When it comes to gilding the Christmas lily no one did it better than the Victorians, who were responsible for turning St. Nicholas into Santa Claus. For a mood-elevating dose of Christmas grandeur, step into one of these Victorian house museums, each decorated to the hilt.
No place showcases the gilded era better than Newport, R.I., where the Preservation Society of Newport County decorates and opens five humongous "cottages" for daily tours. Few sights are as impressive as the towering Christmas tree made of poinsettia plants that this year will welcome visitors to The Elms, but for pure over-the-top extravagance, don't miss the Breakers, the 70-room, Italian Renaissance-style palazzo inspired by the 16th-century palaces of Genoa and Turin. Touring these properties with their ornamentation and festive trees is just a start. Plan a visit around one of the special holiday evenings, when a mansion is lighted for the celebration, has live holiday music, and offers sweets. Christmas at the Newport Mansions runs through Jan. 3.
Winter Passport ticket providing daytime admission to five houses, excluding Hunter House, can be purchased for $31 adults, $10 ages 6-17. Purchased separately: Breakers plus one another property, $23, $6; Breakers $18, $4.50; One property, excluding Breakers and Hunter House, $12, $4.50. Evening events $28 in advance, $35 at the door, $10 ages 6-17. 401-847-1000; www.newportmansions.org.