December 6, 2011

Victorian Holiday Cheer (2x)

On Saturday, I got a double dose of Victorian-style Christmas celebrating. In the afternoon, I went over to Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay to spend "Christmas With the Roosevelts."

Sagamore Hill was the home of America's 26th President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt. The grounds consist of a 23-room Victorian Mansion, Visitor Center, Old Orchard Museum, several carriage barns, stables, windmills, and a nature trail. I think Mr. Roosevelt himself describes it best: 

"The house stands right on the top of the hill, separated by fields and belts of woodland from all other houses, and looks out over the bay and the Sound. We see the sun go down beyond long reaches of land and of water...We love all the seasons; the snows and bare woods of winter; the rush of growing things and the blossom-spray of spring; the yellow grain, the ripening fruits and tasselled corn, and the deep, leafy shades that are heralded by 'the green dance of summer'; and the sharp fall winds that tear the brilliant banners with which the trees greet the dying year."

As I stepped into the mansion, I found myself surrounded by walls of mahogany, black walnut, hazel, and swamp cypress. I loved the detailed woodworking and the many furnishings (most of which were actually owned and used by the Roosevelts). By the dining room, a docent explained how dinner time was a formal matter. The Roosevelts would come to the table dressed in their finest. Theodore insisted that the family converse about interesting topics every evening during the meal. The mansion was the center of day-to-day administrations of the nation's affairs during Roosevelt's presidency and the home was often visited by dignitaries and ambassadors who would eat at the same table with the family. Roosevelt's son, who would go on to become a Harvard scholar, cited the dinner table at Sagamore Hill as the best education  he ever received.

Across the grounds at the Old Orchard Museum, I found many displays that relate Teddy Roosevelt's robust character, his wide range of interests, and his "Rough Rider" persona. I absolute love this Roosevelt quote, which shows him also to be a man of great humility: "I am not in the least a hero... I am a perfectly commonplace man and I know it; I am just a decent American citizen who tries to stand for what is decent in his own country..." The museum hosted a series of events throughout the day including a Harp and Flute recital by Musica Dolce, a program of poetry brought by Nassau County Poet Laureate Dr. Linda Opyr, and a Christmas speech delivered by Theodore Roosevelt portrayed by Jim Foote.

At 6:30 in the evening, I got my second taste of a Victorian Christmas when I headed over to Old Westbury Mansion for their annual First Night and Tree Lighting celebration. As I strolled through the various parlors, bedrooms, dining rooms, and ballrooms of this 100-year-old residence, I found one stunning vignette of holiday decor after another. Mannequins were set up in many locations seemingly involved in Christmastime activities. Everything was so beautifully dream-like that I got completely absorbed by the whole experience.

At 7:15, guests crowded into the Red Ballroom to watch the Bethel Christmas Choir give a performance. They sang several great medleys of traditional Christmas carols and devotional songs. I loved their unique arrangements of these familiar melodies. The music was absolutely electrifying and I couldn't help but tap my foot and clap my hands. 

At 8:00, I got a cup of complimentary hot chocolate and a few bakery cookies and I walked out on to the South Terrace for the Tree Lighting ceremony. The December air nipped at my fingertips, but the atmosphere was so wonderful that I didn't mind at all. Soon, there was the countdown "5...4...3...2...1..." and then the tree blazed forth in all of its holiday splendor. The audience was immediately prompted into a chorus of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas!" It was an enchanting moment..

At 8:15, everyone gathered back in the Red Ballroom for a concert by the Victorian Carolers. Dressed in authentic period garb, these three voices astounded me with their intricate harmonies. It was a spectacular way to conclude a day of heartwarming Christmas celebrations! Cheers!!!

"Nehemiah said,
'Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks,
and send some to those who have nothing prepared.
This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve,
for the joy of the Lord
is your strength.'"

~Nehemiah 8:10