A Holiday Showcase for the Ages
The Garden Club of Hyannis celebrates 400 years of Cape holidays with a magical transformation of South Yarmouth’s historic Cultural Center.
Four centuries ago in early winter, the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower landed on the shores of Cape Cod. This seminal 1620 event in American history with its deep Cape roots was the natural choice for a widely anticipated Holiday Showcase planned for this November 18-20 at South Yarmouth’s Cultural Center. Entitled “400 Years of Holidays on Cape Cod: 1620-2020,” the three-day event will feature a splendid transformation of the center’s interior and exterior spaces by the Garden Club of Hyannis.
Where better to create a gorgeous display than in the Cultural Center of Cape Cod, housed in the old Bass River Savings Bank building, itself a landmark nestled in a beautiful historic district. From floor to ceiling, inside and out, the center will celebrate Cape Cod’s quintessentially American holiday traditions.
“The Cultural Center’s main building is an architectural anomaly on Cape Cod,” says Lauren Wolk, the nonprofit organization’s public spokesperson. “It’s a big brick building with tall Palladian windows, a terrazzo floor with a Compass Rose, 19-foot ceilings in the Great Hall, crown molding and lovely archways, and lots of elegant details. The original building really lends itself to events like the Holiday Showcase.”
Wolk, who has experienced all four previous Garden Club of Hyannis Holiday Showcases first hand, goes on to note that the Cultural Center this year will be, “profusely decorated with opulent floral arrangements and captivating tablescapes, wreaths, swags, container plants, artwork, furnishings, and accents. Also, the exterior facade and entryways will be dressed with lush greens, berries, ribbons, baubles and bangles. And the 2021 Magnificent Boutique will offer thousands of handcrafted items for sale!”
Wolk says that this event has been a seasonal must-see event for Cape Codders and visitors for many years, since the first Holiday Showcase in 2008. “This happening involves so much effort that the Garden Club of Hyannis hosts it only every three years,” Wolk explains, noting that the 2021 Showcase was originally supposed to be held in November of 2020. “Because of COVID-19, the hiatus grew to four years, but the extra time meant extra effort on an event that is sure to impress visitors.”
Fortunately, the theme has plenty of staying power and is a perfect thread that ties together the various focal points of the 2021 Showcase according to one of the event’s three Garden Club of Hyannis co-chairs, Deborah Faulconer of West Hyannis Port, who notes that the entire club is involved in the extensive planning, scheduling, and considerable work involved in producing such an event.
“We have 70 plus members who are all involved,” says Faulconer. “Our main purpose is to highlight the talents of the garden club, while fund-raising for the community, primarily for student scholarships.” Faulconer notes that the Holiday Showcase, which usually attracts around 1,500 visitors, raises more than five figures for civic projects, scholarships for local college students, teacher grants, and for the club’s general fund.
Visitors to this year’s Showcase will be able to tour the Cape and the Islands by traveling through several display areas, immersing themselves along the way in various iconic places and pastimes. Those areas will include the following themes: Provincetown— Mayflower Landing; Sandwich—Glass and Light; Hyannis Port—A Children’s Christmas in Camelot; Yarmouth Port—A Victorian Wedding at a Sea Captain’s Home; Harwich Port—Thompson’s Clam Bar; Bass River—A Holiday Reception; Sconset—Christmas Past and Present; and Nantucket—Harvest at Christmas.
Faulconer calls the Showcases “labors of love,” noting that sometimes even club members’ families are called to help out, such as for this year’s Showcase when one member’s husband is actually constructing a wooden replica of part of the Mayflower, mast and all, for the “Provincetown: Mayflower Landing” exhibit in the center of the Cultural Center’s Great Hall.
Each Showcase takes years of planning as the garden club committee members hold dozens of meetings. “First of all, we decide on a theme and try not to replicate the previous four Showcase themes and then we build that theme around a holiday,” says Faulconer. “That’s the first challenge! Then we try to find members who are willing to take on a leadership roll and create their own committee for each area of the Showcase. We have members chair every room—and this year, we are talking eight rooms, plus decorating the outside of the center!”
“It’s amazing how much thought, planning, and sweat go into these Showcases,” marvels Wolk. “The garden club members spend many months putting their heads together to come up with a plan that’s very structured and detailed with great attention to overall theme and cohesion, but also gives the many contingents artistic license and creative freedom.”
Wolk describes the weeks before the Showcase installation—a four day, full scale commitment for all committee members—as a “little bit wild, but also beautiful.”
“The ladies come armed with tape measures and notebooks … and a fair number of ‘pretty-please’ requests, such as ‘Can you please help us hang a 12-foot, Chinese dragon from the ceiling?’ Or ‘Will it be all right if we build a boat in the middle of the Compass Rose?’ Or ‘Can we affix a mantle piece to the wall?’” says Wolk with a laugh, noting that the Cultural Center’s walls are 14 inches of masonry that “no nail will ever penetrate. It’s a bit like watching sausage being made, but we always figure out a way to make it all work,” she concludes.
Faulconer says that this partnership has been a great experience all around for the Garden Club of Hyannis, which is a member of the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts and well-known on the Cape for the variety and excellence of its civic projects. “I can’t stress enough how wonderful the Cultural Center is to work with, they are just so great,” says Faulconer, noting that the center does a “ton of publicity” for the Showcase. “Their volunteers help us every step of the way, selling tickets, helping us manage the crowds—they are amazing.”
The challenges of the COVID pandemic will also mean that this year’s Showcase must have some procedures in place to safeguard garden club members, Cultural Center volunteers—and the hundreds of anticipated visitors over the three days of the event. “We are, of course, still concerned with everyone’s well being,” says Faulconer, noting that Showcase hours this year will include an additional hour from 9 am to 5 pm every day, so that visiting groups can be smaller and more evenly spaced out.
“Everything is still a little fluid, but we are trying hard to make it all work,” she says, noting that the cancellation of the original November 2020 “400 Years” Showcase took a lot of careful garden club discussion. “We gave it a lot of thought, reflection, and experienced a lot of angst when we were deciding to cancel,” she says. “But we all knew it was the right decision. And this year’s Showcase promises to be even better because we’ve had more time to focus on all the details!”
One of the biggest attractions at the Holiday Showcase has always been a boutique, which will be in the recently constructed Owl Hall this year, featuring literally thousands of seasonal treasures, all lovingly handcrafted. “The Owl Hall is so much bigger than the previous boutique area that we have a lot more space,” says Faulconer, noting that many people come early and go to the boutique first before touring through the rest of the Showcase.
“The new space has just made a huge difference and really helps with flow of traffic. This year’s boutique will have over 2,000 handmade items,” she continues with pride. “There will be all kinds of holiday treasures, including wreaths, table arrangements, decorated antique sleds, sea shell trees, knitted items, hand-painted wine glasses, wine bottle lamps, many beautiful ornaments, and American girl doll clothes . . . it’s a lot. The boutique committee is full of extremely talented people!”
Many of this year’s display areas feature decorations and furnishings culled from club members’ own homes and also treasures from community resources such as historical societies, local businesses, and supportive individuals. Faulconer notes that this year’s highlights will include such gifts as iconic memorabilia from Thompson’s Clam Bar in Harwich Port. “The sons of Biddle Thompson, founder of the clam bar, are allowing us to borrow some great things from the Harwich Historical Society,” says Faulconer, noting that the co-chairs have also found the perfect look-alike, JFK rocker for the “Hyannis Port: A Child’s Christmas in Camelot” display.
Faulconer says that one of the rooms will capture a wedding in a Yarmouth Port sea captain’s house with the central attraction a gorgeous vintage bridal gown from the local historical society. And of course, the wedding tableau will feature beautiful floral displays of fresh blossoms, holiday greens, and foliages, all designed and created just before the Showcase’s opening day on Thursday.
Long-time Garden Club of Hyannis member and award-winning floral designer, Dolores Ahern of South Dennis, and her co-chair, Diane Cochran of Mashpee, will get up in the dark hours of the very early morning the day before this year’s Showcase and travel to regional flower markets in Boston, Fall River, or Providence to gather buckets full of fresh floral delights.
“The flowers are the final beautiful touch,” says Faulconer, explaining that Ahern and Cochran and their committee also “condition”—carefully cut, clean, and hydrate—all the flowers in Ahern’s basement before specific orders are picked up by each committee the day before the opening. “It’s a huge amount of flowers, but they do such a great job trying to find the right, just perfect flowers,” says Faulconer.
“The women of the Garden Club of Hyannis are very skilled at giving every space its own unique identity, but linking them all thematically to create a journey that makes perfect sense. The fresh flowers also tie everything together beautifully,” says Wolk. “I do love to eavesdrop on people as they tour the spaces. There are lots of oohs and ahhhs…and very excited chatter about what people plan to do when they get home. That’s the beauty of these Holiday Showcases: they give visitors all kinds of ideas for how to make their own holiday spaces more beautiful.”
Susan Dewey is the former editor and associate publisher at Cape Cod Life Publications. She is also vice president of the Osterville Garden Club.
“400 Years of Holidays on Cape Cod”–November 18, 19 and 20, 2021
Tickets are $20 in advance (or $25 at the door) at the Cultural Center’s website, www.cultural-center.org; for purchase from any Garden Club of Hyannis member; or by visiting thegardenclubofhyannis.org.
The Cultural Center is located at 307 Old Main Street in South Yarmouth. For more information, call 508-394-7100.