It’s no secret that I love the holidays – which may make me unoriginal, because most people do – but I don’t really care that much about being ‘original.’ What I love about the holidays isn’t the trappings (the gifts, meals, twinkling lights, sometimes gaudy decorations), it’s what they represent. For me, the holidays mean time with family, and the bustling energy and excitement of these weeks do fill me with joy.
In particular, I adore Christmas lights – it surprises me (although it shouldn’t), each year, how those glowing, twinkling lights lift my spirits. I remember riding around Westbrook and Portland in the backseat of my dad’s truck to look at the Christmas lights decorating local neighborhoods. My grandmother sometimes joined us for these outings, and we would remark on the outrageous (Clark Griswold, anyone?), the religious, the classic, the subdued, and many more approaches to outdoor Christmas lights. As a little girl, I particularly liked the colored lights and would do battle annually with my siblings and parents to get the tree inside, and the ones outside, decorated in colored lights. Today, however, I love the classic, elegant glow of white lights. Ironically enough, my parents’ tree this year is decked out in colored lights! (photo below). My mom actually emailed, “I know, colored lights… too many of the white light strands bit the dust this year.”
I also really love old houses – their charming features, classic architecture, and how each has its own unique personality. So today I’m bringing you an old house you can tour! Each year, the Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine offers tours and celebrates the holiday season with a theme. For 2012, their theme is The Gilded Age. The house is open for self-guided tours from November 23rd, 2012 – January 6, 2013 (closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day). The hours are 11am – 430pm. The rates range from free (if you’re under 6 years old) to $15 for adults, and they have a family package (which I thought was a great deal) of $35, for groups with two adults from the same household and up to 5 children, ages 6-17. They can be reached by phone at 207-772-4841. Not only is this a great opportunity to experience the past splendor of The Gilded Age and see a beautiful old home, it’s an educational opportunity as well. Go, enjoy, embrace the holiday spirit!
The Gilded Age is the period following the Civil War from 1877 – 1893 (at which point the Progressive Era began). The term was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. They believed this period was truly an era of serious social problems covered by a thin layer of gold. During this time, there was extraordinary growth and advancement in technology, and the belief was that any man could become a Carnegie, a Vanderbilt, a Rockefeller. Those few who pioneered specific companies and advancements became enormously wealthy, and one demonstration of that wealth came through the design and construction of massive, elaborate homes. The two pictures below are of Nick and me on our first anniversary at the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina. The Biltmore is America’s largest home and an exceptional example of the architecture of The Gilded Age. Photography isn’t allowed inside, so I don’t have images to share, but we were both amazed by the opulence (and beauty) of this home.
A bit about the Victoria Mansion – The Victoria Mansion is located at 109 Danforth Street, Portland, ME 04101 and was built prior to the Civil War, between 1858 and 1860. The Mansion is also known as the Morse-Libby House. An excellent example of pre-Civil War grandeur, the home changed hands once or twice before being seriously damaged in 1938 by a hurricane. It was scheduled to be demolished in 1940, when a retired educator stepped in and saved it – Dr. William H. Holmes – and with his sister, Clara, turned it into a museum to honor Queen Victoria. Now operated as a historic house museum, the Victoria Mansion was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
Thanks for indulging me in that brief history lesson! I love history and traditions – and the holidays present an opportunity for me to embrace those interests. I can think of nothing better than getting into the holiday spirit by touring a historic landmark all decked out for the festivities!