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Cortland/Ithaca

LeRay Mansion decked out for the holidays

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: LeRay Mansion decked out for the holidays
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Every year, holiday decorations get bigger and brighter. Hard to remember, but there was a time when trees and toys were simple. But there's no better place to bring everyone back to those days than one of the most historic homes in the North Country. Our Brian Dwyer walked through the LeRay Mansion on Fort Drum where the decorations are reminiscent of a 1800s French Christmas, just like the original owner used to know.

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- It's a historian's dream: An authentic Christmas.

Dr. Laurie Rush, Fort Drum's Cultural Resources Manager, shows off the newly decorated historic LeRay Mansion, built in 1827 by French Nobleman James Le Ray De Chaumont.

"As French Aristocrats and devout Roman Catholics, we know that Christmas must have been a very important time at this house," Rush said.

The house, which sits now smack in the middle of Fort Drum, gets decorated for the holidays each year by the Mountain Leader Spouses, a group of wives of command staff. But this year, they wanted to do something different. So they reached out to Rush and brought it back in time, back to the 1800s.

"I think it's a good way to always get community involved. If we have such a historical building on the installation, why not reach back in history?" said Carol Rosenberg of Mountain leader Spouses.

And they did: Chaumont's French history.

The Christmas tree, complete with cloth-like felt roses, pine cones, wild berries and even angel hair.

Rush said, "Glass ornaments did not emerge until later in time. They actually were the result of a famine in Europe where there weren't fruits, berries and those kinds of items available for decorating. The glass blowers came to the rescue."

Believe it or not, nativity scenes weren't allowed back then either. During the French Revolution, the government wanted to suppress churches, so families had to get creative, making very similar characters.

"They could still have that aspect of celebration, but were able to work around the government prohibition for that time," Rush said.

Even food. This was known as a King's Cake.

"It actually has a tradition of baking in a little prize. Originally you baked in a little bean and that tradition has evolved into baking into a little toy. The person who's lucky enough to get that serving is king for the day," Rush said.

Everything down to the treats children would leave Santa's sleigh guide.

Rush said, "The French Santa Claus comes with his burrow. His burrow, of course, needs carrots. So just like American children leave carrots for Santa's reindeer, the French children, instead of stockings, they leave shoes and leave the carrots for Gui, Pere Noel's burrow."

"We had a great time doing it. We wanted something that the Fort Drum community would be excited about, but also the North Country and the surrounding community would also be happy to see," said Amy Macdonald of Mountain Leader Spouses.

And over the next few weeks, they're hoping you do exactly that.

For more information on how you can see the mansion for yourself, call the Fort Drum Cultural Resources office at (315) 772-4165.

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