DECEMBER EVENTS : Holiday Cheer on East Coast

Christmas festivities are a monthlong event in Newport, R.I., highlighted by dinners, home tours, holiday music, teas and children's programs.

A four-course Victorian Christmas dinner will be held next Sunday at noon and 7 p.m. at the Astors' Beechwood, 580 Bellevue Ave. The Beechwood Theater Company and madrigal singers from Salve Regina College will entertain. The hosts and cast members will dress as Charles Dickens characters. The dinner and play, which cost $38 per person, take about 2 1/2 hours. Reservations are required. Call (401) 846-3772.

Belcourt Castle, Bellevue Avenue, Newport, offers tours and a "Christmas Silver Tea," from 2 to 4 p.m., next Sunday, and Dec. 9, 16 and 23 in the Italian banquet hall. The Rhode Island Touring Ensemble will hold a concert in the ballroom.

The price--$12 for adults and $5 for children under 12--includes a tour of the castle, the tea and the concert. Reservations are suggested. For more information, call Belcourt Castle at (401) 846-0669.

Mansions maintained by the Preservation Society of Newport County--The Breakers on Ochre Point Avenue, Newport, and Green Animals Topiary Gardens, on Cory's Lane in Portsmouth, R.I.-- will be open to the public for the first time.

Themes are "The Vanderbilts' Christmas" at The Breakers and "A Child's Country Christmas" at Green Animals. At Marble House, on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, "The Vanderbilts' Christmas" also will be featured. Homes will be open next Saturday through Dec. 9, and Dec. 15-16, 22-23 and 26-30, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission ranges from $6 to $10.

The Breakers, built in 1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt, features a 30-foot decorated Christmas tree in its Great Hall and offers eggnog and cookies to visitors. Admission is $10 for adults and $4.50 for children ages 6 to 11.

The Brayton House, on the grounds of Green Animals, will display 19th-Century decorations and a table set for holiday tea. There will be a Christmas tree in the nursery and seasonal music piped throughout the mansion. Here, too, eggnog and cookies will be served. Children's holiday stories, "Tales of a Country Christmas," will be narrated during the tour from 3 to 4 p.m. on Dec. 15. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children ages 6 to 11.

All mansions will display their electric lights from dusk to 11 p.m. during December. For more details, contact the Preservation Society of Newport County, 118 Mill St., Newport, R.I. 02840, (401) 847-1000.

Christmas Walk

In Alexandria, Va., Santa Claus, wearing tartan kilts and cap, will lead the city's annual "Scottish Christmas Walk Parade." The parade begins at 10 a.m. next Saturday and goes through the Old Town historic district, starting on the corner of Wilkes and South Saint Asaph streets, continuing northeast to Market Square, where from 15 to 20 bands will play the bagpipes. The parade, which lasts 1 1/2 hours and attracts thousands of spectators, starts the city's holiday events.

The following weekend, Dec. 7-8, three Old Town historic homes and an 18th-Century tavern will hold annual Christmas candlelight tours highlighted by traditional holiday music and light refreshments (punch and cookies).

The Carlyle House, Lee-Fendall House, Boyhood Home of Robert E. Lee and Gadsby's Tavern Museum will be open from 7 to 9:30 p.m. each night. Tickets--$12 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 17--are for sale at the Ramsay House Visitors Center, 221 King St., 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

For more information, call the Alexandria Convention & Visitors Bureau at (703) 838-4200.

Tree Lighting

Heralding the holiday season in the nation's capital, a 35-foot Colorado blue spruce will have its lights turned on by President Bush on Dec. 13 at 5:30 p.m.

Located in Ellipse, an open park south of the White House, the tree is part of a Pageant of Peace Christmas light display that will remain through Jan. 1. Nightly choral performances, a Nativity scene and an exhibit of Christmas trees, one representing each state and the U.S. territories, are open to the public. For more details, call the National Park Service at (202) 619-7222.

Crossing the Delaware

On Christmas Day in Washington Crossing Historic Park, which lies partly in Pennsylvania and partly in New Jersey, a re-enactment of George Washington crossing the Delaware will take place. Parade marchers will portray Colonial forces, and Washington will address the troops before they board replicas of Durham boats at Washington Crossing, Pa., and cross to Titusville, N.J. The event is scheduled for 1:30 p.m., weather permitting. About 10,000 spectators are expected to line the river bank. For more information, call Washington Crossing Historic Park at (215) 493-4076.

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