The sound of Christmas carols on a crisp winter day, the clip-clop of horses' hooves, the fragrance of wassail and the warm welcome of homes decorated for the holidays — all these things signal the start of Christmastime in Clifton.
And this quaint, storybook town will celebrate the season on Saturday, Dec. 7, with Christmas Caroling on Horseback at 2 p.m., followed by the annual Candlelight Tour of Homes from 4-8 p.m. Choirs will perform at two local churches, and visitors may purchase raffle tickets for prizes.
"I think they'll really enjoy it," said Jennifer Chesley, who organized the homes tour along with Lynne Garvey Hodge. "We have six houses — one more than last year."
Tour tickets are $15, adults; $5, 12 and under; free, 3 and under, and are available at Clifton shops and restaurants, the Temptations stores at the Colonnade at Union Mill and in Burke, and at Burke Florist at University Mall.
The fun begins with the caroling on horseback. At least 35 people — including several children and many members of the Clifton Horse Society — will ride in costume through the town singing holiday tunes. They'll travel up Main Street, turn left on Chapel Road, loop back to Main and head down Chapel Street to King's Field, where the public is welcome to join them for wassail, cookies and more caroling.
Many of the riders and horses will be decked out in holiday finery. "Most of the costumes will be a surprise," said caroling organizer Kathy Jayne. "[But] I know we'll be blessed with a lot of angels. One new entry this year is a miniature horse called Rascal, driven by Peg Mullins, in a cart."
The gospel choir from the Second Baptist Church of Clifton will perform, from 4:30-6:30 p.m., at the Clifton Primitive Baptist Church. It's on Main Street and is the oldest African-American Church in Fairfax County. Chantilly High's Touch of Class Carolers will sing there from 7-8 p.m. The town's Centennial History Display, hosted by Donna and Jamie Netschert, may also be viewed at this church.
Founded in 1870, the picturesque Clifton Presbyterian Church (behind the Hermitage Inn) will welcome guests, too, and the Robinson High Choir will entertain there. Visitors may also stop by the town's caboose (in the Heart in Hand parking lot) to enjoy refreshments with Clifton mayor Jim Chesley and buy the Clifton Community Woman's Club's cookbook.
Raffle tickets may be purchased at any of the tour homes, the churches and the caboose. Prizes include dinners at the Heart in Hand, the Hermitage Inn and Rosemary's Thyme Bistro, plus a night's stay at Clifton's bed-and-breakfast, the Canary Cottage.