Let’s Wander! Magical Christmas Trip
I love to wander and I look forward to every trip, whether near or far. But sometimes travel turns simply, unexpectedly, magical.
Such was our recent wandering to Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley. This was a ladies’ getaway, a belated birthday celebration for my friend (and BoomerConnection’s photographer) Loralee. Just 2 nights. For the longest time, we had looked forward to sharing food and wine and deep conversation, as we always do when we get together. The excursion to Longwood Gardens was really intended to be the backdrop to our get together, but absolutely ended up being the main event. Now one of our most favorite memories.
Longwood Gardens is a premier holiday destination in the Mid Atlantic region. The former DuPont estate, with 400 acres open to the public, includes a massive conservatory filled year round with fabulous greenery. But at the holidays… it is truly magnificent. The surrounding grounds hold their own unbelievable display, with the trees covered in lights and an outdoor fountain light show set to music, weather permitting, that leaves visitors awestruck.
You can easily find out all about this place online if you want to visit, (https://longwoodgardens.org). It is so worth the trip! But now in the spirit of “Let’s Wander,” I want to talk about the way it made me feel, as the experience was uniquely beautiful.
We timed our visit for 3 PM on a Wednesday afternoon. We wanted to be able to experience the Gardens in daylight, through twilight and into the night. We chose mid-week to avoid the massive crowds that descend every weekend. Tickets were purchased online ahead of time, for $23 per person. Admission is “timed ticketing,” so you have to choose an entry time. The obvious plan was to visit the indoor conservatory while still daylight, and then view the gardens at night as the outdoor Christmas lights came on.
And that’s where the magic began. As we walked from the parking area, across the acreage to the conservatory, the shadows were already starting to lengthen on this late afternoon, in mid-December. There were a good number of visitors but not yet a crowd. We stepped in from the bitter cold to a warm hush. The scene that lay before us was breathtaking. The conservatory is huge, all glass, and the sun shone through the space and lay in bright stripes across the greens and flowers. There was water flowing all around. It surrounds you. There are fountains just inside the entrance, and a stream that flows gently around the perimeter. Flowers are everywhere. The colors of course were mostly Christmas. With the lights in the trees, carpets of green grass, and the sound and sight of waterfalls, it was hard to take it all in. At one spot a mosaic flowerbed of green apples, cranberries and gold frosted walnuts created a natural masterpiece. We spent over 2 hours in the conservatory, completely immersed in color and fragrance and light and music. It was like Christmas in heaven. The photos here will give you an idea of just how lovely Longwood Gardens really are.
And yet it gets better. From somewhere beyond we heard an organ playing Christmas music both sacred and secular, and voices raised in song. We followed the music like children behind the Pied Piper and came upon an auditorium. In the midst of all this sunlit beauty, the huge expanse was surrounded by the pipes of an organ that almost defied belief.
This is not just any organ: with 10,010 pipes it is one the largest Aeolian organs ever constructed, and the largest one ever designed for a residential space. It was commissioned in 1930 by Pierre DuPont and in recent years underwent a restoration process that was completed in 2011.
On the hour an organist appears and invites the visitors to a sing-along. To be in such a space, everyone blissfully subdued by the beauty and splendor of it all, singing together, creates a feeling of community and unity that is as hard to duplicate as it is to put into words. It makes peace seem achievable. For my part, hearing all the beautiful hymns and Christmas songs I grew up with, played on that organ, in that place, brought Christmas home to me this year in the best possible way. The Gardens gave me the gift of overflowing and grateful Christmas spirit.
Too soon we stepped into the clear cold twilight and walked alongside the conservatory, backlit and awash with color as the sun set beyond the outline of bare trees surrounding the garden. The Christmas lights started to twinkle all around us. And then another gift: We knew that later that evening a youth choir from Cherry Hill NJ was to perform. However, we could not stay and we were disappointed to miss it. But as we walked along the garden path, we heard singing. The choir had just arrived, and as they made their way from the buses to the venue, they broke into song, extemporaneously and effortlessly, yet in perfect harmony. They were singing some beautiful Christmas cantata. I couldn’t help but think they were like teen angels that just appeared out of nowhere. These were angels dressed casually in jeans, Ugg boots and beanies, their dress performance clothes slung over their backs, just walking along and singing, blissfully unaware of the magic they were creating in the gathering dark. It was another one of the moments that just happen, that could never be staged or recreated, you simply just have to sit back and enjoy the show.
Every once in awhile in my travels I find a place and an experience so beautiful it makes me cry. The excursion to Longwood Gardens was one of those. And this is why I wander….