Family Travel News - updated vacation specials for families
November 15, 2005

Westchester, New York

Several Family-Friendly Events Offer Holiday Cheer with an Historic Twist

Before Santa there was St. Nikolaus; yesterday's wassail toasts are today's eggnog cheers; and the raucous 18th-century "Twelfth Night" celebrations put modern New Year's Eve revelry to shame! The ghosts of Christmas past are friendly, and waiting for you this December in Westchester County, NY, the gateway to the Hudson River Valley, minutes north of New York City.

Below is a chronological, "top five" list of holiday events with a historic twist. Information on many additional holiday events is posted at

Saturday, December 3

The annual St. Nicholas Day Celebration at Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers recreates traditional Dutch festivities, including a visit from St. Nicholas and his companion Zwart Piet (Black Peter), who bring treats for children. The program also includes a concert of seasonal music, a wassail bowl procession, and refreshments. This National Historic Landmark, which dates from 1680, will feature decorations from the early colonial era to the Victorian period. Adults, $4.00; seniors and students, $3.00; children 5-12, $1.00; children under 5, free. Please call (914) 965-4027 or visit for more information.

Sundays, December 4, 10 and 11

Special "Christmas at John Jay Homestead" house tours of the John Jay Homestead State Historic Site in Katonah, the Federal-style residence of America's first U.S. Supreme Court Justice, will focus on period rooms of the 1820's, installed in winter style. The St. Nikolaus' Day event on Saturday, December 3 will feature a visit from St. Nikolaus, crafts, and food. Tour prices are: Adults, $7.00; seniors, $5.00; children 5-12, $2.00; children under 5, free. (Additional fee charged for event admission.) Please call (914) 232-5651 or visit for more information.

December 10, 11, 17, 18

Guided Candlelight Tours of Sunnyside, the Tarrytown home of famous author Washington Irving, bring an 1850's Christmas to life. Visitors are escorted down a lantern-lit path to the cottage decorated with holly, evergreens, and real candles. Excerpts from Irving's Christmas tales and family letters are the theme of the evening. Sing-alongs are accompanied on the 1830's piano. Tours conclude in the kitchen yard, where hot cider is served beside a roaring fire. Irving's tales introduced several Christmas customs, including the Yule log, and the sumptuous Christmas feast. Adults, $10.00; children 5-17, $6.00. Call (914) 631-8200, ext. 618 or visit for more information.

December 17, 18, and 23

Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson will offer an experience of the late 18th century celebration of "Twelfth Night" during evening Candlelight Tours. Festivities begin with a visit to the home of one of the wealthiest families of the post-Revolutionary era, where decorations made of holiday greens and fruit adorn windowsills and mantles. At the tenant house, the Lord of Misrule ensures a merry evening. At the ferry house, a more raucous "Twelfth Night" celebration is under way, and guests dance to the lively strains of the fiddler and drink a toast to the season. Visitors can also cozy up to the large bonfires outside the Manor and Ferry House, as well as enjoy light refreshments. Adults, $10.00; children 5-17, $6.00. For more information, call (914) 631-8200, ext. 618 or visit

Sunday, December 18

During the annual Holiday Organ Concert at St. Paul's Church National Historic Site in Mount Vernon, the historic 1833 pipe organ (which is played only twice per year) provides its special sound to a concert of classical holiday musical favorites and carols performed by Jan Piet Knijff, followed by refreshments. Prior to the concert, local historian Eleanor Phillips Brackbill will talk about Westchester's infamous "neutral ground" period during the American Revolution. St. Paul's Church, one of New York's oldest parishes (1665-1980), was used as a hospital following the important Revolutionary War Battle at Pell's Point in 1776, and was the scene of various military developments for the next six years. Parking and admission are free. Call (914) 667-4116 or visit for more information.

For more information about holiday events in Westchester County, including "Fairy Tale Evenings" at Lyndhurst, performances of "The Nutcracker", and several local tree-lighting ceremonies, contact the Westchester County Office of Tourism at (800) 833-9282, or visit


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