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Historic house holiday tours

Skip your neighborhood’s plastic Santa and head to five suburban houses that offer a guided candlelit peek into history.

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Durant House Museum
In 1843, farmer and brick mason Bryant Durant built this modest home, where he and his middle-class family resided for nearly 40 years without electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. (And here we lament setting the heat below 70 degrees.) The residence has been upgraded with electricity since becoming a museum in the 1970s, but can only be seen the old-fashioned way during this weekend�s Candle Light Open House. Visitors can sample hot cider and ginger cake made from an 1840s Illinois recipe while cozying up to a fireplace and checking out the natural Christmas tree ornamented with dried orange slices, pinecones and strings of cranberries. 37W370 Dean St, St. Charles (630-377-6424, ppfv.org). Sat 10 and Sun 11, 2-6pm; $3, kids $1.

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Wright Home & Studio
Sip hot chocolate in the courtyard of Frank Lloyd Wright�s turn-of-the-20th-century home, festooned with wreaths, flags and loping greenery. Inside the two-story architectural landmark, stockings�the kind the Wrights would have worn on their feet�hang from the mantel, and strings of popcorn and cranberries dress a 12-foot evergreen. Junior interpreters from local middle and high schools tell Christmas stories about Wright, who liked to give each of his six children the same gift, which would differ every year. Sounds curmudgeonly, but apparently not: One year, he gave Oriental rugs to his kin. 951 Chicago Ave, Oak Park (312-994-4000, gowright.org). Sat 10 and Dec 17, 9-11am; free.

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Willard House Museum
If you think your family gets weird around the holidays, consider the Willards: Frances Willard and her mother, secretary and female servant often celebrated the holiday by putting on paper hats and marching around the 17-room home. Christmas was a modest, alcohol-free occasion at the conservative, Christian women�s household, which doubled as a boarding house for members of the Woman�s Christian Temperance Union where Willard served as president. This season, the National Historic Landmark displays wreaths and two period-accurate Christmas trees�one in the original 1865 part of the house and another in the 1880 addition. No paper hats required. 1730 Chicago Ave, Evanston (847-328-7500, franceswillardhouse.org). Dec 18, 1-4pm, the last guided tour at 3pm; $10, kids under 12 $5.

 (Photograph: Courtesy of the Lombard Historical Society)
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Photograph: Courtesy of the Lombard Historical Society

Victorian Cottage Museum
During the holiday season, candles glow from the windows of this German-built home, inhabited by the upper-middle-class Hill family in the 1870s. Victorian ornaments�including mini cornucopias, paper dolls and small candleholders�adorn two small cranberry-wrapped Christmas trees. Lavish decorations are piledon the ribbon-draped dinner table. Advent wreaths and docent-led stories of St. Nicholas evoke Lombard�s German roots. 23 W Maple St, Lombard (630-629-1885, lombardhistory.org).Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays through Dec 18at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm; free.

5/5

Martin Mitchell Mansion
After immigrating to Naperville from Scotland in the 1830s, the Mitchell family made a fortune from their stone quarry in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire. Their mansion, built in 1883 with limestone from the family biz, can be viewed during an annual holiday tour. The staffers deck the halls in a different theme every year (staying true to oh-so-prim Victorian traditions) and the tree gets white icicles and snowlike ornaments while potted amaryllis adorn the mantel. If cider and cookies don�t ease you into the holiday spirit, stories from a costumed St. Nicholas might do the trick. 523 S Webster St, Naperville (630-420-6010, napersettlement.org). Sun 11, 2:30-5pm; $10, kids $8, Naperville Heritage Society members $5.

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