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."
She's also pleased that three choral groups will entertain — especially the gospel choir from the Second Baptist Church of Clifton. "I just love them — they have so much spirit," said Chesley. "Many people last year said the gospel choir was the highlight of their tour."
Homes-tour tickets are $15, adults; $5, age 12 and under; free, age 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 while 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."
Prizes will be awarded in 10 categories. "It certainly is a tradition that everyone looks forward to," said Jayne. "And we encourage people to come to King's Field afterward and see the horses and riders."
The gospel choir will perform, from 4:30-6:30 p.m., at the Clifton Primitive Baptist Church — the oldest African-American Church in Fairfax County — on Main Street. 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 Secondary School 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 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. Details of the homes on tour follow:
<bt>Owned by Karen and Mac Arnold, this carpenter gothic-style home on School Street was built in 1901. The first owners named it "Spring Cottage" because it's downhill from a spring that used to serve as the water supply for the eastern section of old Clifton. The Arnolds have lived there since 1977, and their holiday decorations reflect family traditions.
The eclectic tree in the family room is adorned with bird and natural-animal ornaments, plus old-fashioned Christmas ornaments from Karen's grandparents. The green garlands and candlelight complement the many antiques in the house.
<bt>This charming home on Main Street is owned by Lynne Garvey Hodge. Built in 1884, it was originally a general store, but later became a saloon, church, meat market, pool hall, bakery and barbershop. Now it's also Fairfax County's only bed-and-breakfast.
Garvey Hodge's own artwork adorns the walls, and her snail decorating theme is incorporated into one of her Christmas trees. She has Christmas ornaments from her childhood. She's proud of her hand-embroidered, Christmas-tree skirt with Navy-and-gold snowflakes, and one of her favorite decorations is her hand-carved, handpainted Russian Santa in the living room.
<mh>The Quigg House
<bt>Owned by Tom Peterson, the Quigg House was built in 1874. It's named after first owner, Louis Quigg. With its mansard roof and open, three-story staircase, this Victorian home on Main Street was once considered the finest house in Clifton. In the late 1800s, its beautiful furnishings all the way from New York made it the "talk of the town."
It has four fireplaces — in the living room, den and two bedrooms, and Peterson calls it his dream house: "It's so old, and Jim Hricko — the architect who lived here before — completely renovated it." Yet Hricko kept the original window molding and hardwood floors. Holiday decorations include greenery garlands, lights, candles and two Christmas trees.
<mh>The Kivett House
<bt>Built in 1904, this three-story, Dell Avenue home is a carpenter-gothic Victorian and home to Trisha and Kelly Robertson. The upstairs, wrap-around porch has terrific views of the town, and the kitchen sports an exposed-rock wall showing the rock used in the foundation. The foyer and kitchen banister leading to the third floor both have original woodwork.
The Christmas-tree decorations are from a collection Trisha's grandmother started for her when she was born. And the creche in the living room was hand-carved by local artisans in Ecuador; Trisha once worked there and brought it back home with her. In the study is Kelly's Christmas tree — decorated with his collection of Star Trek ornaments. There's also a tree dedicated to all of Trisha's Latin American decorations.
<mh>The Buckley House
<bt>Home to Clifton Mayor Jim Chesley and wife Jennifer, this Main Street house was built in 1913. Jennifer loves the beach and has decorated the front parlor with a beach motif; she also created her very own beach along a stream running through the backyard. Most of the antiques are family heirlooms; there's also furniture made by Jennifer's father and needlework art made by her mother.
Restoration of the original house began in 1976 and included a large addition housing a cozy family room. Adorning the live Christmas tree in that room will be heirloom ornaments from the Chesleys' families, plus ones they've collected on visits to France, Germany, Austria, England and Mexico.
<mh>The Harlow House
<bt>Built in 1904, this Dell Avenue home looks small on the outside, but is amazingly large on the inside. In fact, it more than doubled in size after a two-story addition in 2001. Sherry and Corey Harlow decorated their house beautifully against vibrantly painted walls — lime-green dining room, orange guest bedroom, royal-blue kitchen and ruby-red upstairs hallway.
Some of the antique furniture dates from the mid-1800s, and the home's accessories are definitely eye-catching. For the holidays, fresh greenery adorns the house, with magnolias mixed in to match the decor. In the family room is a delightful collection of Nutcrackers.