Talk about a richness of opportunity. We have such an abundance of holiday offerings that it’s difficult to keep track of what is available. But since the holiday season is steeped in history, it’s appropriate to start with holiday activities at some of the historic homes that we’re fortunate enough to have in our figurative backyard. So let’s go to homes for the holiday.
Drumthwacket mansion in Princeton is the official residence of the state governor and officially starts the season with the opening of its annual holiday open house on Wednesday, November 28.
The 1835 Greek Revival-style building at 354 Stockton Street (Route 206) sits on property owned first by William Penn and then Olden family. The home was built by former state governor Charles Smith Olden (1860-63) who named the home Drumthwacket — Gaelic for “wooded hill.” In later years it was the residence of a number of prominent Princetonians, including International Latex Corporation founder Abram Nathaniel Spanel.
With the understanding that Drumthwacket become the official resident of the governor, the Spanel family sold the estate to the state in 1966. Change moves slow in the state and Morven continued to the be the governor’s mansion until the end of the Governor Brenden Byrne’s administration in 1982. While Governors Kean, and Whitman resided elsewhere during their terms, Governors Florio and McGreevy were residents, and Jon Corzine convalesced there after his automobile accident. Governor Christie periodically stays the night, but more often uses it for meetings.
The holiday open house is organized by the Drumthwacket Foundation in partnership with the Garden Clubs of New Jersey. The event features a guided tour of the historic building decorated for the season by members of six state garden clubs.
Drumthwacket, 354 Stockton Street, Princeton. Wednesday, November 28, 11 a.m. Reservations are required; suggested $5 donation. Other tours: Wednesdays, December 5 and 12, at 11 a.m., and Sundays, December 2 and 9, at 11 a.m. 609-683-0057 or www.drumthwacket.org/events.html.
On Saturday, December 1, from noon to 5 p.m., the historic Trent House, the oldest house in Trenton, will be open for its annual holiday open house and tree, wreath, and greens sale. The 1720 structure built by William Trent, the man who gave Trenton its name (“Trent’s Town”), will boast decorations by the Garden Club of Trenton and music by harpsichordist Carl Nittinger.
At 3 p.m. the Capital Singers under the direction of conductor Richard Loatman will present a concert. Free admission and complimentary refreshments make the day a great way to start the season. In case the weekend doesn’t work, the society is having a pre-sale green events on the afternoons of Thursday and Friday, November 29 and 30.
Trent House, 15 Market Street, Trenton. 609-989-3207 or go to www.williamtrenthouse.org.
Also on Saturday, December 1 is the annual Mill Hill Holiday House Tour in Trenton. Now in its 46th consecutive year, the tour is one of the capital city’s most important community events. Coordinated by the Old Mill Hill Society and the residents of Mill Hill, the event has plays a vital role in the restoration of the neighborhood. Their theme this year is “Music in the City,” and neighborhood homes “will swing open their doors and invite people to come in from the cold.” Visitors can view both the 19th-century building facades and interiors that offer surprises from elegant restorations to contemporary re-envisioning. By the way, the “Mill” in Mill Hill is related to the early mill by one of the city’s founder, Mahlon Stacy.
Mill Hill Holiday House Tour. Saturday, December 1, noon to 5 p.m. Start at Artworks, 19 Everett Alley and South Stockton Street. $15 in advance/$20 day of. www.trentonmillhill.org/events-house.html
On Saturday, December 1, the town of Roebling, touted as one of the most intact company towns left in America, and the Roebling Museum will offer visitors an opportunity to relive the holidays in early 20th century America style.
Coordinators are offering tours of seven decorated private homes, the Roebling Museum (in a former factory), and the recently restored Roebling Auditorium. Tours run from noon to 5 p.m. Since former factory workers of the John A. Roebling Company came from Eastern Europe, Hungarian and other ethnic foods will be available for purchase.
Roebling Museum, 100 Second Avenue, and Roebling Auditorium, Seventh & Main Street, Roebling. Tickets $20. 609-499-7200 or roeblingmuseum.org.
Saturday, December 1, is also “Christmas on the Farm” at Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville. A piece of history with portions of the house dating back to the 18th century, the farm consists of 130 acres with a center gathering area of houses and barns where farming practices from the early 1900s are still maintained. Celebrations start at 10:15 a.m., when children can hitch a ride on the horse drawn wagon, travel through the fields, and stop to help farmers cut down a Christmas tree.
Later everyone can get involved with decorating it with ears of corn, pine cones, and other natural ornaments. Hot apple cider and cookies will be served. Other activities, include the noon arrival of St. Nick and his sleigh and craft workshops (with a material fee) running from 11a.m. to 3 p.m.
Howell Farm, 101 Hunter Road, Titusville. Free admission and parking. 609-737-3299 or www.howellfarm.org.
The Morven Museum in Princeton starts its annual Festival of Trees with a preview party on Sunday, December 2, 5 to 7:30 p.m. On that day the circa 1750 home of Declaration of Independence signer Richard Stockton and later several governors of New Jersey shows off 13 galleries decorated for the holidays and adorned with trees artfully decorated by local businesses, garden clubs, and non-profit organizations. Morven’s poetic name comes from Scottish poetry and has the connotation of a mythic Celtic place, reflecting the taste of Stockton’s wife, the poet Annis Boudinot Stockton. The eye poetry of Festival of Trees continues through January 6.
Morven Museum, 55 Stockton Street, Princeton. www.morven.org or 609-924-8144.
On Thursday and Friday, December 6 and 7, Pennsbury Manor in Morrisville, PA, will present its Holly Nights. Held for more than 25 years on the grounds of the historic recreation of William Penn’s 1683 summer mansion, this Yule time event lets torches, candles, and luminaries light the grounds and bring the past alive.
Add strolling carolers, a bonfire where visitors can make a New Year wish by tossing in a holly sprigs, and hot cider, and you have the ingredients of an old-fashioned holiday. The admission for Holly Night is $10 for adults, $6 for children under the age of 11, and free for children under three.
Pennsbury Manor, 400 Pennsbury Memorial Road, Morrisville. Thursday and Friday, December 6 and 7. $10 adults, $6 children under 11. 215-946-0400 or www.pennsburymanor.org.
On Saturday and Sunday, December 1 and 2, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the 1892 Kuser Farm Mansion in Hamilton Township will begin its Christmas at the Mansion tours. Built by a prominent Trenton family, Kuser Mansion’s decorated period rooms will provide a near authentic glimpse of a Victorian Christmas. Of special interest is the “Theater in the Dining Room,” with its once state-of-the-art 18-foot curved Cinema-Scope screen, thanks to the Kusers’ early investment with the Fox Film Company.
Tours continue that week from Thursday through Saturday, December 6 through 8, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, December 9, 6 to 9 p.m. They will then conclude the following Wednesday through Friday, December 12 through 14, from 6 to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, December 15 and 16, from 4 to 8 p.m.
The mansion also houses the Jersey Valley Model Railroad organization’s extensive model railroad display, on view Wednesday and Thursday, December 12 and 13, from 6 to 9 p.m., and Friday through Sunday, December 14 through 16, 6 to 8 p.m.
Kuser Mansion, Kuser and Leonard Avenues, Hamilton. 609-890-3630.
The 1790 Schenck House will host holiday openings on Saturday and Sunday, December 8 and 9, from 1 to 4 p.m. Visitors will be offered self-guided tours through the decorated farmhouse and the opportunity to visit the barn, wagon house, and a one-room schoolhouse. Entry is based on a what-you-will donation.
Schenck House, Southfield Road, West Windsor. 609-799-1278.
On Friday, December 19, the Johnson Ferry House at New Jersey’s Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville will present its annual Lantern Walking Tour. This one-of-a-kind, two-hour event leads visitors by fire light from that point on the river where Washington and his army landed to the 18th-century home of the farmers and ferry operators who welcomed them. Meeting rain or shine, the historian-led tour involves historical re-enactors and wassail before an authentic colonial hearth.
Johnson Ferry House, Washington Crossing State Park. Donation requested; reservations required. 609-737-2515 or www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html.
Since one of the most important moments in American history occurred in this region during Christmas, it is only fitting that they be commemorated, and two major activities highlight New Jersey as the “Crossroads of the Revolution.”
The annual Christmas Day Crossing marks its 60th year when George Washington and his troop appear again on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware and row their Durham boats to New Jersey as they did in 1776. While the actual reenactment begins at 1 p.m. on Christmas Day, visitors can arrive early to inspect historical buildings and watch the period-dressed troops assemble.
For those unable to make the event on Christmas, a dress rehearsal may be a good substitute as well as a way to help the fund that supports the Friends of Washington Crossing Park. The rehearsal is set for Sunday, December 9, at 1 p.m. Admission $8, $4 for children five to 11, and free for youngsters under age five.
Washington Crossing Historic Park, Routes 32 and 532, Washington Crossing, PA. 215-493-4076 or go to www.ushistory.org/washingtoncrossing/index.htm.
Patriots Week in Trenton continues the commemoration of Washington’s most important battles with a week of more than 30 activities including site tours, lectures, puppet shows, and re-enactments of the Battles of Trenton. The largest Revolutionary War festival in the nation, Patriots Week runs from December 27 to January 1. For the complete Patriots’ Week schedule, visit www.patriotsweek.com.
While music makes the holiday, musical traditions make the region. And two such activities involve the same work, Handel’s “Messiah.”
On Monday, December 10, Penna Rose, Princeton University Chapel’s director of chapel music and past assistant conductor and pianist of the New York Choral Society, will lead the entire community in a performance of the Christmas portion of the Handel’s oratorio (with the tidy addition of the “Hallelujah” chorus from the Easter section). While there will be accompaniment with strings, horns, and organ as well as trained singers singing the arias, this is an active event to engage the singer in everyone. Participants can bring their own scores or borrow one at the door.
Handel’s Messiah, Princeton University Chapel. Monday, December 10, 7:30 p.m. $5; free for students.
On Sunday, December 16, Princeton Pro Musica, now in its 34th season, returns to the Patriot’s Theater at the War Memorial in Trenton for its annual presentation of Handel’s 1741 masterpiece. Recently appointed artist director Ryan James Brandau conducts the 100-member group.
Featured performers include 2010 Carnegie Hall solo performer Melanie Russell, New York Opera Theater Competition winner Nicholas Tamagna, Detroit Symphony Orchestra “Messiah” performer Douglass Williams, and Ewing tenor Steven Brennfleck, who in addition to performing with the Philadelphia and Princeton youth orchestras will debut later this month in Masterwork Chorus’s “Messiah” at Carnegie Hall.
Handel’s Messiah, Patriot’s Theater at the War Memorial. Sunday, December 16, 3 p.m. $25 to $55. 609-683-5122 or www.princetonpromusica.org.
On Saturday, December 1, the Princeton Singers and artistic director Steven Sametz present “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” at Trinity Church, 33 Mercer Street, Princeton. Guest narrator Congressman Rush Holt will read Dylan Thomas’ lively account of a country boy’s recollection of Christmas while the choir provides carols and holiday favorites. Tickets are $15-$25. The program is recommended for ages 10 and up. www.princetonsingers.org or 866-846-7464.
Bravura Philharmonic’s “Happiness for the Holidays,” Princeton Alliance Church, 20 Schalks Crossing Road, Plainsboro, Sunday, December 2, 7 p.m. Richard Tang-Yuk will conduct selections from the Christmas section of Handel’s “Messiah.” Also included are Bizet’s “L’Arlesienne Suite No. 1,” Johann Stauss’ overture to the “Die Fledermaus,” “Overture to Jewish Themes,” and the annual holiday music sing-along. $12 to $25. www.bravuraphil.org 609-790-9559, or 609-933-4729 (Chinese).
Mannheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis, State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. Friday, December 7, 8 p.m. Davis and company are now in their 27th year of touring a holiday show with the music that made him one of the top Christmas music artists of all time. 732-246-7469 or www.statetheatrenj.org.
Voices Chorale of Pennington 25th season Christmas Concert, Trinity Episcopal Church, 33 Mercer Street, Princeton. Saturday, December 8, 3 and 5:30 p.m. Conducted by music director Lyn Ransom and associate conductor Andrew Monath, the concert draws from 1,200 years of choral music and includes eighth-century chants, Renaissance songs, and favorites by Handel, Mendelssohn, and Tchaikovsky. Camilla Jarnot will be at the organ. $10 to $25. 609-637-9383 or www.voiceschorale.org.
David Leonhardt Jazz Group’s Winter Jazz Holiday Concert, Yardley Community Center, 64 South Main Street, Yardley. Saturday, December 8, 7:30 p.m. $10 to $18. 215-493-3010 or www.bcpac.org/events.
New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus’ “Blow Ye the Trumpet: A Holiday Celebration,” New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 801 West State Street, Trenton. Sunday, December 9, 4 p.m. Featuring a program of holiday favorites, the group will be joined by the women’s ensemble Upper Octave and guest trumpeter Gary Feinberg, chair of the College of New Jersey’s music department. $15 to $25. 732-579-8449 or www.njgmc.org.
As expected from a region dense with colleges and universities with internationally recognized music departments, more high-quality musical offerings are waiting.
At the Princeton University Chapel two free seasonal music presentations are being readied by the University Chapel Choir.
The first is the annual Advent Concert on Sunday, December 2, at 2:30 p.m., with a program featuring composer Benjamin Britten’s “St. Nicholas.” Chapel music director Penna Rose conducts the Princeton University Chapel Choir and orchestra. Singer and former conductor for the Harlem Boys Choir M. Roger Holland II is guest.
The second event is the seasonal Candlelight Service, which features readings and music by the Chapel Choir, Glee Club, and a cappella groups, set for Wednesday, December 12, at 7:30 p.m.
The chapel will also serve as host for other area voices. On Friday and Saturday, December 7 and 8, the Princeton Girl Choir of Westminster Choir College will present “Readings and Carols,” 8 p.m. The following Saturday, December 15, at 7:30 p.m., the celebrated Princeton-based American Boychoir presents “Voices of Angels.” 609-258-3654 or www.princetonchapelchoir.com.
Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium will add several holiday musical events to its normally heavy schedule.
On Sunday, December 9, at 3 p.m. the Princeton University Glee Club and Chamber Choir will present their annual holiday concert.
On Saturday, December 15, 4 p.m., the Princeton Symphony Orchestra will present its Holiday POPS!, a Princeton tradition that includes a festive community sing-along. This year the PSO welcomes back the New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble for a performance of the “March of the Wooden Soldiers” from “Babes in Toyland.” Also on the bill are the Princeton High School Choir, music from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” and a narration of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
On Sunday, December 16, at 2:30 p.m., the American Boychoir presents “Winter Wonderland.”
On Sunday, December 23, at 2 p.m., the Princeton Brass Band’s Holiday Brass-Tacular rounds out the offerings. 609-258-5000 or www.princeton.edu/richaud/upevents.shtml
On Monday, December 10, Princeton Theological Seminary will present three musical services of carols from around the world for the seminary and Princeton communities at 3:30, 6:30, and 8:30 p.m. in Miller Chapel. This 12-year-old Christmas tradition includes readings, choral anthems, and congregational carols led by the Princeton Seminary Choir and international students and staff of the seminary. After each service, participants are invited to carol by candlelight outside of the chapel. The event is free and open to the public.
Miller Chapel, Princeton Theological Seminary. Monday, December 10, 3:30, 6:30, and 8:30 p.m. Free. www.ptsem.edu or 609-497-7890.
Rider University will ring in the season, literally. At 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, December 1 and 2, at Bristol Chapel, the Westminster Concert Bell Choir presents a German Christmas, featuring transcriptions of light classics, carols, and folk songs. Tickets are $20 to $25.
On Tuesday, December 4, at 7:30 p.m., the Rider and Blawenburg Band presents its annual free winter concert. Founded in Blawenburg in 1890, the band is now one of the oldest community bands in New Jersey. Jerry Rife conducts the performance at the Bart Luedeke Center.
Rider University Chorale presents its free holiday concert on Friday, December 7, at 7:30 p.m. at Gill Memorial Chapel on the Rider University campus.
Rider University Choir’s Holiday Concert takes place Saturday, December 8, 7:30 p.m., at the Bart Luedeke Center Theater with a program of holiday favorites. Free admission.
Westminster Community Chorus presents De Colores, Christmas music from the African-American and Latino traditions, including African-American spirituals, villancicos, and other Christmas songs from the United States, Canada, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, on Friday and Saturday, December 14 and 15, at 8 p.m., in Bristol Chapel on the Choir College campus. Tickets are $15 to $10.
www.rider.edu, 609-896-7775 (Lawrenceville campus), or 609-921-2663 (Princeton campus).
Holiday Concert, College of New Jersey Choir, Mildred and Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall, 2000 Pennington Road, Ewing. Sunday, December 2, 4 p.m. Includes works by Stravinsky. $5 to $15. tcnjcenterforthearts.pages.tcnj.edu/tcnj-box-office
Gloria in Excelsis Deo, MCCC Chorus. Tuesday, December 11, 7:30 p.m. Featured will be music by composers as Gustav Holst, Benjamin Britten, and John Rutter.
MCCC Jazz Band’s Winter Concert. Wednesday, December 12, 8 p.m. Featuring works ranging from Hank Mobley to Kurt Cobain.
Both concerts at Kelsey Theater, 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor. 609-570-3735.
McCarter Theater in Princeton again takes center stage for the holiday season with its celebrated professional production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Called “a must-see” production by the New York Times, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s redeeming encounter with three spirits and his own past is a regional holiday event. Shows run Sunday, December 2, through Friday, December 28. Tickets are $20-$75.
McCarter Theater, 91 University Place, Princeton. 609-258-2787 or go to www.mccarter.org.
The recently reopened Bucks County Playhouse is back in the holiday cultural season with a stage production based on the holiday film favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.” The show is performed as a 1940s live radio broadcast in front of a live studio audience. Performances start Thursday, December 13, and continue to December 30. Tickets are $29 to $54.
Bucks County Playhouse, 70 South Main Street, New Hope. 215-862-2121 or www.bcptheater.org.
Crossroads Theater in New Brunswick gets back in the holiday swing, too, with its Holiday Jubilee, Thursday, December 6, through Sunday, December 16. This musical event evokes the 1970s to present a multicultural holiday celebration that mixes global traditions and the music of Motown. Tickets are $40.
Crossroads Theater, 17 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. 732-545-8100 or www.crossroadstheatrecompany.org.
Mercer County Community College Community College will presents “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” based on the beloved poem by Clement Moore. Performances are set for Saturday, December 1 at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m., and Sunday, December 2, at 2 and 4 p.m. $10. 609-570-3333 or www.kelseyatmccc.org.
American Repertory Ballet launches its 49th season of “The Nutcracker,” an annual Princeton holiday tradition. The original company, known as the Princeton Regional Ballet Company, presented its first “Nutcracker” in the early 1960s, choreographed by company founder and then director Audree Estey. ARB’s current version features the “Party” and “Battle Scene” choreography from that original production. The remaining scenes were choreographed by current artistic director Douglas Martin and resident choreographer Mary Barton.
American Repertory Ballet continues bringing “Nutcracker” to regional audiences, just as it has for decades. On the heels of its McCarter Theater performances, the company moves to Patriot’s Theater at the Trenton War Memorial Building, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, for two performances on Saturday, December 8, at 1 and 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 to $45. www.thewarmemorial.com or 732-249-1254 ext. 12.
ARB then goes to New Brunswick where “Nutcracker” dancers perform with a live orchestra conducted by Princeton University’s Michael Pratt, Friday, December 21, at 10:30 a.m.; Saturday, December 22, at 1 and 4:30 p.m.; and Sunday, December 23, at 1 and 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $32 to $57. www.statetheatrenj.org or 732-246-7469.
More Nutcrackers: The Lambertville Roxey Ballet continues presenting its “cutting edge ballet” approach to “The Nutcracker” at the College of New Jersey’s Kendall Hall on Saturday and Sunday, December 1 and 2, at 3 p.m., and on Monday, December 3, at 10 a.m. Tickets are $18-$50. roxeyballet.org.
Two different “Nutcracker” events are set for Kelsey Theater at Mercer County community college.
Alborada Spanish Dance Theater brings area audiences “El Sueno” (The Dream), an adaptation of “The Nutcracker” that uses gypsy flamenco, and Spanish regional dance, live music, and professional dancers. Performances run Friday, December 7, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, December 8 at 2 and 8 p.m.
The New Jersey Youth Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” a narrated and abridged version for young audiences, runs Friday, December 17, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, December 18 and 19, at 1 and 4 p.m. 609-570-3333 or www.kelseyatmccc.org.
For dance enthusiasts looking for something different, there’s the Princeton-based DanceVision’s original ballet, “The Snow Queen,” choreographed by artistic director Risa Kaplowitz. Based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen, the production uses original projection artwork as its sets. Performances are set for Saturday, December 15, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, December 16, at noon and 4 p.m. $15-$30. Kendall Main Stage Theater, the College of New Jersey, 2000 Pennington Road, Ewing. 609-520-1020 or www.dancevisionnj.org.