In Connecticut, a quintessential Christmas

Photographer Caryn B. Davis visited 40 towns in the two years she spent working on the book “A Connecticut Christmas,” which was published in October. 

They included Essex, for the holiday model train show at the Connecticut River Museum and the tastefully decorated bar and dining room at the Griswold Inn. East Haddam, for the Victorian-themed decorations at Gillette Castle, designed by playwright and actor William Gillette, who was best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the early 20th century. Hartford, for the Mark Twain House & Museum. And Bethlehem (really!) for the 18th-century Neapolitan crèche at the Abbey of Regina Laudis.  

The ever-delightful movie “Christmas in Connecticut” was not made in the state, but “A Connecticut Christmas” most definitely was.  

Davis, 54, specializes in architectural photography, but she also likes gardens and wooden boats, all interests that are reflected in the book (the text is by Eric D. Lehman).  

“I’m fascinated by structures and how people live — what their spaces look like, what that says about a culture or an individual,” she said.  

Before Davis began taking photographs for “A Connecticut Christmas,” she said, “I really had no idea of the variety and range of the ways people celebrate and decorate including towns, not just individuals. Even after I was done, I can’t tell you how many people have said, ‘Oh you should have shot this or that.’ Or ‘My friend decorates over the top, every inch of their house.'”  

Her own favorite Christmas adornment? “I like stockings around the fireplace so I always have those.”  

Following are edited excerpts from an interview with Davis.  

Q: When you were doing the book, did you get caught up in the spirit of the season?  

A: What blew me away was how generous people were with their time — it’s so busy that time of year. A police officer held up traffic in Litchfield so I could get my dusk shot. I couldn’t believe how friendly people were and how excited they were to share their passion for Christmas with me.  

Q: Why are people drawn to places like Connecticut during the holidays? 

 A: New England’s old and you’re going to find old houses here and old traditions. Especially today when we’re moving a million miles an hour, I think that people really like the simplicity of that.  

Q: There are a lot of shore towns in Connecticut. What impressed you about how they observed the season?

A: I love Mystic Seaport, so I’m definitely biased. But I had never been there at Christmastime. The decorations were simple yet apropos for boats. Noank is a very, very small town on Fishers Island Sound — every Christmas [season] the people who live there put out paper bags with lights in them; there are a thousand of them. And that was really stunning.  

Q: The annual Boar’s Head Festival at the Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, which celebrates the Epiphany (complete with jugglers and jesters), is prominently featured in “A Connecticut Christmas.” What was it like to photograph?  

A: All the people in it are volunteers, and they had a live camel, a llama and geese. All the costumes were handmade and homemade. They had hundreds of people in this play, and all the activities happen up and down three aisles to the point where they eventually all wind up on the stage and create this tableau.  

Q: Do you have any tips for people who might want to photograph boat parades and holiday festivals?  

A: Bring a tripod. Because those things don’t have a lot of light and you’re going to need to stop the action.  

Q: Did the book inspire you to do any Christmas-y things?  

A: My friend owns a vineyard so we made a lot of wine-cork wreaths and I decorated them with sea glass and seashells. I already hung my wreath up — because it’s art!

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