If one of your Christmas traditions is touring spectacularly decorated spaces in the region in that crammed timeframe between Thanksgiving and Christmas, this is not the season for tradition.
The Brandywine River Museum of Art unveils part its holiday display on Halloween, the day before Nemours Estate closes for the year, skipping its holiday displays.
Winterthur is debuting an amazing outdoor light show that heralds “a different, more vibrant yuletide going forward,” communications manager Mark Nardone said. You can still go inside one of America’s largest houses, and dozens of themed activities are scheduled.
Hagley Museum is emphasizing gingerbread and cookies.
And Longwood Gardens will, as always, be spectacular.
Here’s what’s happening at each destination, all of course following government rules on social distancing and mask wearing. Timed tickets, pre-sales and capacity limits are common.
Brandywine River Museum of Art
Holiday Magic at Brandywine opens on Halloween at the Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, museum with the O-gauge Brandywine Railroad and Ann Wyeth McCoy dollhouse. The critter-decorated trees arrive Nov. 27. Everything ends Jan. 10.
The railroad display adds two model train sets with layouts once owned by Nicky and Jamie Wyeth. Nicky’s 8- by 12-foot display features Lionel trains from the 1920s and ’30s. Jamie’s 4- by 6-foot display, once co-owned with Andy Warhol, includes a reproduction of his iconic “Portrait of Pig.”
The critter ornaments, made by volunteers at home, can bought in the annual Holiday Critter Sale, Dec. 2-3 for members and Dec. 4-6 for the public. Elven styles of critter ornaments will be sold online for first time as well. Admission is free-$18.
Hagley Museum and Library
The hub of Holidays at Hagley is the Millwright Shop. “Decorations are being finalized, but the plan is to transform the façade of the Millwright Shop into a giant gingerbread house,” said marketing manager Laura Jury.
That’s a call-out to what’s inside: Hagley’s third annual gingerbread house competition, with a “Hometown Heroes” theme, running Dec. 1-Jan. 3. Children visiting the shop will receive a kit to create a wooden gear ornament they can make at Hagley or at home.
The Greenville museum is showing off the 19th century kitchen in the Gibbons House, with individually wrapped cookies available outside. That’s Fridays-Sundays starting Nov. 27, then daily Dec. 21-Jan. 3. Santa and Mrs. Claus are visiting the Gibbons House on Dec. 5.
Santa’s Workshop Selfie Station in the Wheelwright Shop is open Fridays-Sundays starting Dec. 4, then daily Dec. 21-Jan. 3.
Admission is free-$9. Eleutherian Mills tours and Twilight Tours aren’t included this year.
“Sellout likely,” Longwood Gardens says on its page for A Longwood Christmas.
No kidding. In 2015, the gardens near Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, drew 397,327 visitors for its holiday grandeur, and Longwood “will still be operating at 35% capacity during the holiday, and tickets must be purchased in advance—there are no onsite sales,” said communications director Patricia Evans.
A Longwood Christmas runs Nov. 20 through Jan. 10. “We will offer the same beauty guests love, but a slightly different experience,” she said.
“The Conservatory will be open with the exception of the Indoor Children’s Garden. While the Ballroom will be open, there will be no holiday concerts or organ singalongs this year. The Music Room will be open and the display will depict a Christmas Morning. There will be a one-way route through the Conservatory and masks must be worn in the Conservatory and all indoor spaces. Outdoors, masks should be worn if you are not able to socially distance from others not in your party.”
The 4-acre Conservatory has room enough for multiple crowd-pleasers. Four Fraser firs that are 18 to 24 feet tall will be decorated with different color themes and accented with different poinsettias and other plants, with the one in the Music Room rotating. There are 48 decorated trees and 19,600 total potted seasonal crops for the entire display.
More than 500,000 lights will adorn 137 trees, and there will be more lights on other outdoor displays, including the Main Fountain Garden; a lakeside light show; and a 140-foot tunnel of light featuring pulsing and color-shifting orbs.
Five-minute shows of the fountains in the Open Air Theater run continuously, unless it’s too cold.
The garden railway sends miniature trains through 500 feet of well-landscaped track.
And one tree has “hundreds of handmade ornaments that serve as a holiday buffet for our furry and feathered friends.”
Admission is free-$30.
On Facebook, Nemours Estate announced music, food trucks and family fun on Halloween. The Alapocas attraction will close for the year the next day, said Matt Chalfant, supervisor of guest services and events.
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
The new star of Yuletide is a multimedia show that uses 3D images, video, lights and sounds to tell the story of a du Pont family Christmas on the exterior of the mansion, one of America’s largest houses. The 3½-minute show runs every 15 minutes 5-9 p.m. Dec. 1-12. “There’s nothing alike it around,” Nardone said, with the performance reel by PaintScaping backing him with mind-blowing elements.
Inside Winterthur, the tour’s been rethought and will run Nov. 21-Jan. 3. Entry and exit will be from the outside, not through a waiting room and a cramped elevator. The entire fifth floor will be decorated, with the the Conservatory and its stunning tree being the inside highlight. Tours will be self-guided, with guides posted here and there.
A tram will run by outdoor decorations.
Specialty programs include a mistletoe cactus workshop Nov. 21, Nov. 28 and Dec. 10; a holiday ornament workshop Nov. 21, Nov. 28 and Dec. 17; walking wine tasting Nov. 21; garden tours Dec. 12; and ice sculpting Dec. 12 and Dec. 19.
Jazz performances include the Cartoon Christmas Trio on Dec. 2, Tony Smith Trio on Dec. 9, Sharon and Shawn Trio on Dec. 16, Aniyajazz on Dec. 23 and The Greg Farnese Quartet on Dec. 30.
Santa’s stopping by for brunch Dec. 6, 13 and 20, and he and Mrs. Claus are leading a singalong Dec. 6 in the Enchanted Woods.
The Choir School of Delaware performs four times on Dec. 13.
On Christmas, Winterthur hosts a multicultural meal and performances representing traditions from around the globe.
And on New Year’s Day, it celebrates the du Pont family tradition of calling with hot chocolate and cookies.
Admission is free-$22.