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Old-Fashioned Colonial Christmas

All natural decorations make a lasting impression

An invitation to Mike Mattevi and Mike Rogers’ annual holiday open house is like an instant passport to Colonial Williamsburg, wrapped in all the festive accoutrements that 18th-century America might have offered.

An evening to remember

The spirit of the season is felt in the generous, warm and unpretentious way the couple entertains and decks the halls. The food is a fabulous homemade feast—from scrumptious hors d’oeuvres followed by a Colonial-inspired buffet dinner with Smithfield ham, tenderloin and other Yuletide dishes. Candles and oil-burning lamps flicker and cast a magical glow upon an unforgettable evening. The fireplace in the keeping room, transformed into an 18th-century tavern for the event, magnificently roars, and the pleasant bartender, who wears a tri-cornered hat popular during Colonial times, handily pours beverages from behind the cage bar. Even Jack, the family Airedale terrier, seems to enjoy the merriment.

The couple’s fondness for the famous historic site in Virginia radiates throughout their spacious two-story Colonial-style home in the Washington Township area of Dayton. “When we do the party, everything is real,” explains Mattevi. “We try to follow some of the traditions at Williamsburg.”

Swags made of delicious-looking natural ingredients such as lemons, pomegranates and apples are elegantly draped on the banister leading to the second floor; cheerful Santa figurines grace various nooks and crannies, and a quaint village scene dominates the mantel in the living room. And, yes, fresh pineapples—a recurring motif in Colonial Christmas decorations—pop up in centerpieces throughout the home.

The couple started their Christmastime tradition when they moved into their home in 2004. The neighborhood already had established an annual holiday potluck, and Mattevi and Rogers seized upon the opportunity to host the festivities. “It has evolved from 30 people to 130 people. The more we had it, the more fun it became,” Mattevi says.

The event is family-friendly, as the couple’s children—Olivia, 16, and Alec, 15—are active participants in staging the open house. Don Rogers, Rogers’ father, serves as an informal curator and is happy to describe the various construction elements of the home, which was built in 1967. His own handiwork is seen in the small wooden baskets on the window ledges outside filled with fruit and greenery.

Attention to details

The home reflects excellent craftsmanship and the replication of historic details that the original owners, also lovers of the Colonial period, insisted upon when they built the house. “They left us with lots of photographs of the architectural detail at Williamsburg,” Mattevi says.

Masons and blacksmiths were part of the team that built the home, an impressive, 3,500-square-foot replica of a Colonial Williamsburg home. Rogers and Mattevi say most of the homes in their neighborhood are replicas of historic homes either in Williamsburg or Deerfield, Massachusetts.

Keeping a cohesive Colonial look throughout the home, the men repainted the interior of the home with paints from the Williamsburg Color Collection by Pratt & Lambert, and the palette is pleasing and sumptuous. Mattevi and Rogers also lined the walls of the home with their formidable art collection, which includes oil reproductions of famous American portraits and original English portraiture from the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Christmastime, however, is when the Colonial vibe hits full stride. Beginning in October, Mattevi starts designing and making a gingerbread house that is sight to behold. After building the gingerbread base, he embellishes the structure with architectural precision and patience. Two thousand pieces of cereal, hand-placed, for instance, were used to create the roof on the building of last year’s house. “It just comes to me. It’s my labor of love,” he says, estimating that he spent about 200 hours creating the 18th-century street scene that includes a tavern and an apothecary. “We do a different gingerbread house design every year. In 2007, we did a gingerbread house version of our home. In 2008, it was the Governor’s Palace at Williamsburg,” he adds.

Last-minute preparations

The larger of two garages in the back of the home serves as the creating and staging area for the myriad Christmas projects. “This is where all the behind-the-scenes disasters take place,” Rogers says with a laugh. On the evening of the party, however, there are no signs of creative blunders—only impeccable attention to detail is present.

Last year, the Christmas tree in the keeping room was decked out with cookie ornaments made from Springerle molds Mattevi collects, dried yarrow, artichokes and pine cones. Mattevi says the molded cookies originated hundreds of years ago. Today, replicas of the traditional European molds are available in hundreds of delicate yet detailed designs.

At the other end of the keeping room is the cage bar, which is festively decorated as well and serves as a natural gathering point for guests, who can be seen enjoying Washington Apple Martinis and Coconut Rum Punch. Just for fun, Rogers demonstrates how the cage works. “In Colonial times, the cage would come down so no one would steal the liquor.”

The men admit it is hard to pinpoint the most memorable moments of the holiday merry-making. “My favorite part is when everything is ready and the servers are here. Then I can relax and have a martini,” says Mattevi, who takes the whole week off work prior to the open house. “I love coming up with different ideas. That’s the fun—and seeing everyone having fun.” Rogers adds that he enjoys the “one-half hour prior to the party and the hush before all the guests arrive.”

 

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