I’m excited to welcome everyone to this year’s holiday season at the historic houses of Fairmount Park.

Every year, for the past 46 years, the houses have opened their doors to the public to showcase the grandeur of these incredibly well preserved historic homes and the decorating talents of local garden clubs and stewardship groups. This year we are building off the success of last year’s theme, “A Very Philly Christmas”. In the spirit of that theme, we again focus on what makes our city such a special place-music, food, family, and neighbors. Those themes are directly reflected in our special events this year-“Sounds of the Season”, “Family Day”, “Neighbor’s Day”, and “Flavors of the Season”.

Although the theme is the same, we’ve added some new wrinkles that make us particularly excited. For “Sounds of the Season”, we are incredibly honored to have Jeri Johnson, Artistic Director of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, develop a music installation inspired by our very own Woodford Mansion. Titled “Bricolage: Philadelphia 1756” this piece incorporates the musical styles of the various people living in the area at that time period: European settlers, free and enslaved African-Americans, and Lenape People. The way visitors experience this is also unique, as the composer describes, “Attendees will have the freedom to explore the Woodford Mansion without feeling like they are missing out on the music! Because the composition is being performed in various rooms of the house, the music will be audible throughout.” Another highlight of “Sounds of the Season” is Opera Philadelphia performing excerpts of Handel’s Messiah at Laurel Hill Mansion making use of the house’s impressive piano-forte from 1808. Jazz Clef Club returns to fill Lemon Hill Mansion with wonderful jazz. We welcome Choral Arts Philadelphia, celebrating their 35th anniversary and PlayOnPhilly!, a non-profit that provides music education to Philadelphia schools who lack the resources to provide this vital piece of education. And speaking of students, we are happy to showcase top student musicians from Jazz Clef Club, Primavera Club, and AMLA. And that’s just day one!

For “Family Day”, we are focusing our attention on Lemon Hill Mansion for the convenience of our young visitors and their families and friends. A family can see live ice carving, do some great kid activities with Smith Playground and Mural Arts, and of course, visit with Santa Claus while enjoying decorations courtesy of Hoffman Design and model trains from our friends at Bachman Trains. You can also buy your Christmas tree at Lemon Hill! Other houses will offer sweet treats so stop by before you head back home! All of this is free for children 12 and under. (children can’t get trees for free, just to be clear! ;-))

“Neighbor’s Day” is becoming a yearly tradition and a well-deserved celebration of our neighbors around the park. One of my true joys this year is having Veronica Underwood perform at Historic Strawberry Mansion. Veronica, a resident of Strawberry Mansion and an amazing vocal talent found solace and peace at Historic Strawberry Mansion during a very difficult period in her youth. It is an honor to have her perform there. Make sure to say hi to Veronica and her son, Amadeus, (on keyboards of course!) at one of their performances.

And last but certainly not least, the very popular “Flavors of the Season” returns with a great line up of participants. GARCES Restaurants will have tasty chowder and a special holiday cocktail to warm you and your spirits. Birchtree Catering (Best of Philly 2015) will offer a variety of tastes at Laurel Hill Mansion. We welcome Manatawny Still Works, offering quality cocktails and gifts, and 13 Original, a new cidery and restaurant, providing cider samples to all (over 21!). So not to neglect anyone’s sweet tooth, Shane Confectionery, and Giambri’s Quality Sweets will bring treats that will surely delight.

This line up is a fantastic sampling of what Philadelphia has to offer. That we can present all of this in such a unique setting as these historic houses, all located in one of the most beautiful urban parks in the country, is what excites us the most. So we welcome all. Whether you are a music lover, foodie, parent, or a lover of beautifully decorated historic houses, “A Very Philly Christmas” is sure to provide you and all the people you care about an experience that will make this holiday season very special indeed.