Dawn and Greg Shelton are the kind of people who think it would be fun to put on a Christmas party for a few hundred strangers at their home.
But that’s just what they did last year at their historic Newark-area home and farm, with their first annual Christmas Market at Poplar Hall. This year the European-inspired Christmas Market is back – bigger and with more holiday offerings, including live music, celebrity chefs, craft-making demonstrations, story-telling for the kids, and even a custom Colonial hot toddy. Admission is free.
TSD drove our sleigh down to Poplar Hall to get an inside scoop on the December 1 event from the impresario Greg Shelton, who’s looking to share the true spirit of Christmas.
TSD: What made you decide to invite thousands of strangers to your 18th century home over the holidays?
Greg Shelton: When we purchased Poplar Hall in 2006, it was an absolute mess. My Father and I worked hard for a year to restore the house and property, and it became a labor of love for my wife Dawn and me.
Shoot directly forward to 2013, we hosted a wreath-making party in our granary barn for close family and friends. Everyone brought food and we ate on a farm table in the middle of the room and people wore their favorite Christmas digs. You could easily see the sparkle in everyone’s eyes when eating together as friends and making homemade wreaths to adorn their homes. It was very special, and I decided that we needed to share a Poplar Hall Christmas on a much larger scale.
TSD: Tell us about the response you had last year.
Shelton: As it was our inaugural year, we hoped for 300 to 500 marketgoers throughout the day. Boy were we wrong. Easily 2500+ came to spend the day with us. Although we weren’t quite ready to handle the large crowd, we still received feedback like “Our family found the event that really gets us excited for Christmas!” And, “Thank you so much for opening your home and property to us, it’s truly beautiful.”
With the unexpected crowds, we ran out of a lot of things. So this year we’re installing a separate driveway to handle the crowds, and the beer, wine, food and drinks will be flowing!
TSD: Why did you feel that an old-style Christmas market is something our community was missing?
Poplar Hall is one of the few 18th-century homes in Delaware owned by a single family that actually lives there. My goal was to build an experience where you feel like you’ve driven to a family member’s house and spent the day eating and celebrating a true old-fashioned Christmas with them. When guests walk the property, they will find it decorated with fresh greenery and smelling like fresh cut conifers.
Also, I am kind of a “go big or go home” type guy and being an artisan myself, I felt there was a need for an event that really showcases the skills of some of the best local artists and craftsmen. People are used to spending their hard-earned money on Christmas gifts from large retailers instead of buying handmade things that will stand the test of time. It’s a mentality that I’m working hard to try and shift.
TSD: What are the special flavors you’ll offer at Poplar Market?
We’ve teamed up again with one of the area’s best chefs, Bryan Sikora. He and his team will be preparing customized German and English style fare. Local cheese, local honey, coconut macaroons, freshly made Dutch stroopwafels, baked breads, pastries and hams, bacon, beef and more.
We’ll also be providing amazing things to wet your Christmas whistles. We’ll be serving “Ale of the Revolution” from Yards Brewery in Philadelphia, and Jefferson’s Golden Ale and Washington’s Porter on tap. These ales were created directly from Jefferson and Washington’s actual recipes from the 18th century.
Also, craft wine from Delaware’s own Harvest Ridge winery and bottled cider from Rebel Seed Cidery. Homemade hot chocolate and fresh apple ciders to keep you warm while you shop.
We’ll also be making and serving a custom Colonial hot toddy that historical records show George Washington had a hankering for. We’re calling it “The Poplar Flip.”
TSD: That last one sounds pretty good. Tell me more.
It’s a mixture of Porter Ale, Rum and molasses and its activated from a tool that our blacksmith made called a “loggerhead”. We throw it in the fire till its red hot…then while we add it to the mixture, it caramelizes the sugar and it immediately ‘flips.’ It’s a must see and a must have toasty drink for everyone!
And we just added Ben Franklins Ale called “Poor Richards Spruce Ale” to the list of the Ales we’ll have on tap. It actually has real spruce needles in it and that’s a true Christmas Drink!
TSD: Sounds like there’s plenty on tap. What other fun things will be going on?
Yes, Emmy award-winning celebrity chef Walter Staib – host of “A Taste of History” PBS cooking show, Chef – will be here selling his homemade Christmas Stollen bread and signing and his cookbooks. British cars from 50-70’s, vintage British Motorcycles also from 50’s-60’s and vintage bike racing suits, helmets and signage.
A special storytelling for the kids and parents from a true Old-World Father Christmas. We’ll have a wonderful set of demonstrations by a blacksmith, woodworker, fiber artist, Windsor chair maker and a special demo from the Delaware State police Service K-9 dogs and so much more.
Recording artists “Hotsy Totsy” will again be gracing our event with two Christmas concerts to get everyone in the holiday spirit!
So come for the day, eat, see the sights, shop and grab a freshly cut Christmas tree to tie to the top of your car.
TSD: What about the exhibitors?
As always, this event is truly highlighted by the amazing set of local artisans. From hand-poured candles and skin care, hand-designed colonial style wreaths, one of kind jewelry, wheel-spun pottery and mugs to wood-carved Santas and Father Christmas, oil paintings, glass ornaments, plaid blanketing, soaps and loads more.
Each vendor is required to hand make each product, or at least design and manage the complete process. So marketgoers get to speak directly to the maker and learn how they honed in on their craft. Also, they get to sip a craft beer or wine while doing it.