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Holiday activities in historic Cape May, New Jersey

The “Old-Fashioned Christmas” exhibit features plenty of lights, trains, and toys.
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Year after year, as the holiday season approaches, I find time to spend a weekend in the beautiful beach town of Cape May, New Jersey. Cape May in November and December has the charm of a spectacular winter wonderland!

The number of activities of this seaside town in December may surprise you! Cape May caters to revelers of all ages with a variety of family-based events.

Children will simply love the opportunity to meet Santa Claus at the annual Christmas parade on Dec. 3. Congress Hall, a hotel which dates back to 1816, has an adorable train ride for kids that circles around the perimeter of the property.

And you can stop by vendor stalls adjacent to that attraction and purchase charming gifts such as handmade scarves, porcelain items, and a variety of jams. The Cape May Arts and Humanities Center offers trolley tours. When dusk sets in, dazzling holiday lights transform the town.

The 43rd annual Christmas Candlelight House Tour will be in full swing on Saturdays, Dec. 3, 10, and 17. For a nominal fee, guests can tour about a dozen historical, Victorian homes. The Cape May homeowners generously allow visitors into their cozy and warmly decorated residences. Hospitality stops are also incorporated into this unique event; enjoy complimentary homemade cookies, apple cider, and hot chocolate!

If you plan to visit historic Cape May, make reservations in advance. The following is just a sampling of the heartwarming holiday offerings that await you:

“An Old-Fashioned Christmas Exhibit:” An exhibit of holiday traditions complete with model trains, toys, and much more! At the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate. The gallery is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas).

Emlen Physick Estate [1048 Washington St. between Madison Avenue and St. James Place in Cape May, (609) 884–5404] Now through Jan. 1, 2017. Hours vary. Free admission.

Physick Family Christmas House Tours: Take a guided daytime, living-history tour of the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, decorated in Victorian style for Christmas, presented through the eyes of a Physick family member from the early 1900s. The tour includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery where you can see “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” exhibit.

Emlen Physick Estate [1048 Washington St. between Madison Avenue and St. James Place in Cape May, (609) 884–5404] Adults, $12, children ages 3–12, $8. Offered daily, hours vary. No tours Dec. 25.

Ghosts of Christmas Past Trolley Rides: Take this 30-minute evening trolley ride through the festively decorated Historic District as you listen to a Victorian ghost tale told by a member of the East Lynne Theatre Company. (Tours leave from Washington Street Mall, except for Nov. 19 tours, which leave from the Physick Estate.) Advance reservation strongly recommended.

Washington Street Mall (401 Washington St. between Jackson and Decatur streets in Cape May) Sundays, Now–Dec. 18; Fridays, Dec. 2–Dec. 23; and Monday, Dec. 26–Saturday, Dec. 31. Hours vary. Adults, $12; children ages 3–12, $8.

Emlen Physick Estate [1048 Washington St. between Madison Avenue and St. James Place in Cape May, (609) 884–5404]

Holiday Lights Trolley Rides: Take a ride on the jolly red trolley through Cape May’s Historic District and delight in seeing festive Christmas decorations of inns and homes as guides touch on Victorian Christmas traditions, lead sing-alongs, and play Christmas music. (Tours leave from Washington Street Mall, except for Nov. 19 tours, which leave from the Physick Estate.)

Washington Street Mall (401 Washington St. between Jackson and Decatur streets in Cape May) Nightly, Now 25–Dec. 31. Hours vary. No tours Dec. 3, 10, 12, 17, 24, and 25. Adults, $12; children ages 3-12, $10.

Emlen Physick Estate [1048 Washington St. between Madison Avenue and St. James Place in Cape May, (609) 884–5404]

Santa’s Trolley Rides: Bring the kids to the Physick Estate on weekends for a trolley ride around Cape May with stories and songs led by Mrs. Claus. Then, Santa will greet children with a sweet in the Carriage House. Advance reservation strongly recommended.

Emlen Physick Estate [1048 Washington St. between Madison Avenue and St. James Place in Cape May, (609) 884–5404] Saturday, Nov. 19; Saturdays and Sundays, Now–Dec. 17. Hours vary. Adults, $10; children ages 3–12, $8.

Evening Yuletide Tour: Revel in the sparkly lights of Cape May’s beautiful Victorian homes decorated for Christmas on this 30-minute trolley ride followed by a guided tour of the first-floor rooms of the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, decorated for a Victorian Christmas. Then visit the Carriage House for holiday refreshments and a visit to “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Tour begins and ends at the Ocean Street trolley stop.

Now–Dec. 30, except Dec. 3, 10, 12, 17, 24, and 25. Hours vary. Adults, $22; children, ages 3–12, $14. Admission for house tour only, adults, $12; children ages 3–12, $8.

Lamplighter Christmas Tours: Take this self-guided evening tour of Cape May’s inns or private homes, specially decorated for the holidays. Hear a holiday presentation by the owner at each location. The tour includes a visit to the Carriage House Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you’ll receive warm beverages and holiday treats and see “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” exhibit.

Fridays, Dec. 2–23; and Dec. 28 from 7 pm to 9 pm. Dec. 31 from 1 to 3 pm. Adults, $20; children ages 3–12, $15.

Holiday Inns Tours: Get into the Christmas spirit and visit three of Cape May’s inns or private homes at your own pace on these self-guided tours. Enjoy the festive décor.

Mondays through Thursdays, Now–Dec. 15 from 1 to 3 pm. Adults, $15; children ages 3–12, $10.

Christmas Traditions Lecture: Learn how Prince Albert brought Christmas traditions to England from Germany when he married Queen Victoria, and how these traditions spread to America in this richly illustrated lecture at the Episcopal Church of the Advent. Much of what we associate with the celebration of Christmas comes from the Victorian era.

Episcopal Church of the Advent [612 Franklin St. at Washington Street in Cape May, (609) 884–3065] Dec. 3 at 2 pm. $10.

The 43rd Annual Christmas Candlelight House Tour: This self-guided walking tour, the main attraction of Cape May’s festive holiday season, features homes, inns, hotels, and churches decorated for the holidays, plus caroling, strolling musicians, and good old-fashioned cheer. Hospitality centers offer warm beverages and traditional treats. Includes admission to the Physick Estate and “An Old-fashioned Christmas Exhibit” in the Carroll Gallery. Limited shuttle service.

Dec. 3, 10, and 17 from 5:30 to 8:30 pm. Adults, $30, children ages 3–12, $20.

Chocolate Lover’s Feast: Enjoy seven plated courses of chocolate desserts and hear how each was created from the chef who prepared it at The Blue Rose Inn.

The Blue Rose Inn [653 Washington St. between Franklin and Ocean streets in Cape May, (609) 435–5458] Dec. 4 at 1 pm. $40.

• • •

The holidays are a busy time for all of us, but why not add to lasting memories with a visit to the historic town of Cape May? It is indeed a town worth visiting during the most wonderful time of the year, and perhaps this will become your family’s holiday tradition for many years to come!

For further tour information, and assistance in planning your holiday visit to Cape May, visit the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities at www.capemaymac.org or call (609) 884–5404.

Purchase tickets for these events at the Washington Street Mall Information Booth or at the Physick Estate.

Updated 5:01 pm, July 9, 2018
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