Ah! The joy of Christmas shopping. Long lines, over-crowded malls, a game of chicken to reach the one remaining parking space, and then the daunting task of finding just the right thing for everyone on that list that seems to annually reproduce itself through subliminal fertilization.
But, there is a pleasant alternative. And, it is not the impersonal, detached online escapism from the holiday spirit. In fact, it's just the opposite.
There is a place where shoppers are literally surrounded by the holiday environment. Where they can shop for all ages and both genders on their list. It is a place reminiscent of holiday shopping pre-mass marketing.
It is The Shops at Mount Vernon at George Washington's Estate located at the southern terminus of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Even getting there is a step back to a gentler time before interstate highways and beltways.
"We have even more this year for everyone. We've added new ornaments to our already vast offering and we've also increased our jewelry selections, including Martha Washington's Shell Pin," Julia A. Mosley, director of retail, Mount Vernon Estate, said.
This beautiful shell pin is adapted from Martha Washington's shell, a design she used for cross-stitch cushions, according to Mosley. This year's pin was designed by renowned Washington, D.C., jewelry designer Ann Hand, who also did last year's dove of peace broach.
The shell pin is made of sterling silver plated in 18K gold with a 14mm faux South Sea pearl and a synthetic sapphire. It is designed to be worn either as a broach or as part of the necklace. There are also a complimenting gold bead necklace and Liberty Eagle pearl pin.
"Having all four pieces enables the owner to have a completely interchangeable jewelry ensemble," Mosley said. The Martha Washington Shell pin sells for $150 and the Eagle for $100. The necklaces are priced at $350 for the pearl and $225 for the gold.
Something completely new this year is another Ann Hand creation. It is a 36 inch square silk scarf. Known as the Lafayette Scarf, it is manufactured in Paris and celebrates specific events and symbols associated with the long history of France and the United States. Offered in base colors of red, black or blue it sells for $250.
FOR THE MEN ON that shopping list there is the reproduction of brass buttons worn by The General on his coat at his inauguration. It is a particularly appropriate addition to any man's blazer this year with another presidential inauguration just 25 days after the opening of gifts.
The nine button set, made by Waterbury Buttons of Connecticut, features the colonial eagle and sells for $45. It is complimented by matching cuff links at $28.
When it comes to ornaments, the Shops have enlarged and enhanced their vast array which encompasses everything from wooden namesake ornaments to the annual collector's item. For 2004 the latter is entitled "George Washington at the Palladian Window."
One of the most unusual offerings of recent years, it is a three dimensional depiction of Washington seated at his telescope in the large dining room of The Mansion peering through the window at the heavens, which can be rotated to bring the various constellations into view. It sells for $22.
The dominant feature of the room is the neo-classical Palladian window, inspired by the designs of Italy's 16th century architect, Andrea Palladio. It afforded Washington the opportunity to indulge in one of his most absorbing pastimes, observing and noting changes in the heavens and weather.
THIS YEAR'S FIRST-TIMER list offers three very distinctive and different style ornaments that will be conversation pieces on anyone's tree. The first are a matching pair of porcelain ornaments in either burgundy or royal blue selling for $19.50 each.
These elegantly shaped pieces feature the West Front of the Estate on both sides. They are five inches long and come gift boxed with an explanation of the scene. However, they will require a substantial branch to support them.
At the opposite end of the weight spectrum is a miniature brass reproduction of the lanterns that light the way along the gravel paths to the Mansion. They are the hallmark of "Mount Vernon by Candlelight" tours that afford visitors an opportunity to step back in time to experience a colonial Christmas.
This ornament measures one and one-quarter inch wide and three inches high. Containing four "candles" within and an engraving of the Mansion on the top, it would make a perfect stocking stuffer or keepsake individual gift. It retails for $12.
For the shopper that wants the real thing to grace their home, The Shops have the full size black lanterns at $36 each and the wrought iron staff for an additional $25.50. Each lantern is designed to hold a large candle which is not included.
In keeping with crafts of yesteryear, there are a series of reversed painted glass ornaments depicting four views of the Mansion — one of the White House and one of a Virginia Cardinal. The brush strokes on each are illuminated when the ornament is held to the light.
Each comes in a red cloth-covered box with a peg clasp. Hues of green are the dominant colors with a red cord for hanging. The are offered at $18.50 each.
Topping out the 2004 additions to The Shops' ornaments selection are a complete set of delft porcelain balls that go for $15 each. Done in the traditional blue and white delft motif, they depict scenes of skaters and other representations of the winter season.
BUT, LET'S NOT FORGET, the real emphasis of Christmas gifts are children. And, The Shops have an entire section devoted to just those recipients.
For boys there are replicas of GW's compass and magnifying glass. Both of these are the latest additions to objects connected with Washington's life as a soldier and surveyor. Both retail for $12.
As a fun stocking-stuffer, there is the hand-held George Washington Jumping Jack at $8.50. It can also double as an eclectic tree ornament.
On the female side, there are the Nellie, Wash and Elizabeth wooden dolls. Nellie is named after Washington's adopted granddaughter, Ellie (Nellie) Parke Custis. Wash is for his adopted grandson, George Washington (Wash) Parke Custis, and Elizabeth is named after Martha Washington's granddaughter, Elizabeth (Betsy) Parke Custis.
These collector dolls are signed and dated by the designer, Mary Michau. Handmade in the United States, they sell for $49.95 each and are not intended for children under three years of age.
There are also George and Martha Washington wooden dolls. Individually hand painted, they were also created by Michau and sell for $59.95 each. Again, not advised for children under three.
IF THE YOUNG LADY or master of the house is into cooking, there is the Martha Washington Cook Book for $14.95. Entitled, "What Was Cooking in Martha Washington's Presidential Mansions," by Tanya Larkin, it contains valuable lessons for everyone in the kitchen.
For more fun, there are the George and Martha cup and ball toys that date back to that colonial era. Priced at $7.50 each, they make another excellent stocking stuffer.
Book and art lovers will have a heyday this year with new selections in both categories. In the literary venue there are seven, count them seven, new books from different authors dealing with the life, times and events of America's first President.
They encompass everything from Joel Alexander's "Grand Idea" to Joseph J. Ellis' "His Excellency." One of the most unusual offerings is Hammond's edition of "The George Washington Atlas."
"There are maps in this book that George Washington himself actually used," Deirdre Schebeck, sales, said. Overall the volume contains 28 maps done by George Washington.
FOR ART LOVERS, there is a new oil reproduction portrait of Washington with a stunning black and gilt wood frame selling for $400. Known as the "Porthole Portrait," this reproduction was done by Rembrandt Peale circa 1823, 24 years after Washington's death.
And there is the new portrait of the General when he was a colonel of the Virginia Regiment. Also a gilt framed oil reproduction, it was painted by Charles Wilson Peale in 1772. It is the only Washington portrait done prior to the Revolutionary War and sells for $95.
A must have for photographic art collectors, there are 360 degree panoramic sepia photographic prints done on Fuji color crystal archive paper, surrounded by Nielson florentine walnut frames, and signed and numbered by James O. Phelps. They come in two sizes, 40 by 10 at $195 and 20 by 6 at $125.
For those that seem to have everything, they probably do not have these:
* Porcelain pin trays from Mattahedeh done in blue and white with inscriptions of Washington's favorite saying on them at $25 each. One quote is,"True Friendship is a plant of slow growth" and the other, "Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth."
* A cheese cutting board of tempered glass in the shape of a wine bottle with its own serving piece for $22. It portrays a scene of The Mansion with strolling colonists front and back so that it can serve as an attractive wall decoration when not in use.
* Woven place mats and table runner with red tassels in the design of cherries, the fruit legendarily associated with the President's penchant for honesty. The mats are priced at $5.50 each and the runner at $24.50.
* A United States 50 star flag that has been flown over the
Mansion. Buyers can even request that the flag be flown on a specific date of significance to them or the recipient of the gift. It is a three feet by five feet, heavy weight nylon flag. The stars are embroidered and densely sewn to the fabric for durability. It includes a dated and signed certificate of authenticity and sells for $25.
* A box of cinnamon scented pinecones for $9.50 with a picture of The Mansion on the box and a festive red bow on top. The cones can be used either as natural potpourri or as an added sweetener to the family fireplace over the holidays.
* For ultimate decadence there are the ultimate stocking stuffers. Manufactured by Red Rocker Candy, LLC, there are three individual four ounce packets of Mount Vernon candy in three different flavors, White Chocolate Cashew Toffee, Chocolate Almond Coffee Toffee, and Pecan Brittle. Each sells for $4.50.
* For the pragmatist on everyone's list there is the 2005 Mount Vernon 13 Month Calendar. Usually priced at $10.95, it is on sale for $6.99. It features new photography of the Estate with photos featured in the book "George Washington's Home" as edited by Wendell Garrett.
FINALLY, THERE IS what was described by Mosley as "an addiction," Halcyon Days enamel boxes. "We have carried the Mount Vernon box for nearly 20 years. Once you start collecting them it becomes an addiction," Mosley said. They range in price from $80 to $200 each.
The Shops will host Halcyon Days artist, Janice Morgan, on Monday, Dec. 13. Any shopper who purchases one of the hand-painted enamel boxes can have it signed by the artist that day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The boxes are made by Bilston & Battersea Enamels, Bilston, England.
After succumbing to economic pressures in the 19th century, the art of enameling the tiny boxes was revived in the 1970's through a cooperative effort of Susan Benjamin's Mayfair Antique Shop, Halcyon Days, and Bilston and Battersea Enamels. To avid collectors they have become "the antiques of tomorrow."
All of this, plus a host of other items, from Virginia wines to jellies, to fine china and decorative wall sconces, is located within a 6,600 square foot area that doesn't require shoppers to be capable of surviving the Marine Corps Marathon.
The Shops at Mount Vernon not only have items not to be found in mall mayhem, but also they exude an atmosphere that puts the "Happy" back in Holidays.