East Hampton Historical Society Offers a Socially Distanced Yuletide

The Moran House at Christmas time. Courtesy East Hampton Historical Society.

For over a month now, Marianne Della Croce has fully, and enthusiastically, embraced the Christmas spirit.

And she is not alone.

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired holiday fanatics across the globe to decorate early, taking the “Christmas in July” phenomenon to a whole new level, from stringing lights and hanging up stockings to fully decking the halls — going so far as to set up trees that might not even make it to Christmas.

But that doesn’t seem to matter when the sheer act brings joy, nostalgia and a bit of hope, whether it’s a modern-day celebration or, in Della Croce’s case, one that feels centuries old — considering nearly all her decorations date back to the 19th century.

Starting Sunday, November 29, her handiwork — along with that of two teams of volunteers — will be on view inside the circa-1884 Thomas & Mary Nimmo Moran Studio for “Victorian Christmas,” hosted by the East Hampton Historical Society.

“You know, it’s really lovely because it helps get you in the mood yourself for the holidays,” said Della Croce, director of visitor experience for the historical society. “And during a trying year, it was actually very nice to be able to do that.”

The Moran House at Christmas time. Courtesy East Hampton Historical Society.

“Almost therapeutic,” added Cristoff Shay, senior director of advancement and experience for the society.

“Yeah, it was,” she agreed. “I mean, we started decorating middle of October because if you think about it, we had to be ready to go by Thanksgiving with the programs. So we’ve been decorating for a long time. It’s actually been really nice to do.”

While the Moran Studio is no stranger to holiday festivities, the historical society will host its first-ever “Aglow: A Holiday Experience” on Saturday, November 28, at Mulford Farm, in lieu of its annual House & Garden Tour and cocktail party traditionally held over Thanksgiving weekend for the last 35 years.

“It’s disappointing, but with COVID, I think this is the responsible thing to do while still being able to engage the community and celebrate the holiday,” Shay said of pivoting away from the house tour. “Because I think, more than ever, family is big. ‘Family’ is the word of the year.”

The inaugural “Aglow” celebration embodies exactly that, while encouraging the community to experience the sights and sounds of the season by taking a stroll down Memory Lane to a bygone era of simpler times, steeped in local history.

Lantern-lined entrance to Mulford Farm. Courtesy East Hampton Historical Society.

For one night only, Mulford Farm will be transformed into a winter wonderland from the days of yore, an East End Yuletide featuring a self-guided tour of the historic farm, caroling at the Hedges-Edwards barn with guitarist Josh Brussel, a socially distanced meet-and-greet with Santa Clause on his sleigh, children’s crafts, grab-and-go hot cider and Hamptons Aristocrat cookies, and a holiday pop-up shop.

“Everyone’s just looking for things to do and it’s nice to be able to be that place for people to be able to go to, and to make happy memories,” Della Croce said. “It’s really going to be something special that we hope to repeat next year.”

The colonial-era farmhouse is “decorated” to reflect the period, she explained, using the term loosely to describe modest trimmings, fresh greens and candlelight. It was the Victorian age that transitioned Christmas into more lavish, family-centered festivities that included gift-giving, Shay explained.

“In colonial times, Christmas was really not about children and families. It was more about the adults. It was the feast and the hunt and church,” he said. “When the Victorian times rolled around, that’s where you would have seen a lot more gifts. Originally, the gifts were handmade and put on the tree, but as they got bigger, they were put under the tree. It’s also the start of the roasted turkey as we know it today.”

The 19th-century Christmas celebration is an opportunity to see the Thomas & Mary Nimmo Moran Studio decorated as it would have been for Christmas during the 1880s, as well as period clothing, antique postcards, silver, toys and, of course, a tree adorned with hundreds of vintage ornaments. It is a reflection of a simpler time, and a reminder to slow down and enjoy the simple things, which can hold tremendous value, Shay said.

Christmas-themed window at The Moran House. Courtesy East Hampton Historical Society.

“I think all of us are COVID overwhelmed and COVID numb, and this is a chance for that family unit to really have at least a little bit of joy — with everything that has happened this year, to be able to have that experience with your immediate family and your loved ones,” he said. “So it makes me really happy and proud that the society is able to do that for the community.”

“Aglow: A Holiday Experience” will be held on Saturday, November 28, from 4 to 8 p.m. at Mulford Farm, 10 James Lane, East Hampton. Tickets are $10 ($5 for children under age 16). Visitors are limited to 38 per half hour.

The next day, “Victorian Christmas” will open on Sunday, November 29, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Thomas & Mary Nimmo Moran Studio, 229 Main Street, East Hampton. The exhibition will continue on Fridays and Saturdays, through December 19, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $5 and visitors are limited to eight per half hour.

All visitors over age 2 must wear masks and follow social distancing protocols. Registration is required; no tickets will be sold at the door. For tickets and more information, visit easthamptonhistory.org.