Last year I wrote about how I dread the end of the Christmas season (I don’t take my tree down ’til darn near the end of January) because that means I have to start thinking about summer camp for my son. This year I have an even better idea. I’m going to lengthen the holiday season by starting in early November so I have a full three months of joy and holiday cheer before I have to delve into that dreaded camp task. Herewith, my completely subjective suggestions for getting a jumpstart on your holidays.

#h#Westminster Concerts#/h#

The Princeton area holiday season is arguably defined more by music than by any other single factor. Tickets to Westminster Choir College’s bonanza of concerts have just gone on sale. If you don’t act quickly, you’re out of luck.

Concerts range from cool yule jazz to handbell concerts to medieval Christmas carols. The most popular performance is an evening of readings and carols — a spectacular evening of holiday music for choir, organ, and brass in the grandeur of the Princeton University Chapel, Friday and Saturday, December 8 and 9.

To accommodate the high demand, Westminster is offering extended box office hours, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Thursday, November 10. Beginning November 11 the box office will be open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Due to the high demand Westminster cannot accept mail, fax, or E-mail orders. Tickets are sold in person (the box office is located in Williamson Hall, 101 Walnut Lane, at the corner of Hamilton Avenue, or by phone, 609-921-2663. For details, including performance locations and ticket information, visit www.rider.edu/arts.

#h#A Mansion’s Holiday Style#/h#

If decorating your house is what gets you in the mood for the holidays be sure to reserve your spot for one of only four open houses at Drumthwacket, the Governor’s Mansion. Some of New Jersey’s most elite garden clubs, in a friendly competition, decorate the house in high style in a bid for top winner, as judged by officials from the Garden Club of New Jersey. Visitors also vote for the People’s Choice Award.

Drumthwacket Holiday Open House: Wednesdays, November 29, and December 6 and 13; and Sunday, December 10. $5 donation to the Drumthwacket Foundation. Parking on site. Reservations online at www.drumthwacket.org/events.html.

#h#Sample Sales#/h#

Some of you know this but I’m a sample sale freak. I have discovered several in this area and they are key to getting a jumpstart on holiday gift giving, while saving you mucho bucks. I’ve got three favorites:

Ana Design. Company founder Frank Weeden, a designer, skilled tradesman, engineer, and entrepreneur formerly worked in the fine art casting business producing large size bronze sculptures. In 1994 Weeden developed a process for manufacturing unique designs for the luxury candle market and founded Ana Design Corporation. His signature striped candles (secret: the stripes are actually made with an inlay process) in luxurious color combinations are 14 inches tall and have received major media exposure, most recently in the October issue of Country Home. They also make “quilted” cubes and columns.

Ana Design sample sale: Friday and Saturday, November 17 and 18, and December 1, 2, 8, and 9, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. One Ott Street, Trenton. Directions: From Route 1 north or south, take the Perry Street exit, turn right onto Perry Street (east). At second light, turn left onto North Clinton Avenue (keep left at this intersection). Go north one block past the Trenton Police Station. Take the first left onto Ott Street. The Ana Design factory is the blue building on the left (parking in rear). They will direct you back to Route 1.

Philip David. Did you ever go into a gift shop and wonder where the shop got all those candles, “spa-mation” stuff (my nickname for body lotions, skin care products, and bath goodies), hostess gifts, gift books, ceramics, and all manner of kitchen, household, and giftware? Well, they get them from companies like Philip David and those companies have to unload all their samples once a year to get ready for new collections. This is a sale you must get to literally 15 minutes before they open and bring lots of cash. Once the door opens it’s off to the races as Philip David groupies zoom from room to room, grabbing up ladies watches, costume jewelry, baby items, stocking stuffers, tee shirts, plush toys, pj’s, items for ’tweens, pet-themed gifts, fashion purses, stationery, Christmas items, mugs, home decor items, novelties, and more, for 50 to 75 percent off retail.

Philip David sample sale: Wednesday, November 8, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Thursday, November 9, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 3625 Quakerbridge Road (sign says Mercadian, drive around back), Mercerville. 609-588-0141. Note: Cash only.

Touch of Ivy. Talk about finding a niche. Founder Ivy Weitzman makes one thing and one thing only at her Princeton Junction headquarters — exquisite, high-end sachets in an array of beautiful styles and gorgeous fabrics that have received major media attention in magazines like InStyle. Designs range from the elegant and whimsical — a miniature ballgown on a tiny hanger, an Elizabethan shoe — to the practical, like a pair of scented shoe stuffers. Sachets are available in the signature “Lily” fragrance and holiday sachets are scented with “Orange Spice.” At the sample sale you’ll also find ribbon and fabric remnants.

Touch of Ivy sample sale: Thursday, November 30, through Friday, December 15, 9:30 to 4:30 on the weekdays (call for weekend hours). 51 Everett Drive, Suite A-50, Princeton Junction. 609-750-9004, www.touchofivy.com.

#h#A Secret Huge Boutique#/h#

Some ladies who lunch claim it’s the best-kept holiday shopping secret in all of central New Jersey. For two days only the George Washington Ballroom of the Trenton War Memorial is transformed into an outstanding shopping experience featuring over 20 specialty boutique vendors from throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. Proceeds from the Red Bow Boutique benefit the exhibitions and programs of the New Jersey State Museum. On Tuesday, November 28, 4 to 7 p.m., is a preview party with wine-tasting, hors d’oeuvres, silent auction, and musical entertainment by the Rick Fiori Jazz Trio. Admission is $5 (free for state workers). On Wednesday, November 29, admission is free, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a benefit luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (reservations required).

Red Bow Boutique, Trenton War Memorial, located off Route 29 on Memorial Drive. Ample, secure parking. For directions visit www.thewarmemorial.com/directions_page.html.

#h#An Old-Fashioned Christmas#/h#

If the commercialism of the holidays is too much for you and you yearn to retreat to an earlier, simpler time, try Holly Nights at Pennsbury Manor, the original home of William Penn. A community tradition for over 25 years, Holly Nights is a feast for the senses, offering crackling fires, hot mulled cider, dancing shadows, and the merry sounds of carolers strolling the grounds.

Toss a green sprig on the Yule log bonfire, make a wish for the coming new year, step back into the glow of torches, candles, and luminaries, and enjoy the bustle of colonial craftspeople (always happy to chat, mind you) and the good cheer of noels and wassailing songs. And, if Old Man Winter wills it, you may also feel the crunch of frosty pathways underfoot.

Holly Nights, Thursday and Friday, December 7 and 8, 5:30 to 9 p.m., Pennsbury Manor, 400 Pennsbury Memorial Road, Morrisville, PA. 215-946-0400, www.pennsburymanor.org.

#h#A Scrooge Alternative#/h#

Had enough of the old Scrooge? Bristol Riverside Theater presents “The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge,” a new play by a former member of the McCarter acting company, Mark Brown, who grew up in the area and graduated from Hopewell Valley High School and Rider, and is now writing and acting in Los Angeles. In an imaginative sequel to “A Christmas Carol,” we now find that Scrooge, recently named the London Chamber of Commerce’s Humanitarian of the Year, has filed suit against the four ghosts. In an entertaining courtroom drama — with a cast that includes seasoned Shakespearean actors David Howey, who performed with companies including the Royal Shakespeare Company for 30 years and Scotland native Douglas Campbell — see how the Spirits attempt to defend their actions and what has brought Scrooge to file his outrageous complaint in the first place.

The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tuesday, November 14, through Sunday, December 10, Bristol Riverside Theater, 120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, PA, 215-785-0100, www.BRTstage.org.

#h#Food Workshops#/h#

At Grounds for Sculpture on Saturday, November 11, David Ryan, executive chef of Chez Alice, and Peter Max Kierkes, pastry chef at Rat’s Restaurant, demonstrate how to “sculpt” creations from fruits, vegetables, and other edibles: Seasonal Holiday Hors d’oeuvres, 1 to 2 p.m.; Vegetable Garnishes for Your Holiday Table, 2 to 3 p.m.; Working with Marzipan, 3 to 4 p.m. $10 per person per workshop.

A cookie decorating workshop takes place on Saturday, November 25, from 1 to 4 p.m. ($5 for three cookies; decorating materials are supplied).

Grounds for Sculpture is also holding its second annual Gingerbread House contest (pick up your gingerbread house kit or make your own). Bring your creation on Saturday, November 25, to the annual holiday tree lighting, where prizes will be awarded at 5:30 p.m. (children and adult categories). For complete rules and to register for workshops call 609-586-0616, ext. 20.

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