With traditional carols, hula hoops and the hum of a propane torch against ice, the Fairmount Park Conservancy started the holiday season Tuesday with Christmas-themed performances at Rittenhouse Square.

The event officially kick-started the Historic Houses of Fairmount Park's annual festivities. The park's Historic Houses are rural mansions from the 18th and 19th centuries, now converted into public museums. The tradition of decorating the houses for the holidays goes back 44 years.

Justina Barrett, museum educator for American art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said that some of the houses have been open as museums for ninety years - and while they're available to the public year-round, she added, "At Christmas time, we get a little festive, we get a little silly, we get a little more jovial."

Keeping with this year's Christmas in Fairmount Park theme, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," performances included hula-hooping dancers clad in gold leotards to represent the Five Golden Rings, a bagpiper, an ice sculpture of a partridge in a pear tree and, of course, representatives of the Mendelssohn Club to sing the famous carol that dates to 1780.

Roger Wing, a wood carver and longtime ice sculptor who has twice competed at the Olympic ice-carving event, spent the past two weeks sketching, carving, and chainsawing depictions of each of the Historic Houses out of blocks of ice.

He will perform more live ice carvings at the Fairmount Park houses.

"This is the first time they've been represented in ice," Barrett said. "You think you know these houses, but there's always something new to be seen."

Kathryn Ott Lovell, executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, said, "People can come in to enjoy the beauty of the homes, but also the amazing history of the homes, and to really experience a piece of the past through this amazing program.

"It's become a real holiday treasure."

The houses will be open to the public Thursday through Sunday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. from December 3 until December 20. While admission is $5 per house, new Park Charms Holiday Passes allow visitors to tour all six houses for $15. This year, the Fairmount Park Conservancy will push to increase accessibility to the houses. Shuttles will visit the houses every half hour, with day passes priced at $5.

On Saturday, December 5, Fairmount Park Conservancy will host its annual "Holly Trolley Day," which provides free transportation to the Historic Houses and will feature over 40 performers.

Tickets and additional information can be found at www.parkcharms.com.