NEWPORT, R.I. — Historic Newport, renowned as a yachting center and summer home of blueblood millionaires, throws open its doors each December for a monthlong celebration of holiday cheer.
A city where hospitality has been a tradition for centuries, Newport has resurrected Christmas festivities dating from Colonial times to rekindle a community holiday spirit.
Throughout December, there are bonfires and carol singing, huge mansions festooned with decorations, candlelight tours through private homes built in the 18th and 19th centuries and a "holly tea" in a local church. Most homes place lighted candles with flame-like clear bulbs in every window--another longstanding city tradition.
"Christmas in Newport is an effort to recapture the true meaning of Christmas," said Monique Panaggio of the Preservation Society of Newport County. "This is a gift of the people to the people. Everybody is entertained . . . (and) it has become a tourist event, with a lot of buses coming in December to see the house decorations and take part in the programs."
The gala kicks off Monday at Washington Square in downtown Newport with a cannon salute by the Newport Artillery Co., a Colonial militia dating to 1639. The cannon fire is followed by a bonfire, Christmas lighting and a proclamation read by Mayor Patrick Kirby.
On Dec. 13 at the Newport Congregational Church, James Van Alen dons 17th-Century garb and delivers his annual reading of Clement C. Moore's beloved Christmas poem, " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas." Moore, who wrote the poem to amuse his children when living in New York City, spent his later years in Newport.
The Preservation Society operates seven huge mansions as tourist attractions. Three of the mansions -- Marble House, The Elms and Chateau-sur-Mer -- are opened weekends and are decorated especially for the holiday season.
Chateau-sur-Mer, a lavish Victorian house built in 1852, is decked out for a Victorian Christmas. Each Sunday afternoon, Santa Claus stops by with eggnog for the adults and cookies for the little ones.
On Dec. 13, a Festival of Trees is sponsored by the Combined Military Wives Clubs from the nearby Naval Education and Training Center. For months, the Navy wives make decorations for 60 Christmas trees.