Four Christmas trees at Philipsburg Manor…but none in the house?


Monday, 12/15/2014 3:13pm

It’s a holiday celebration at Philipsburg Manor… so why isn’t there a Christmas tree in the colonial-era manor house?

A new feature of this year’s A Holiday Open House event at Philipsburg Manor helps to explain that seemingly conspicuous absence.

Historic Hudson Valley’s special events and curatorial staff teamed up to design three vignettes as part of Christmas Past: The Evolution of a Holiday, on display in the Philipsburg Manor Visitor Center during the event.

These small installations are meant to evoke the Christmas season in the three time periods of Philipsburg Manor, Van Cortlandt Manor, and Washington Irving’s Sunnyside. Each vignette includes historically accurate props, reproduction tableware, and faux foods that show how the season was celebrated well beyond December 25th.

Interpretive signs and fun "Did you know?" facts help visitors compare the time periods and understand that some beloved traditions, like feasting and visiting, date to the colonial era, while others, like the Christmas tree and exchanging of Christmas cards, date to the mid-19th century.

One highlight is a tabletop tree decorated in the style of a 19th-century Christmas tree, complete with candles (not lit for safety reasons!), handmade ornaments including small toys, and treats such as nuts and candies. 

We want to learn about how customs of the past continue to transform, so we are also inviting visitors to add messages about their own holiday traditions, foods, or seasonal activities to a clothesline display in the gallery space. Many of the notes include activities that would have been familiar to colonial New Yorkers, like baking special treats and gathering with friends and family. Many 20th- and 21st-century traditions, like watching holiday movies and admiring or putting up Christmas light displays, show how the holiday is still evolving in New York.

As for the lack of a Christmas tree in the manor house…fear not! The Visitor Center actually has four! One is a historic version and the others are three fresh trees adorning the Visitor Center’s greenhouse, where adults and children can make a holiday craft.

A Holiday Open House continues this weekend at Philipsburg Manor, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 20 and 21, from 4-8pm.

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