Discover NYC Holiday Magic at Historic Houses

Botanical garden

by William Beavers

Gotham is magical at holiday time. Department stores have their window displays, Rockefeller Center its magnificent tree, and George Balanchine’s Nutcracker is being performed by the New York City Ballet. Too often, however, we forget about the city’s many historic houses at this time of year. These unique structures are open year round, but when their halls are decked for Christmas they become ideal venues to celebrate the city’s history and soak in some yuletide spirit. They are also great, affordable places to take your grandchildren and out-of-town visitors.

Merchant’s House Museum
29 East Fourth Street, New York, NY 10003

mhm_parlorsBuilt in 1832, Merchant’s House stands amid Greenwich Village’s lofts and garages and former factories now turned into luxury housing. A five-story row house, it is considered one of the finest surviving examples of late-Federal and Greek Revival architecture in the city. Its parlor features ornate gasoliers, mahogany furniture, crimson draperies and carpets. To mark the holidays, the museum is featuring the “Christmas Comes to Old New York” exhibit (Nov. 28-Jan. 5) that will show how many of our modern holiday traditions originated in mid-19th century New York. Christmas trees will be decorated with candles and handmade ornaments, poinsettias and evergreens will deck the halls. There will be Christmas caroling and, of course, Santa Claus. Moreover, this year the Summoners Ensemble Theatre will return with “A Christmas Carol at the Merchant’s House” (Dec. 12-28; times vary). The decorated double parlor will serve as the stage for these performances based on Dickens’ own performance text. Tickets, starting at $37.50 are available here or by calling 800-838-3006.

Fee: general admission adults $10; students and seniors $5; children free. Please double check the website for specific dates, charges, disability access, and possible advance registration requirements. Contact email: nyc1832@merchantshouse.org; phone: 212-777-1089.

Wave Hill
West 249th St.& Independence Ave., Bronx, NY 10471

wave hillWave Hill is a 28-acre public garden and cultural center in the Bronx. Built in 1844, its extensive gardens, lawns, woodlands and spectacular views of the Hudson River and Palisades take the breath away. In addition to its extensive calendar of cultural events (exhibitions, performances, etc.), Wave Hill will as usual don its seasonal regalia, too. Wreathes and urns will enhance the front door, while garlands, succulents, evergreens, and bright winter berries accent the commodious interior. Wave Hill will offer several seasonal family craft events as well. “The Holiday Workshop Weekend” (Dec. 6 & 7, 11 am-3 pm) will teach attendees how to fashion miniature arrangements, such as holiday wreathes, from natural materials available on site. Moreover, four holiday-themed Family Art Projects (Dec. 6 & 7, 13 & 14, 20 & 21, 27 & 28; 10 am-1 pm) will each draw on a different aspect of the beauty of nature in wintertime. You can round out the festivities with dazzling performances by pianists Soyeon Kate Lee and Ran Dank (Dec. 14, 2 pm) who will perform a four-hand arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

Fee: General admission adults $8, students and seniors $4; children $2. Please double check the website for specific dates, charges, disability access, and possible advance registration requirements. Contact email: information@wavehill.org; phone: 718-549-3200.

Historic Richmond Town;
441 Clarke Avenue, Staten Island, NY 10306

RichmondHistoric Richmond Town is the city’s only restored Revolutionary-era village. Its more than 100 acres feature 28 original structures which range in architectural style from Gothic and Greek Revival to those featuring Dutch and Flemish elements. A visit here is worthwhile at any time of year, but HRT is especially known for its vibrant holiday season. This year events include the “Party with Santa,” a pizza- and cupcake-fueled workshop for kids (Nov. 29, 12 am-3 pm) run by Santa and his elves and featuring arts and crafts, face painting, games and more. The more culinary minded may wish to attend the Thanksgiving Kitchen Tour (Nov. 30, 1 am-4 pm) where they can learn about the historic background of the Thanksgiving meals we all enjoy today. The traditional tree lighting will occur during “Christmas in Richmond Town” (Dec. 7, 11 am-5 pm). Finally, the “Candlelight Tour” (Dec 13, 5 pm) is especially popular since it allows one to see the village as it was seen by the original residents, includes a Wassail Bowl Reception in the Courthouse.

Fee: General admission adults $8; students and seniors $6; children $5. Please double check the website for specific dates, charges, disability access, and possible advance registration requirements. Contact email: events@historicrichmondtown.org; phone: 718-351-1611.

Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden
421 East 61st St., New York, NY 10065

Mt VernonA fine example of Federal-style stonework, the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden was built in 1799 as a carriage house for the country estate of Abigail Adams Smith, daughter of President John Adams, whose husband, Colonel Smith, served George Washington in the Revolutionary War. It will be decorated for the holidays in a style in keeping with its early 19th-century origin. Embellishments will include evergreens, flowers, berries and fruit. Dining and kitchen displays will be changed regularly to include holiday and seasonal foods. In addition, MVHMG will hold its annual “Holiday Candlelight Tours” (Dec. 6 and 7; at 6, 7, and 8 pm nightly). During these evenings visitors can see the house as it was seen by its original visitors, hear a bit of New York holiday history, and sample traditional confections of the season.

Fee: General admission adults $8; students and seniors $7; children free. Please double check the website for specific dates, charges, disability access ,and possible advance registration requirements. Contact email: info@mvhm.org; phone: 212-838-6878.

The New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show
Conservatory Gate: 2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10458

NYBGFor a quintessential holiday experience, take your family to see the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show as it celebrates its 23rd year. (Nov. 16-Jan. 12). This year’s show in the magnificent Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is more elaborate than ever before, and aims to bring out the awe-struck child in all of us. You’ll see little electric trains and trolleys chugging over bridges and around more than 140 New York landmarks made entirely of plant parts such as nuts, bark, and leaves. Also, discover or revisit all the magic and coziness of the Haupt Conservatory itself. Built in 1902, it is a soaring Victorian crystal palace which was modeled after the Royal Gardens at Kew. Its 11 glass pavilions house tropical plants, palm trees, desert flora, a fern garden, and various season exhibits. Get 30 percent off the Holiday Train Show on select weekday tickets by using code 9036 online at nybg.org.

Fee: All-Garden pass: adult $28; students and seniors $26; children $16. Please double check the website for specific dates, charges, disability access, and possible advance registration requirements. Contact email: ticketingsupport@nybg.org; phone: 718-817-8700.

William Beavers is a New York writer and author of the “New York City Culture Catalog” (Abrams/Alliance for the Arts).

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