at (401) 849-2600.

Details:

For information and a calendar of events for Christmas in Newport call (401) 849-6454 or visit their website at: www.wsii.com/users/xmas.

For a full calendar of events and information concerning Newport Mansions, call (401) 847-1000 or visit: www.NewportMansions.org.

To capture the sounds, scents and sites of the season, Newport Getaway Packages include cozy accommodations at more than 30 participating properties, a hearty breakfast, admission tickets to one of the many opulent mansions, or fascinating museums and a colorful picture guide book to Newport County. In addition the package includes a passport savings card offering a 10 - 15 percent discount at participating Newport County restaurants and selected retail shops.

For information call The Newport County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at: (800) 976-5122 or visit www.GoNewport.com.