All states have beautiful places, and it’s common for people to be attached to “their” parts of the country. I love Kennett Square and Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. This area is, I think, a magical place to visit. The Brandywine River Museum is a popular destination around Christmastime; in addition to the always-showcased art of N.C. Wyeth, his son Andrew Wyeth and his grandson Jamie Wyeth, among others, there are several seasonal fixtures that are not to be missed.
Around the holidays, Longwood Gardens dresses their trees in thousands of tiny lights, which illuminate the garden in a most unique and unforgettable way. There is a fountain and light show in the open air theater and intricate decorations adorning every structure.
Visiting these places as a child are integral to the intense pleasure I recall feeling around Christmas. But this year for the first time, I became conscious of something I had always known: much of the fond and fierce attachment to places you’ve known and loved is intricately linked with those who were with you when you knew them. My family is there in almost every memory of walking through the greenhouses, singing carols while the fabulous organ trumped all voices, coming upon treehouses and lakes or streams with fish and birds unexpectedly, as though they weren’t where my parents had been leading us.
-o- The Brandywine River Museum -o-
In the courtyard, local farmers and artisans sell their wares. For years I purchased beeswax ornaments for my grandmothers and begged my parents for flavored honey sticks to suck on… I didn’t really like them, but they were sort of like candy. There is usually a wonderful woman selling hot apple cider to help cut the cold, and though we missed it this year, there is often a vendor selling hot roasted chestnuts. This year, I bought a hand-crafted gold and mother-of-pearl ring from a jeweler out of Paoli-Malvern.
One of the best parts of visiting the museum during the holiday season is the train display. It was PACKED this year and obtaining pictures was tough, but I managed to get the waterfall and the adorable black bear family displays. The longest train this year was touted as having 140 cars, but my family counted 142!
The art of three generations of Wyeth artists and other brilliant painters, sculptors and illustrators adorn the walls. I enjoy perusing the galleries, but the holiday displays are truly what keep me coming back. Finally, though it is usually too cold to walk along it, I love the Brandywine River upon which the museum sits.
-o- Longwood Gardens -o-
Even in the wind and rain, walking through the gardens when dressed with lights is a wonderful experience. This year, we made it to the Ballroom in the Conservatory just in time for one of the organ-accompanied caroling sessions. When Pierre DuPont commissioned the building of the organ, it was the largest ever purchased for a private residence. Some of the pipes of the organ are on display; the pipes that produce the deepest notes larger around than a man’s thigh and the ones producing the highest notes thinner than a pencil.
Each year, the Gardens create a “Christmas Route” through the greenhouses that includes some of the most beautiful trees, flowers, cacti, bonsai and floral creations in the greenhouses. This year the route included a Gingerbread Room, filled with edible trees, a train, and tables filled a scrumptious-looking selection of desserts.
The gardens are lovely in every season. In the summer, there are dozens of varieties of roses in a large stone square. In the spring you can walk among hundreds of thousands of many-hued blossoms and smell the scent of new growth in the are. But I am recommending now that you visit in the winter and see the lights, the imaginative Christmas tree and Poinsettia displays, and smell the gardenias and lilies that perfume the air in the extensive glass-walled conservatories.
And just when I thought the day couldn’t be improved upon, on the way out my parents bought me a cookbook from the gift shop, and it has quickly become one of my favorite Christmas gifts from this year. The New England Soup Factory Cookbook by Marjorie Druker and Clara Silverstein has over 100 soup recipes, and I can’t decide which to try first (and, as it happens, I got an immersion blender from my mother for Christmas!) Check out one of my favorites, Spinach, Feta and Pine Nut Soup, on how2heroes.