Experience Christmas in the 1885 Ballantine House

The Ballantine House parlor

NEWARK, NJ — For many modern-day families, observing Christmas means hanging stockings, making treats for Santa Claus and preparing a holiday feast. But in 1891, some families held an open-house Christmas Eve tea for the neighborhood and children set out wooden shoes for Santa along with their stockings.

These are just two examples of the things visitors can learn when the Newark Museum of Art transforms its historic Ballantine House into a Christmas celebration of late Victorian-era Newark. Visitors will see how English, German and Dutch holiday traditions set the stage for today’s festivities. The holiday tour is available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. through Sunday, Jan. 5, at the house, 49 Washington St. in Newark.

See how Christmas evolved from a church-centered celebration into a home-based secular holiday. This annual, family-friendly presentation depicts three holiday events as they might have happened in 1891. Each room is meticulously decorated to offer a glimpse into many cherished activities of the era.

Built in 1885 for Jeannette and John Holme Ballantine of the celebrated Newark beer-brewing family, the brick and limestone mansion has been part of the Newark Museum of Art since 1937. The house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985. While it is open for visitors year-round, the Ballantine House offers this special touch of nostalgia each winter.

“Through elaborate displays of food, each taken from Victorian cookbooks, and decorations that include evergreens, holly and mistletoe, we get a unique look into the Victorian era and a look at the similarities and the differences between Christmas in America, both then and now,” said Amy Simon Hopwood, associate curator of decorative arts for The Newark Museum of Art.

A flickering fireplace welcomes you as you enter the home. In the parlor, visitors can imagine what the open-house Christmas Eve tea might have looked like. Toys are in place under a Christmas tree, sparkling with period glass ornaments, from the museum’s decorative arts collection. In the library, the stockings, wooden clogs and treats are set out for Santa Claus, and of course, the Ballantine family. In the dining room, visitors can witness the Christmas Day dinner that awaits the family when they return from services at the North Reformed Church just across Washington Park. It includes oysters, ham and a traditional plum pudding.

“Many of our longtime visitors consider the Ballantine House a treasured stop in their holiday schedules,” Hopwood said. “Whether you have been here before or have never seen the Christmas display, you are sure to enjoy this treasured Newark holiday tradition.”

This event is made possible through gifts to the Ballantine House Fund. For further information, visit www.newarkmuseum.org.