WORCESTER — The Norristown Garden Club has featured many beautiful Worcester homes on its popular annual Holiday House Tour over the years.
This year the pandemic has brought a different kind of deserving Worcester venue to the club’s attention, resulting in a unique partnership that will benefit both organizations in some unexpected ways.
In lieu of welcoming guests into spotlighted homes decorated by club members for what would have been its 71st Annual Holiday Tour, the Norristown Garden Club is transforming the exteriors of cabins on the Variety Club’s sprawling campus for a “Variety Holiday Lane,” which will be open Dec. 3 (4 to 8 p.m.); Dec. 4 (4 to 8 p.m.) and Dec. 5 (4:30 to 8 p.m.)
“It’s a real collaboration, and partnership is a key ingredient of Variety’s success in our long history,” noted Variety CEO Dominique Bernardo. “The Garden Club has actually supported us in the past; they’ve helped with volunteers, giving us seeds and donations. They’re aware of what we do with our garden and greenhouse and somebody who works in our greenhouse had connected us to them and said they weren’t doing their Holiday House Tour this year. So we had the board of the Garden Club come out and walk the property and they were willing to give their time and talent to a different version – they’re careful to say it’s not an official Holiday House Tour. But they’re doing it in a similar way. I think the Garden Club’s reputation for its Holiday tour makes this event even stronger.”
Equipped with their usual array of elegant and seasonal botanicals committee members took on the decorating the porches of each building as they would the houses selected for a traditional tour.
“The loop is about a quarter of a mile and they’re decorating the fronts of nine of our cabins, and our historic farmhouse as well. It’s a one-way loop, so we put as many precautions into place as we could to make sure it’s safe and to keep the crowd moving,” Bernardo said.
On Dec. 5, a drive-thru will be offered from 3 to 4:30 p.m. ($10 per car)
“We wanted to give an option to those who are being extra cautious,” Bernardo said.
When completed, the collection of buildings bedecked in Yuletide finery will evoke a quaint village bearing the unmistakable natural imprint of the Norristown Garden Club.
“We did a test run last night of some of the lights,” Bernardo said. “We’re not touting it as a light tour because the lights complement the club’s decorations. But we think it’s going to be an enchanting event … it’s outdoors and we have the space to be safe. We’re going to screen cars as they pull into the property and we’re going to temp check as well as make sure that everybody has a mask, and then we’ll be monitoring the number son the property. I’m so excited about this event because it’s such a cool way to have the Norristown Garden Club members engaged in holiday decorating in a pandemic year and it slows us to throw this unique event that we’ve never thrown. We think we can do it in a very safe way so that people can experience a little holiday joy and support Variety. Everybody gets a cup of hot chocolate with their ticket,” Bernardo added, “and we’re also selling baked goods made by the Variety kids from our VarietyWorks program, and we’ll also have a holiday bazaar with handmade goods made by Variety kids throughout the year.”
Longtime Norristown Garden Club member Jill Evans noted that members were aware that the pandemic meant big changes to the beloved house tour tradition, which typically attracts more than 1,000 visitors.
“Nobody will let 1,200 people walk through their homes this year, so we decided we weren’t going to be able to do the House Tour. And then the Variety Club said ‘We have these nine cabins and the decorations. So we said we would do it. It’s like a mini Boat House Row,” she said, laughing. “The decorations will all be on the porch, plus the farmhouse and the outside of the recreation building, and the Variety Club will handle the parking and all of that. Since this is going to be outside of course there won’t be any flowers, but there will be greens and decorations, and it will be a walking tour, with a drive-thru offered on the last day.”
Caren Puschak is chair of the entire project, with committees designated for the decorating of each cabin.
The unifying concept pays homage to Variety’s mission of creating programs that benefit children.
“In an effort to bring an outdoor Christmas to the Variety Club, we chose a beloved holiday character as our theme,” Chair Bernadette O’Connor noted of the “Frosty the Snowman” cabin, which includes “several phases of Frosty as he evolves from a simple snowman to a live snowman leading a parade of children. Many white lights and snowflakes are incorporated into our decor.”
At “A Gingerbread House” (Chair Melanie Kilgannon) children are happily decorating their house in gingerbread land with Neccos and peppermint sticks for Christmas in anticipation of sweet dreams.
“Charlie Brown's Christmas” brings together a cast of Peanuts characters who are ringing in the holiday season with song, complete with Woodstock and Snoopy singing from his doghouse.
“Our team enjoyed dressing up the well-known and well- loved Charles Schultz kids using felt and fabric. Hair was created with yarn and pipe cleaners,” noted Chair Karen Nemeth.
Invoking “The Grinch Who stole Christmas” (Chair Maria Jacobs), the Grinch invades Whoville attempting to steal Christmas. He is unsuccessful at this cabin “lovingly decorated in honor of two deceased long time Norristown Garden Club members, Josie Tornetta and Anne Dozer.”
The animated film “Frozen” is recreated in a cabin that finds Queen Elsa exuding the power to create and freeze ice and snow as she accidentally curses her Kingdom, the cabin, into a perpetual winter. “You will hear Elsa singing “Let it Go”, so “come visit the ‘Frozen’ cabin before the spell is broken,” noted chair Pat Wolanski.
In addition, there are a double cabin titled Santa’s Toy Shop, chaired by Chris Yanak, that will also be used the following weekend in an event for the children, an 1814 Farmhouse, and the Recreation Hall, both of which will be decorated by Caren Puschak 's committee, which is creating a heart-shaped flower bed that will be covered with red-dyed dried hydrangeas and backlit by solar lighting. Flickering tea lights will shine through red-wrapped mason jars, outlining the heart.
Where the proceeds of the traditional Holiday House Tour would go into the Norristown Garden Club’s scholarship fund, all proceeds from Holiday Lane will benefit Variety Club.
“It’s a fundraiser but it’s also about community partnerships,” Bernardo said.
Those partnerships include the new driveway that will welcome Holiday Lane guests, courtesy of Allan Meyers, a local neighbor and corporate Variety supporter that “constructed and paved a new driveway for us, pro bono, giving back during the pandemic,” Bernardo allowed.
“This is such a kid-friendly event. People will have a chance to walk the loop, have some hot chocolate, buy some baked goods, maybe buy some Christmas gifts at the bazaar. We’re going to have characters in costumes roaming around, some entertainment sprinkled throughout. I think it will be a real family-friendly activity, so we’re really excited. We’re this little gem hidden away, so this will give people a chance to know who we are,” she added. “It’s a win-win in the sense that the Garden Club is able to showcase their amazing talents and give back to the community, which they do so well. And from the Variety perspective we can invite people to our home in a safe way, and the more community members we can engage, it pays dividends for us in the sense of volunteers and people committed to our mission and knowing who we are. This is a perfect example of who variety is, with all these groups coming together to make this happen.”
Variety Club Camp & Development Center is located at 2950 Potshop Road, Worcester.
Tickets (adults, $10; children age 4 and over, $5) will be available at the door or online at varietyphila.org/holidaylane