Clad in a long red velvet skirt and cape, and topped with a dust cap, Mrs. Claus, aka Donna West, greets visitors outside the door of the small white Victorian home in the hub of historic Milton.
With red-bowed wreaths hung on the windows, the Jefferson Township Historical Society Museum is decorated for A Woodland Christmas. Visitors pack into the parlor where 13-year-old Joshua Velez of Panther Valley plays caroles on the harmonium, and then move into the dining room where the table is set for forest creatures rather than humans. Red-plaid wrapped gifts sit at the feet of a Thomas Nast Santa. Birds, birch logs and pine boughs bedeck the mantles.
The best part of this open house, says museum director Carol Keppel, is the creativity that it brings out in the volunteers from the Jefferson Township garden club who decorated the home.
She enjoys watching the “the expressions on the faces of everyone. This brings so much joy to so many people.”
Volunteers staff the house in 1870s costume, answering questions and chatting with guests. Down narrow stairs and outside by the river, Peter Brennan of Lake Hopatcong ladles hot mulled cider from a Dutch oven atop a pot-bellied stove. The museum will be open again Sunday from 1-4 p.m., but Christmas in the Village happens only once a year.
From the museum, visitors can head toward Fire Company No. 1. There, home business owners and crafters offer their wares, while proud parents watch tots in ballet costumes (or karate uniforms for that matter) perform with the bay doors as a backdrop. Over at the Milton United Methodist Church, the Jefferson Township High School Band raises instruments to perform a piece entitled “Rest,” as director Richard Barrieres mouths “eyes on me” and raises his baton. The whole village is involved, with St. Gabriel’s Episcopal hosting White Rock Elementary Chorus, and Milton First Aid Squad starting the day off with breakfast.
A few miles down Weldon Road, another Mrs. Claus sits with her jolly husband, posing for photos at Camp Jefferson’s Community Lodge in a log-cabin scene designed for movies. Families line up, and a surprising number of youngsters go willingly to these vaguely-familiar strangers, who greet each child with, “It’s so nice to see you!” And “Look how much you’ve grown!” Parents snap photos on phones and listen in on gift requests. Popular mentions include the LaLa Lucy dolls, Star Wars Legos, and Xbox. For some reason, two youngsters request cucoo clocks.
The Mrozowski family just moved to Oak Ridge and this is their first Christmas in the area. Ten-week-old Noah snuggles in Santa’s arms while Grace, who is almost 2, sits with Mrs. Claus while dad Paul takes video and mom Liz snaps stills on a digital SLR.
Paul Mrozowski says that Grace had been practicing her gift request – blocks – but it’s lost in the moment. She seems satisfied to sit on the lap of Mrs. Claus with a candy cane, smiling and saying ‘cheese’ over and over again, with a big smile on her face.
There isn’t much more a parent of youngsters could ask for in that photo.