By Lynne Hendricks
---- — The holidays represent a time to declare that in the face of enormous change our finest moments can be immortalized in the twinkling of lights, the jingle of bells, and the laughter of friends around our holiday table.
With so much good intent at stake, it’s no wonder that some of us go all out in the pursuit of creating an alluring holiday home, taking special care to adorn homes so that even passers-by are moved by the display. In Newburyport, where one imagines the city’s historic homes were alight at Christmas long before the days of electricity, it’s especially moving to see the manner in which neighbors decorate for the holidays.
And that’s why the Custom House Maritime Museum’s annual Holiday House Tour has become such a popular tradition, offering guests a chance to glimpse beyond the window lights into some of the city’s finest homes transformed for the season.
This year’s tour is set for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Guests and holiday enthusiasts will be welcome to step inside 11 local homes that represent a variety of architectural styles from Newburyport’s storied past.
Beginning at the Custom House Maritime Museum and a trio of waterfront homes that offer a “jeweled” vision of Joppa Flats and Newburyport’s picturesque marshland, guests will meander at their own pace from the river up to High Street, stopping along the way to visit some of the south end’s finest Federalist homes.
From there, they will be welcomed into the grand homes built nearly two hundred years ago by the city’s sea captains, into a home overlooking Brown’s Square, and several others that represent Newburyport’s culture and history.
“Christmas is something we do big every year,” said Meg Wiley, whose Georgian Federalist home at 17 High Street is among the tour stops.
Wiley is a holiday enthusiast who always creates a holiday showplace for her family, with special placement given to a collection of Santa Clause Figures she’s been collecting since she was 20 years old. This year, however, she wanted to go a step further to give guests of the tours something to remember.
“I always decorate huge, but once we decided to do this, because we wanted people to really be wowed by the tour, we hired a floral designer Jan Lorrey,” said Wiley. “Once you decide to do this you want to share the house and all it can be with the people that come.”
The result, she said, is a home decorated throughout with fresh, natural holiday boughs of green and natural touches that accentuate all her favorite holiday collections, but with some added twinkling lights that work perfectly with the early 19th century home decor.
It’s the perfect setting for her family celebration, and might give guests some ideas for creating similar displays in their home using their own special touches.
“These are decorations that have been collected since I was a baby,” Wiley said. “They are a reflection of the years.”
Deborah Byrnes, of Old Point Road on Plum Island, is offering up her home to the tour to showcase the kind of magic one can create in a newer, more modern home. Built atop steel pillars in the style of many island homes, with 22 foot high ceilings and plenty of light, Byrnes’ home works a different holiday angle built around the beach and her favorite view of the marsh, where blue heron and fox flit by on occasion, and where she’s created a holiday home that feels “yummy and comfortable.”
“It’s very fresh,” Byrnes said. “White becomes fresh and fresh becomes sparkly. When you really look at the sand, and when you look at real nature, there are sparkles in nature. That’s what the house is -- it’s sort of glam plus nature experience.”
A more traditional experience awaits at the home of Anne Tuthill at 1 High Road in Newbury, directly across from Wiley’s home. According to Tuthill, who has been a regular guest at the Holiday House Tour for 20 years, her home has been transformed in the spirit of a favorite and beloved holiday ballet.
“What we did for the tour is highlight the Nutcracker Ballet,” Tuthill said.
There’s a room decked out in the style of the Party Scene, a room that doubles as a dancer’s dressing room complete with a folding screen draped with costumes and tutus.
“Our dining room is done over as the Kingdom of Sweets,” said Tuthill, replete with a three-tiered cake and stemware glasses overflowing with candy. “In the kitchen we have a gingerbread house as a nod to Mother Ginger. It actually was created by three generations and it shows. It’s not all perfect but it’s really fun.”
IF YOU GO What: Holiday House Tour. When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Where: 11 homes throughout the Newburyport area. How: Tickets can be purchased to the event in advance by calling 978-462-8681,or through the Custom House Museum gift shop for $23 for the general public. On the day of the tour, tickets will be available for $28 at the Custom House M On the day of the tours the Massachusetts Audubon Societyâ€™s Joppa Flats Education Center will be open during the tour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., serving tour-goers cider and donuts. Coffee and chowder, complements of Starbucks and Starboard Galley, will be available at the Museum from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. o the day of the tour, at which time guests will be invited to bid on a number of one-of-a-kind wreaths created for a special Silent Wreath Auction.