It's beginning to look a lot like Dickens at Stillwater's Victorian B&Bs, which celebrate their era with vintage-style holiday decor.
Mr. Fezziwig, who relished celebrating Christmas in Dickens' classic holiday tale, would feel right at home in the gracious parlors of Victorian B&Bs in Stillwater.
This time of year, the restored 19th-century mansions emulate Christmases past, their parlors and antique settees enhanced by ribbon-adorned Christmas trees, a tradition that appropriately came to America from Victorian England.
"We want to create a warm and welcoming feeling, like a Charles Dickens Christmas," said Cathy Helmberger, an innkeeper for the past 10 years at the Aurora Staples Inn.
Dickens' great-great-grandson, Gerald Charles Dickens, even stayed at her B&B about five years ago, she said.
"Many of our guests tell us that the house reminds them of their grandmother's," said Tom Lynum, innkeeper of the William Sauntry Mansion. But Grandma never had Wi-Fi, whirlpool tubs and gas fireplaces in each room, CD and iPod players, and other amenities that modern guests expect.
Five Stillwater innkeepers trimmed their B&Bs from top to bottom for last week's annual sold-out Christmas Tea, and the inns will remain decorated for guests until New Year's Day.
But surprisingly, none of the innkeepers we talked to carry on the festive holiday spirit in their own private quarters inside the mansions. "That's where we store all the decorations," said Sandy Lynum.
Jeremy Drews welcomes guests to his B&B, the Ann Bean Mansion, with velvet stockings, green garland and deep-red poinsettias adorning the ornately carved wood fireplace in its foyer. "It doesn't get more classic than that," he said. But he doesn't deck his personal space, either. "If we want Christmas, we come out here," he said.AURORA STAPLES INN
The innkeepers: Cathy and Jerry Helmberger.
The historic house: 1892 Queen Anne Victorian, with five guest rooms, including a separate carriage house.
Back story: Lumber baron Isaac Staples was one of Minnesota's first millionaires, so he could afford to build this extravagant home for his daughter, Aurora, and her husband, Adolphus Hospes, a Civil War veteran. "Adolphus was a survivor of the First Minnesota Charge at Gettysburg," said Jerry.
Architectural highlights: Intricately carved woodwork, some with oak leaves and acorns on newell posts and corner blocks. "That's Isaac's signature because he was a lumber baron," said Cathy. A big bay window is made of leaded glass, and guests can sprawl out in two generous-sized rooms, one with a glazed tile fireplace. "The women took their tea in the parlor, and the men had their brandy and cigars in the library," said Cathy.
Victorian motif: The Helmbergers trimmed their 12-foot parlor tree with classic burgundy, gold and silver ornaments, and gold Victorian tinsel and lights resembling vintage candles. Cathy sprinkled classic Victorian elements within her mantel and tabletop arrangements such as pheasant feathers, white doves and reams of ribbons and bows. Breakfast is served in the "Nutcracker"-themed dining room, the walls covered with a turn-of-the-century pattern of William Morris wallpaper.
Kissing balls: The foyer kissing ball is covered in rose petals. "We encourage kissing here," said Cathy. It's a regular occurrence with couples staying at the inn to celebrate an anniversary, honeymoon or "babymoon," she said.
Home for the holidays: The Helmbergers spend Christmas morning opening presents under the parlor tree with their children and grandchildren. "Then at 4 p.m., we have guests checking in," said Cathy.
The innkeepers: Tom and Sandy Lynum.
The historic house: The 1881 Victorian beauty with a curved front porch is a mix of Queen Anne and Eastlake-style architecture and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has six guest rooms, including the Butler's Cottage Suite.
Back story: William Sauntry, an Irish immigrant who also made his fortune as a lumber baron, and his wife, Eunice, built the home. "As his wealth grew, so did his house," said Tom. In later years, he added a stone building called "the gymnasium," which held a large ballroom, indoor swimming pool and bowling alley. A passageway connected it to the house. Today it's a separate private residence. "Based on pictures of the ballroom, I'm assuming William liked to party," said Sandy.
Sauntry was a first cousin to Bing Crosby, who recorded what's considered the most popular holiday song, "White Christmas."
Opulent interiors: The front parlor's 1893 oil-on-canvas ceiling painting is faded but still impressive, and one wall is graced with a century-old portrait of Beltram, the Sauntry's only child. Each room is rich with handsome cherry or white oak woodwork and wood inlay floors. An art glass window depicting musical instruments, along with the Lynums' antique piano, tells guests that they're relaxing in the music room.
Euro-style: "It's easy to decorate when I just accent the home's original beauty," said Sandy. "But sometimes I go crazy with bows." She wraps the grand staircase in gold lamé, dried hydrangea spray-painted wine red and poinsettias and green garland. The couple often travel to Germany, and for the holidays they arrange regiments of authentic German nutcrackers on tables and shelves. A German Christmas pyramid Nativity scene is displayed on a table in front of the library's tree. "When you light the candles, it spins," said Sandy.
Guests gravitate to the tree -- trimmed with beads, green and gold European ornaments and topped with a big bow -- to read and sip wine, said Sandy.
Innkeepers: Jeremy and Erin Drews.
The historic house: An 1880 Eastlake-style boasting a gothic-looking tower in the center. It has five guest rooms.
Back story: Wealthy lumberman Jacob Bean's eldest daughter, Ann, grew up in the Victorian mansion. He gave the home to Ann when she married Albert J. Lehmicke in the drawing room in 1901.
"The drawing room was decorated with white roses and peonies and green, lending a very chaste and delicate effect to the surroundings," reported the Stillwater Daily Gazette on the occasion.
Antique setting: The Drewses are always on the hunt for antiques to fill the common rooms, such as their piano, sideboard and cello to complement the chunky oak woodwork and Old World carved corner blocks.
Down-to-earth decorations. The parlor Christmas tree is simple, trimmed with tin icicles, or Victorian tinsel, pine cones and some ribbon. "When I looked at old Victorian photos, they didn't get that fancy except to hang ribbon streamers from the light fixtures to the table corners," said Jeremy. "Some Victorians get crazy wild," said Erin. "But we like an uncluttered look."
She wrapped hydrangeas from her garden, ribbons and berries around the wooden foyer staircase, and set real poinsettias throughout the home.
"We like to use lots of natural materials," said Erin. "People get overwhelmed with lots of plastic this time of year." Jeremy also hung snowflakes, designed by a local stained-glass artisan, from the dining room chandelier.
A home for the holidays: On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, extended families rent the whole house to experience a modern-day Victorian celebration. "This house feels like an old-fashioned comfortable Christmas," said Erin.