By Josette Keelor
On Tuesday, on what employees and volunteers call elves day, the rooms at Belle Grove Plantation's Manor House in Middletown were abuzz with holiday cheer.
"It's the day where all of our volunteers come in and help decorate our tree and bake cookies and just help get us ready for Christmas in every way," said Belle Grove Executive Director Elizabeth McClung.
The theme of Belle Grove's decorations this year is A Celebration of Carols, and in the upstairs parlor, volunteers prepared an 11-foot Douglas fir tree donated by Betty and Roy Wilkins of Apple Valley Tree Farm in Winchester for today's grand opening of the tour.
Other areas of the house also offered tidings of joy to visitors, with each room dressed to reflect scenes from different Christmas carols.
Upstairs in the day sitting room, the theme of "Silver and Gold" strikes visitors the moment they enter, with the scent of pine and fir as much a part of the décor as the greenery that treats the eyes with gold and silver accents.
"A lot of people come here," McClung said, "... to get ideas for their own Christmas decorations, because each year the garden clubs who actually work as volunteers to decorate come up with the best ideas and try to really outdo one another and outdo themselves from last year."
"So we find lots of people just coming for inspiration," she said.
In the library, the words of "Deck the Halls" play out by the talented hands of the Valley Garden Club, and in the plantation office, "The Holly and the Ivy" grows from the imagination of the local Daughter of the Stars, who used apples and pears in topiaries with wild turkey and pheasant feathers.
The nursery, decorated for "Jingle Bells," uses sleeping caps as decoration on the fireplace mantle, a bell wreath on the wall and another on a windowsill, and a quilt with patches displaying snowmen, snow flakes, gingerbread men, skates and mittens.
There were 12 children who grew up at Belle Grove, McClung said, "And so we always honor and celebrate children during Christmas.
The Colonial Garden Club, which decorated the room, "they just brought the charm of this room to life."
Volunteers contributed items from their personal collections to the decorations of Belle Grove.
McClung said in her own decorating she tries to recreate her grandparents' Christmas, and she and the volunteers have brought their family decorations to share around the manor. She said she imagines that many of Belle's Grove's visitors each year look for that same connection to the past during the tour.
"So many of us have lost our ancestral homes and have wonderful memories of the old times, and also I want to share those kind of traditions with the next generation, and so we've found that a lot of families have made a tradition of coming to Belle Grove at Christmas, just to sit by the fire, relax, see how Christmas was celebrated long ago," she said.
On Tuesday the Middletown Garden Club was decorating the Gold Bedroom to suit the words of "I Heard the Bells of Christmas Day"
"It's just a favorite," said Pat Craft, club president, "and we thought that we could carry out that theme."
The club has been decorating rooms in Belle Grove for eight Christmases now, she said, twice in the dining room.
"I think this is the first time that they have used Christmas carols," she said.
"We're just happy to participate," she said. "We feel that this [Belle Grove] is really a treasure."
And Belle Grove appreciates them as well.
"It just takes hundreds of volunteers to put this together," McClung said.
She expects a lot of visitors over the next few weeks, but particularly in the week after Christmas, when families might bring relatives and other holiday guests with them to sit in the parlor and sip spiced tea by the tree.
"This is our way of sharing Christmas. It's really a lovely way to spend Christmas, by the fire."
A Celebration of Carols will begin today at Belle Grove Plantation, south of Middletown, and run through Dec. 30, with music and candlelight on Fridays and Saturdays from 6 to 8 p.m. through Dec. 29.
Today's music will feature Evergreen Shade.
For more information, call 869-2028.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or email@example.com