Even from the street, Joyce and Donald Sico's Tudor on a corner in Riverton leaves no doubt that the holiday season is upon us.
From its front porch to its upstairs balconies, the house is ablaze with lights that suggest a warm glow indoors as well.
But seeing is believing, and a visit a few weeks before Christmas reveals a holiday enchantment inside that has been spun gracefully, without overpowering the home's innate charm.
Joyce, 62, and Donald, 61, are both from New York state. They met at the State University of New York in Oswego, then moved frequently, from Columbus, Ohio, to the Washington area, to South Jersey as Don pursued careers as a journalist/editor, communications director, and speech writer. Currently, they are partners in their own lobbying, public-relations and marketing company.
Their circa-1900, three-story, five-bedroom Tudor was not easy to come by. In fact, it took a full year between love at first sight and purchase, with the Sicos living in Eastampton, Burlington County, in the meantime.
"The owner had bought it to flip it," explains Joyce, "and that definitely eliminated some of the heavy-duty renovation it had required. But it still left room for us to put our own imprint on it."
When the couple finally were able to buy the house, it was just after Christmas 2004, which made for a pretty crazy holiday season, but one well worth it in the end.
The Sicos were almost empty-nesters when they moved in: Two of their three daughters were already on their own, and one returned only briefly.
These days, Jillian, 33, lives in Atlanta, but her sisters Lesley, 31, and Donica, 38 - the mother of grandchildren Violet, 4, and Ruby, 2 - live with their husbands nearby in South Jersey.
As expansive as this house is, its proportions are cozy. Don, the head chef, and Joyce, the acknowledged handywoman, made some significant changes to the color palette and redid parts of the kitchen to suit their lifestyle. Don acquired a second oven so he could perform his wizardry, but overall the former owner had managed to retain the kitchen's older look and feel without sacrificing efficiency - no small feat.
Although the kitchen itself has a handsome counter and pull-up stools, the couple eat all their meals in the dining room, whose furnishings include Donald's grandmother's elegant, still-pristine china closet and dining room table.
By early December, handsome trees decorate the front foyer and the living room, adorned with family items and serving as an endless source of curiosity to Ruby and Violet.
From the mantel of the living room/great room fireplace hang stockings for every member of the family. It's the perfect room to display some family treasures, too, including a few acquired at the yard sales the couple love to visit.
A sprawling cranberry sectional sofa begs to be occupied, and often is.
One of the family's most beloved traditions is Don's captivating train display, which has its own space in the solarium, near a massive stone fireplace.
"I grew up with Lionel trains back in our home on Long Island," he explains. "We were five kids, and my dad put so much work into that set and then ended up selling it after we were grown for $75. The person who bought it must have thought he'd died and gone to heaven."
Don's own electric train display is replete with a town, landscaping, and its own carousel.
At the heart of the house, the dining room's deep raspberry walls gleam. An intricate Dickens village is on exhibit for an extended holiday, which includes the annual open house in mid-December. Relatives, friends, neighbors, and Donica's pug, Elmer, all gather to celebrate and be of good cheer.
"We do have our rituals," says Joyce. Christmas Eve includes a Seven Fishes dinner and an exchange of the year's lovingly chosen holiday pajamas - as close to identical as possible for everyone, from oldest to youngest.
In addition to its dentil moldings, high ceilings, mostly original windows, and graceful front staircase, the Sicos' Riverton home has as its backdrop a town that looks straight out of a Norman Rockwell illustration.
The proximity to the Delaware River, quiet streets, and small town Main Street aura are just what this busy family yearned for and found.
"It's a wonderful place to live, especially in this season," says Joyce Sico.
And having two out of three daughters, sons-in-law, and two grandchildren just a hug away?
"The best gift of all!"