Historic attractions decked out in Christmas finery make the season bright.

The state of Delaware turns into a Christmas fantasyland as the holidays grow near. Besides inspirational special exhibits and awesome floral displays, group visitors can enjoy handbell concerts, pipe organ recitals, caroling and a host of delightful seasonal activities.

Here is the schedule for holiday happenings in the Brandywine Valley at the Historic du Pont estates and gardens that are popular with group visitors:

Longwood Gardens

• Nemours Mansion & Gardens, commissioned by Alfred I. DuPont in 1909 and modeled on Le Petit Trianon, features world-renowned paintings, antiques, tapestries, sculpture and the finest formal French gardens in North America. From Nov. 12-Dec. 31, Nemours Mansion & Gardens will be dressed to the hilt during the holiday season.

• “Yuletide at Winterthur” can be experienced Nov. 19, 2011-Jan. 8, 2012 at Winterthur Museum, Gardens & Library, Henry Francis du Pont’s 175-room mansion featuring a distinctive collection of American decorative arts. Paint, Pattern & People: Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1725-1850 can be enjoyed through Jan. 8. This major exhibition at Winterthur explores the stunning and diverse furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania and delves into the lives of the people who made, owned or collected it. The exhibit features almost 200 objects—furniture, fraktur, needlework and paintings—and is supported by special tours of the Pennsylvanian rooms in the mansion. It also explores the area’s rich cultural heritage fostered by William Penn’s policy of religious tolerance.

• Longwood Gardens celebrates the holidays during “A Longwood Gardens Christmas” from Nov. 24, 2011-Jan. 8, 2012. Pierre Samuel du Pont’s 1,050-acre horticultural estate with four acres under glass welcomes group visitors by offering discount admission rates to groups of 15 or more. The Group Visits office provides a separate reception area, ticketing window and restroom facility for group guests. Outside the Group Visits office is free parking for 20 motorcoaches as well as a bus driver’s lounge. Complimentary admission is offered to the motorcoach driver and escort in a group of 15 or more. Because of its popularity, admission to “A Longwood Gardens Christmas” is by timed ticket only, with tickets issued for specific dates and times. Best times to visit the display are weekdays and prior to Dec. 24.

• “Christmas at Hagley” takes place Nov. 25, 2011-Jan. 7, 2012, at Hagley Museum and Library, the ancestral home of the du Pont family in Delaware and site of the original gunpowder mills that spawned the DuPont Company.

• “A Brandywine Christmas” at the Brandywine River Museum begins Nov. 25 and can be seen through Dec. 31, 2011. The museum, internationally known for its collection of works by three generations of Wyeths—N.C., Andrew, and Jamie—and tours of the nearby house and studio where N.C. Wyeth created most of his famous works of art, features special exhibitions throughout the year, including “A Brandywine Christmas” with an extensive O-gauge model railroad and trees decorated with its famous “critter” ornaments.

The Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, home to a world-renowned collection of American art and illustration as well as the largest collection of British Pre-Raphaelite art outside the U.K., provides guided themed tours and hands-on activities of Victorian-era crafts in its art studios. A sparkling wine, cheese and chocolate fondue reception is available for groups.

Delaware Art Museum

A must-see exhibit at the museum during the holiday season is Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered, which opens on Nov. 12. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Pyle’s death (1853-1911). In his honor, the museum will provide a comprehensive look at the work of one of America’s foremost illustrators. Pyle is best known for illustrations in Treasure Island and The Last of the Mohicans.

The elegant Hotel du Pont is a landmark four-star property that was designed by Pierre S. DuPont in the early 20th century. Cocktail receptions, cooking demonstrations and six-course gourmet dinners prepared by the hotel’s executive chef are available for groups.

Odessa
Historic Houses of Odessa’s Holiday Celebration runs from Nov. 17-Dec. 31. Stroll the tree-lined streets and tour historic colonial buildings of this charming 18th century village. Enjoy a cooking demonstration to learn how the dessert Apple Charlotte was made before modern appliances. Lunch can be served in one of the colonial homes. Cantwell’s Tavern in the Brick Hotel in Historic Odessa is scheduled to open May 1. It will seat 60-plus on the first floor and 50 on the second floor.

New Castle
The New Castle Historical Society’s three museums tell distinct stories about the town’s past from its 17th century founding. Old New Castle on the Delaware features Old World charm within its brick paths and cobblestone streets, town green and quaint shopping district. Guided tours for groups include an overview of the history of the houses, their residents and collections in the museums.

Amstel House, New Castle

Celebrate the holidays at the Amstel and Dutch houses from Nov. 25-Dec. 30. The Amstel House will be decorated for a colonial holiday celebration, showing off a “dessert board” of the period and featuring 18th century customs during Gov. Nicholas Van Dyke’s residency. At the Dutch House, experience a celebration of St. Nicholas’ Eve, a tribute to the legend of St. Nicholas, Dutch patron saint. From Nov. 26-Dec. 30, “A Civil War Christmas” provides a look at the icons of this holiday during the Victorian period at The Old Library Museum.

Stockings to fill
Delaware is the home of tax-free shopping. Christiana Mall is Greater Wilmington’s largest mall with more than 130 stores including a newly opened Nordstrom’s. Museum shops provide the perfect place to find those one-of-a-kind gifts. Quaint shopping areas include Centreville, Greenville, Hockessin and Newark.

For more information, contact Delaware Tourism, 866-284-7483, visitdelaware.com; and Greater Wilmington CVB, 800-489-6664, visitwilmingtonde.com

For more Wilmington-area travel ideas, log on to http://leisuregrouptravel.com/?p=23599.

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