A dazzling, yet informative and enjoyable experience of cultures from around the globe will be in store during the annual Trees of Christmas at Merrehope and F.W. Williams historic homes.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the tour presented by the Meridian Restorations Foundation, a conglomerate of five Meridian Federated Women's Clubs: Time and Tide, Round Table, Twentieth Century, Galaxy and Fortnightly.
"When the antebellum Merrehope and Victorian F.W. Williams historic homes are decked out with Christmas splendor, it is time to celebrate the holidays," said Betty Lou Jones, president of the Meridian Restorations Foundation.
"Trees of Christmas is synonymous with fun, happy memories, family outings and exciting, educational adventures at iconic architectural treasures in a Deep South city," Jones said.
For 45 years, Foundation volunteers have presented the holiday extravaganza, which is a major fundraiser for the upkeep of the two historic homes. The tour features a wide variety of stimulating and educational themes displayed with beautiful decorations and creative designs.
To commemorate the 45-year milestone, organizers have incorporated the blue stone – the sapphire – into the tour's theme. "Explore Our Sapphire World" will feature holiday customs and cultures around the world.
"This theme is in keeping with the National Geography Awareness Week guidelines, which features the theme 'Exploring the World in a New Age,'" said Karen Wallace, Trees of Christmas chairman. Wallace also serves as a Mississippi Geographic Alliance (MGA) teacher consultant.
"So any exploration activity of the world can be designated as a National Geography Awareness Week event," Wallace said.
More than 25 theme-decorated trees and displays will take visitors on an entertaining world tour around Sapphire World, teaching customs and traditions through Scotland, Ireland, France, Austria, the United States, Canada, Italy, Israel, India, Germany, Iceland, Ukraine, Holland, Mexico, Kenya, England, Japan and more.
"This is truly a community-driven project," Wallace said. "It takes a whole lot of people to get the trees up, using their creativity and talents," Wallace said.
Community organizations and businesses assisting with Trees of Christmas 2013 include Dement Printing Co., Little Acre Home and Patio Furniture, the Meridian Council for the Arts, MSU Riley Center, Community Foundation of East Mississippi, Meridian Symphony League, Navy and Marine Corps spouses of commands on board Naval Air Station, Meridian, Meridian/Lauderdale County Tourism Bureau, city of Meridian, Mississippi Development Authority Division, WTOK-TV and Meridian Coca-Cola.
Schools participating in the holiday extravaganza are Meridian High School Art Club: St. Patrick Catholic School: QUEST classes of Southeast Lauderdale, Northeast Lauderdale and Clarkdale schools; Lamar Elementary School; special needs classes of Northeast Lauderdale and West Lauderdale school; and Meridian Christian Home Educators. Others groups assisting with the project include Debs Social Service Club and Friendship Garden Club.
A special feature of this year's Trees of Christmas is a newly acquired doll collection from The Williamson Family, who released the following statement:
"The estates of Ann Wright Williamson and Lester F. Williamson Sr. are happy to share some of their family's heritage with the Meridian Restoration Foundation of Meridian. We are honored that Merrehope will become the permanent home for Ann's beloved doll collection. These dolls tell happy stories of memorable occasions and wonderful adventures around the world, (1930s-present). We are also pleased to donate Sarah Gertrude Brickell's wedding day dress from 1892 and Wilhelmina Martin Wright's wedding dress dated 1923. The Williamson Family is proud to present items from three generations of our Mississippi family heritage. We pray future generations will enjoy these wonderful gifts as much as our family has."
The collection will be displayed in the Morning Room at Merrehope. Jones expressed great appreciation to The Williamson Family for their donation.
"This is truly a generous and meaningful gift and we invite our visitors to view and enjoy the wonderful doll collection," Jones said. " ... Young and old will gaze at this doll collection and be reminded of their fantasies of the future and their childhood from the past," Jones said.
Other private collections on display include a Santa Claus collection; a Nutcracker collection donated by Gertie Myers; and a handmade ceramic nativity scene handcrafted by former Time and Tide Club and Meridian Restorations Foundation member Bernice Campbell (by special arrangement with her family).
• Nov. 24-Dec. 30 – Trees of Christmas tours, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; last tour begins at 4 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Admission: Both houses – $10 for adults and $5 for students; one house – $9, adults; $4, senior citizens; and $3, students. Children 6 and under admitted free.
• Nov. 25 —Opening Reception-Sapphire Sunday, from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Unveiling of exhibition, international refreshments, musical entertainment and festivities, holiday and historical tours. Admission: $10, adults; $9, senior citizens; and $5, students. Children 6 and under admitted free.
• Dec. 8 – Be Merre Champagne Jazz Brunch, from 10 a.m.-noon and from 12:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Advance reservations required.
Group reservations offering group rates available by making arrangements in advance. For more information, contact Betty Lou Jones at email@example.com or (601) 917-4344 or Merrehope at 601) 483-8439 or visit the website www.merrehope.com