As my husband and I started our family many years ago, we melded the traditions that we had each gown up with and established our own set of holiday rituals. Today our children are grown with lives of their own and our son and daughter-in-law are now going through the same process as they develop their family Christmas traditions with our first grandchild.
I love the Christmas season and I was really looking forward to experiencing this magical time of year with our 2½-year-old grandson, but like much of the rest of the world, we will have to limit our indoor interactions this holiday season. Licking cookie dough, watching him rip off wrapping paper and playing with his new toys will unfortunately have to wait for another year. But there is one family tradition that we will still be able to indulge in.
We live in southeastern Pennsylvania, which is dubbed America’s Garden Capital. The area has 30+ gardens and arboretums, and I am fortunate to live near one of the best botanical gardens in the country: Longwood Gardens. There is always something special going on at Longwood Gardens all year long, but the holiday season is the perennial highlight for me.
In 1906, Pierre S DuPont purchased a track of land to protect an arboretum with tress that were over 100 years old. This farm became the centerpiece of his summer residence which he developed into a showpiece for entertaining friends and family and which he called Longwood. With his love and interest in all things horticultural, Pierre developed a diverse range of informal and formal outdoor spaces, some of which were inspired by the French and Italian fountain gardens he discovered on his European travels. Pierre added conservatories, elaborate fountain displays and an outdoor theater, all of which became the core of one of the country’s premier horticultural display gardens.
patterns in the reflecting pool of the Exhibition Hal
Today, Pierre’s legacy is enjoyed by over one million visitors annually with the holiday display being one of the most popular events. Preparations for “A Longwood Christmas” start as early as September. Over the course of two months, staff members wrap over 100 trees with half a million lights all throughout the grounds of the 1000 acre property. Inside, thousands of poinsettias, amaryllis, paper whites and other seasonal plants adorn the conservatories, along with numerous decorated trees. Each year the decorations revolve around a different theme and the designers outdo themselves with creative and unique displays.
My family and I have been enjoying Longwood Gardens at Christmas time for the past 25 years, and each visit has been different (and I have a collection of photos that document each visit). Just when I think that this year’s decorations are the best I have ever seen, the following year is even better. Our 2020 visit will be particularly memorable as we share this experience with our grandson for the first time. I can’t wait to see the awe on his face as he sees the many-colored lights, the lighted dancing musical fountains and the festive outdoor model train display.
We will have many more years to create other new holiday traditions with our grandson, but this year we can at least indulge in one family ritual as we share all the outdoor holiday beauty at Longwood Gardens.