A sure sign that the holidays are fast approaching is the annual Clifton Holiday Homes Tour, which takes place on Saturday, Dec. 2.
Starting with a horse parade, the day-long event includes a glimpse into five historic homes, each decorated in a different style for the holiday season and concludes with roasted marshmallows, hot chocolate and a carol sing-a-long.
At 2 p.m., the Clifton Horse Society will begin its annual parade through town, starting at the flood plain park at the end of town and strolling through the streets.
“This is our big event for the year,” said Geannie Jirucha, coordinator of the event for the Clifton Horse Society.
Parade watchers line up along the sidewalks to see the brightly colored costumes worn by the riders and their families as they walk through town.
“We’ve all got bells on, we put bells on the horses and sing carols as we ride,” she said. “Some people dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus, others dress up as elves and dress their horses like reindeer.”
Jirucha expects about 30 horses and riders in the parade this year and encourages those who want to watch the parade to be respectful of the horses.
“I wear a five-foot-long strap of bells to the barn for a week before the parade to get my horses used to them,” she said. “It’s a labor of love to get them to accept all this, but we want our horses and the spectators to be safe.”
THE HORSE PARADE is only the first act in a holiday pageant that brings an old-fashioned holiday feel to Clifton, as the pared leads into the main event, the homes tour.
The first stop on this year’s tour is Jennifer and Jeremy Lustman’s house on Dell Avenue.
“We moved to Clifton about a year and a half ago,” said Jennifer Lustman, standing in the newly renovated kitchen of her 102-year-old home. This will be their first time on the tour, which she said is a way to show their neighbors the changes they’ve made since moving to town.
Jennifer Lustman said she’s planning to decorate her home in a “White Christmas” theme, with lots of silver, white and blue decorations.
“I decorated the house like this last year and it seemed to work,” Jennifer Lustman said. “I guess I’m attracted to the cool tones, they go well with the house.”
This will also be the first time Jennifer Lustman is able to go on the tour. In her work with house designers, she works most weekends.
“I love it here,” she said of Clifton. “It’s a great place to live.”
Second on the tour is the Clifton Primitive Baptist Church, built in 1871 by freed slaves who were given the land by their former owner. The Second Baptist Clifton Gospel Choir will perform holiday songs inside the church, which will be lit with candles and heated by a pot-bellied stove.
Just across the street is the third stop on the tour, the home of Paul and Arlene Posner. It will be the first time the Posners open their home for the tour since they moved to Clifton in 2002, but many neighbors already know it as the Buckley House, where Jeff Archer wrote “Sleepless in Seattle” in the early 1990s.
“Right now, I’m in the throes of getting all our Chanukah stuff together,” said Arlene Posner, sitting with her husband Paul in their den, surrounded by books and various wooden animals they’ve collected from trips around the world.
The Posner home will have a Chanukah theme, complete with two menorahs and a bowl full of derides in their dining room, Arlene Posner said.
“I’ll be in the kitchen making latkes with sour cream and applesauce,” she said. “We’ll also have a plate with gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins, called gelt, and some drinks.”
Paul Posner said they’ve been docents during the tour before, working at the Primitive Baptist Church last year. They hope to have a few friends help as tour guides in their home, so they can go enjoy the rest of the tour as well.
One of the things Paul Posner said he hopes to highlight in their home is the cabinetry in the kitchen, made by a local carpenter from a single tree which fell in town.
“This is a special place,” he said. “We’ve been building toward in the years we’ve lived here and we’re really looking forward to it.”
A hidden treasure in the Posner’s home is in the hallway between the front door and the kitchen: a small square window that peeks down to the home’s original well which is illuminated to show rising water.
NEXT ON THE tour is the Clifton Baptist Church, built in 1910. A choral group from Chantilly High School will be performing throughout the afternoon.
Kirsten Thompson’s home on School Street is the fifth stop on the tour. While drying strings of cranberries on a black metal screen in front of her fireplace, Thompson said she’s planning to decorate her home in traditional Scandinavian style, complete with straw on her Christmas tree.
“My mom is Danish and I have a thing for Danish Christmas stuff,” Thompson said. “There will be lots of straw and cross-stitched things, lots of heart shapes.”
In a style she calls “Scandinavian folksy,” Thompson said she’s looking forward to opening her home to her neighbors. This will be the second time she’s been included on the tour, the last one was nine years ago.
“There’s a Danish tradition where people stand around the tree and sing, but we won’t be doing that,” she said. “I like to design things and I have about eight boxes of decorations I’ll be using.”
Thompson will be serving hot spiced wine called glogg and gingersnaps, and there will be a path of straw, lit by tiki torches, leading out to her barn, where visitors can visit her donkey and pony.
“The tour is a great way to kick off the holiday season,” Thompson said. “People are always so nice and kind and cheerful.”
Moving over to Chapel Road, holiday revelers will visit the Fletcher House, now owned by Peter and Sarah Noonan.
“We’ve never been on the tour before,” said Peter Noonan, adding that he and his family didn’t live in the house for the past year as it was being remodeled. The tour provides a welcome home for the family and a chance to show their neighbors a large family room addition that was completed earlier this year.
“We don’t really have a theme for decorations, but we lived in New Mexico for a while and have a lot of Mexican or Spanish-looking folk art,” Sarah Noonan said. ‘There will be a lot of greenery, lots of reds and greens.”
It will be the first time the Noonans have been able to entertain a large number of guests in their home, Sarah Noonan said, because their house used to end at the kitchen. Now there’s a spacious family room which allows them more room to move around.
“The tour gives you a chance to see inside your neighbor’s houses,” she said. “Plus, it’s a good excuse to go get new furniture.”
THE FIFTH historic home on the tour, and the seventh stop in this year’s parade, is owned by Pete and Mary Mills, known as the Payne House on Main Street.
A decorator by trade, Mary Mills said she’s very excited to get her house ready for the holidays.
“The tour is for a great cause, to support the town, and I love to see the other homes,” she said. “It puts everyone in the Christmas spirit.”
Mills said she plans to dress her house in traditional Christmas attire, lots of silver decorations in their dining room and more family and child-friendly decorations on trees in her living room.
“I have some heirloom silver pieces from my husband’s great-grandmother that I like to use,” Mills said. “My home is really good for the holidays, it has a kind of traditional English feel.”
The tour wraps up with visits to the Clifton Caboose, on Main Street next to the Heart In Hand Restaurant, and the Clifton Presbyterian Church.
Starting at 7 p.m., residents and visitors to the town are invited to gather at the small park at the intersection of Main Street and Chapel Road for a bonfire, marshmallow roasting and holiday songs, led by Helen Rusnak.
“I sing all the time with my church and I like to volunteer in town,” said Rusnak. “I feel if I have the voice and the ability, it’s my way of giving back.”
Rusnak said lyric sheets will be handed out prior to the bonfire so those who gather can sing along. The songs she plans to sing include traditional carols like “Hark! The Herald Angles Sing” and some family favorites like “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”
The Holiday Homes Tour is a family oriented event, Rusnak said, and the sing-a-long is designed to have something for everyone.
Co-chairs of this year’s event are Jennifer Chesley and Lynne Garvey Wark, who saved the event from extinction a few years ago.
“This is one of my favorite traditions,” Chesley said. “I love seeing the happy expressions on people’s faces and hearing the different choirs’ music.”
Although her house is not part of the tour this year, Chesley said she enjoys seeing how her neighbors prepare for the holidays.
“There’s usually a range from cozy rustic type decorations to spectacular, very formal designs,” she said.
Garvey Wark agreed with Chesley about enjoying the afternoon watching her neighbors spread holiday cheer.
“This is also a special year, because all the homes included on it are historic,” Garvey Wark said. “Plus, all the homes are in town and within walking distance. People can come into town for the horse parade and make a full day of it by getting dinner at one of the restaurants in town before the homes tour.”
Musical performances take place throughout the day, including the Chantilly High School Choir at the Presbyterian Church and the Robinson High School choir performing before the sing-a-long.
“This is a great family event,” Garvey Wark said. “It brings the whole town and community together in a really special way.”