It's not everywhere in Fairfax County that you can hear sleigh bells, but those visiting the Town of Clifton on Saturday, Dec. 4, will hear them for sure.
Clifton's annual caroling on horseback parade begins at 2 p.m., followed from 4-7:30 p.m. by the town's Candlelight Homes Tour. Topping things off, around 7:45 or 8 p.m., will be the lighting of the town Christmas tree in Ayre Square — complete with hot apple cider and lots more caroling.
"This really brings out the best of everybody in this town," said Lynne Garvey Wark, co-chair with Jennifer Chesley for the third year in a row. "It's a delight to see the homes exquisitely decorated, and there's just a tremendous amount of joy and celebration around this candlelight tour."
"I like seeing how many people enjoy the tour," said Chesley. "It really makes it all worthwhile. It's fun listening to the comments and hearing everyone's oohs and aahs. And we have such a variety of homes — from the formal, Victorian style to the more cozy, country type. That's what makes it so special, and everybody loves going through to get decorating ideas."
This year's tour features five homes, three churches and Clifton's famed, red caboose. Many of the town's quaint shops will be open during the tour, as will its two restaurants, the Heart in Hand and the Hermitage Inn (reservations are suggested).
The parade is free; tickets for the homes tour are $15 for adults and $5 for children under 12. They're available at Clifton's restaurants and shops, including All That Glitters, Cottage Art, Noodles & Noggins and The Clifton Store, as well as Temptations in Burke and The Colonnade at Union Mill, Payne's Restaurant in Centreville, Coffee Time in Centreville's Pickwick Square, and at Picture Place on West Ox Road in Fairfax. For more information, call Chesley at 703-830-2129 or Wark at 703-322-1811.
Clifton Mayor Jim Chesley and fellow members of the Clifton Lions Club will greet visitors in the caboose and share history about the town. And live music may be enjoyed at the three churches on the tour, from 4:30-6:30 p.m., on the half hour.
The Clifton Primitive Baptist Church will host the senior and children's choirs from the Second Baptist Church. The Clifton Baptist Church will feature its children's choir, and the Robinson Secondary School Choir will entertain at the Clifton Presbyterian Church.
VISITORS TO Clifton will also vie for raffle prizes including dinners for two at the Hermitage, Heart in Hand and Rosemary's Thyme Bistro, a one-night stay at Clifton's Canary Cottage Bed & Breakfast, and gift certificates from the shops in town. Raffle tickets may be purchased at the Clifton Primitive Baptist Church and at the caboose.
Always a highlight of the holiday season, the caroling on horseback is sponsored by the Clifton Horse Society. And this year, member Jeannie Jirucha of Fairfax Station is organizing the whole shebang.
"About 30 horses will participate," she said. "Some of the riders will be dressed as Santa Clauses and elves — and one person is going to be dressed as a Christmas tree. We'll be singing traditional Christmas carols, and the horses will all wear antler ears, bells and ribbons."
But, said Jirucha, it's no small task getting the horses to cooperate. "It's a very big deal for these horses because of al the bells, the noise and the different costumes," she explained. "They're used to traveling along quiet horse trails."
So to condition her horses, she said, "A few weeks before the parade, I come to the barn wearing my 5-foot strap of bells while feeding them. Or I add bells to their feed bucket so they'll get used to the sound. And then I'll put the bells on one horse and have him mingle with all the others so they'll all get used to it."
As always, the horse parade will travel up Main Street, circle through the town and follow Chapel Street to King's Field for more caroling, cookies and prizes, and the public is invited to join the festivities.
"It's always fun and exciting," said Jirucha of the horse parade. "We always look forward to it, and it's fun putting together the costumes. My horses wear Christmas blankets with poinsettia fabric. It's sort of the start of the Christmas season and it's just a nice, Christmas tradition."
Parking for the homes tour is available on Main Street or on Chapel Road, across from the fire station. Strollers are not allowed in the homes. "Everything on the tour is within the immediate town limits," said Jennifer Chesley. "The event is a fund-raiser for the town, and part of the proceeds go toward Clifton beautification."
"I think it's a way for people to get to know Clifton better, to come in and stop at our shops, have a bite to eat and enjoy the beauty and the historic authenticity of this town and the uniqueness of its spirit," added Wark. "And it's especially a wonderful way to launch the holidays."
SHE SAID it's been a pleasure co-chairing with Jennifer, and Chesley said the candlelight homes tour is one of her favorite town traditions. "We start planning, the end of August," she said. "The first challenge is finding volunteers to have their homes on tour. Then we gather the home information for the ticket/brochure."
After that, the pair contacts the churches and choirs to coordinate which ones are participating and which group is singing where. Then they distribute the tickets to be sold and contact people about donating raffle items. "It never seems like there's enough time to get everything done," said Chesley. "But somehow, it all falls into place."
Opening up their homes to the public are Suzi and Travis Worsham, Ginny and Vernon Keen, Tom Peterson, Mary and Pete Mills, and Katherine Kalinowski and Brant Baber.
"I think the homes on the tour this year are just wonderfully elegant, but also very warm and homey," said Wark. "And we've got a really nice set of hosts and hostesses that will be inviting people into their homes. It should be a lovely day of holiday festivities." Homes on tour are as follows:
<sh>The Worsham House
<bt>This 1907 farmhouse called Red Gables has been home to Suzi and Travis Worsham since 1985. It's been featured in several national magazines and contains marvelous collections of high-country American furniture and antiques, folk art, flow blue china, ironstone, oyster plates, baskets and children's furniture.
A flag quilt adorns a wall of the great room, so decorating the patriotic-themed Christmas tree there are flags, ribbons and fans from Fourth of July parades. For the holidays, the kitchen becomes a children's winter wonderland filled with candy, cookies, gingerbread and toys.
The blue-painted dining room has cranberry-colored decorations and a host of old Santas, the Christmas tree in the foyer is done in gold, and the one in the yellow room features hunt and polo ornaments, reflecting Travis' passions.
<bt>Built by the Ford family in 1880, this Victorian-era home has housed Katherine Kalinowski and Brant Baber since 1980. This is its fifth year on the tour, and a brass, gas-fed chandelier from the 1890s hangs in the entry way. A portrait of George Washington that was once in the Smithsonian is in the dining room, and the family room features at least 30 Santas hand-carved by family friend Rick Baecker.
"We've gotten a lot of decorations over the years from business trips to New Mexico," said Kalinowski. "So many of them have a southwestern flair — chili wreaths, chili lights and cacti." The Christmas tree in the library is adorned with an eclectic mix of ornaments from vacations and travel.
"My family is from Poland, and I have a lot of my great-grandparents' hand-blown, glass ornaments in Santas, acorns and every shape imaginable," said Kalinowski. "Part of the house is Victorian, part southwestern and part country. It's almost like three separate themes, but it flows and it works."
<sh>The Keen House
<bt>Home to Ginny and Vernon Keen since 1986, this house was designed by local architect Jim Hricko. This cheerful home has an unusual floor plan — including a two-story living room — and is adorned with family heirlooms.
Traditional decorations and bright colors make it extra-special for the holidays, and homeowner Vernon Keen is the composer of the popular tune, "My Clifton Song."
<sh>The Peterson Home
<bt>Known as the Quigg House, when this home was built in 1874, its mansard roof and open, three-story staircase made it considered the finest house in Clifton. The highest-quality furnishings were shipped from New York to round things out.
Today, it's home to Robinson Secondary School teacher and coach Tom Peterson and his children, Carleigh and Turner. Always a gracious host, Tom often opens up his home for town parties and events, and the ambiance and decor are warm and welcoming.
<sh>The Mills House
<bt>Wealthy Clifton lumber merchant Melvin Payne built this home, known as the Payne House, in 1884. Mary and Pete Mills and their family live in it now. Marble from two of its fireplaces came from the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., and much of the flooring, molding and woodwork are original. For the holidays, it's all aglow with crystal ornaments and heirlooms, as well as decorations especially to please their children.
<sh>Clifton Primitive Baptist Church
<bt>Built by former slaves, it's the oldest African-American church in Fairfax County. It's been fully restored and is now often used for weddings. The church contains its original altar, handmade pews and pot-bellied stove, and listening to the choir sing within its ancient walls is truly something special.
<sh>Clifton Baptist Church
<bt>Clifton Baptist Church first held services in the home of George Tillet and other area men who served with Mosby's Rangers during the Civil War. The first building was constructed in 1877, and the cornerstone of the present building was laid on Nov. 24, 1910. Construction was completed in 1912. This beautiful structure features a gabled roof, steeple and arched Gothic windows.
<sh>Clifton Presbyterian Church
<bt>This church has been serving the community as a place of worship since 1870. It was founded by families of the soldiers who fought in this area during the Civil War and settled here afterward. In the early 1900s, the church acquired the manse next door; in the 1950s, it added an annex for classroom, office and fellowship space.