The sky is winter gray and the trees bare. The crops have been brought in from the fields and stored for the winter.
Outside the Carroll County Farm Museum farmhouse, far enough from the road that visitors can't hear the traffic, it is still.
But inside, the farmer, his wife and children prepare for the Christmas season. They go out to pick a tree from the farmland, the father cuts it down and brings it into the parlor.
An evening is spent decorating the tree with handmade, quilted ornaments, strung cranberries and popcorn, a few store-bought ornaments. The stockings are hung by the chimney, and the mantel is covered with live greens and red ribbons.
In the kitchen, the mother is busy baking for the relatives who will come for Christmas dinner -- there's the turkey to cook, pies and cakes to bake.
This year's theme for the Farm Museum's annual holiday open house -- a Farm Family's Christmas -- brings back all these memories of simpler days, when the emphasis was on family rather than the hustle and bustle of going to the mall for factory-made gifts and the grocery store for ready-to-eat foods.
"That's what the holidays are all about -- family gatherings, baking, decorating, a fun time," said Dottie Freeman, executive director of the Farm Museum.
"We're trying to bring back the time when families did things together -- going out and cutting down the tree, making your own gifts together, and the cards they'd make for each other were personal," she said.
This year's decorations are a little more sparse and much simpler than previous Victorian themes at the farmhouse. Though no less beautiful, these decorations reflect the love and care put into them by the farm family.
"We tried to keep the scene with all the greenery, berries, pinecones, those things you'd find in a farmhouse," Freeman said. "They used what they could find around them on the farm."
The downstairs rooms are decorated much as they would have been by the farm family -- a few greens on the mantel in the farmer's study, a small tree and stockings hanging from the bedposts in the children's room, a pretty centerpiece on the dining room table.
Somewhere on the big tree hangs a glass pickle ornament, which in Germany is considered a special tree decoration. Hidden by the parents on Christmas Eve, the ornament would be the first thing the children looked for, and whoever found it first would get an extra gift or just some good luck.
In the bedroom hallway, a large display case features snowy scenes of Santas, snowmen and houses, an old violin with sheet music.
Handmade gifts are strewn about the rooms, some wrapped, some only partly finished.
Outside, the one-room schoolhouse also is decorated with a small tree and ornaments made by the children. Wreaths hang in the farmhouse windows.
Luminarias line the driveway and light the way to the complex at night, Freeman's favorite time to see the Farm Museum in its Christmas glory.
"This is appreciating the farm at Christmas and what you have around you," Freeman said. "You don't have to go out and buy all the glitzy things."
This year's open house features a new event -- a cafe next to the summerhouse where Emma Beaver, a museum volunteer, will offer her homemade soups, salads, sandwiches, hot drinks and baked goods.
The cafe will be open today, Tuesday and Dec. 8. Tomorrow, Boy Scout Troop 381 will sell baked goods and hot chocolate to raise money for materials for a bluebird trail at the museum.
Susan Koch will offer her gingerbread houses, the museum's artisans will demonstrate traditional skills and wagon rides will be available on weekends. In the broom shop, Santa has his chair and candy canes to hand out to visiting children. Greens and poinsettias will be sold and the general store will be open for gift shopping. Costumed tour guides will describe the farmhouse and decorations.
Singers and musicians will entertain on weekends. Today, the Victorian Parlor Ensemble plays from noon to 2 p.m., and Barb McCourt and Susan Wilzer on the harp perform from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
On Saturday harpist Kris Snyder plays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; violinist Ariel Wirsching from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; and guitarist Mike Ritter from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
On Dec. 8, guitarist Rob Miller plays from noon to 1 p.m., guitarist Bob Brill from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and McCourt and Wilzer perform on the harp from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The Farm Museum's open house will be held from noon to 5 p.m. today, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Dec. 8.
Admission is $1 for visitors 6 and older; youngsters under 6 are admitted free with a paying adult.
Pub Date: 12/01/96