Road Trip: Holiday Magic in Haddonfield
One historic town knows how to make the season sparkle
Haddonfield can seem downright Dickensian at times, particularly on December nights when luminarias line the sidewalks and a horse and buggy chauffeur visitors around town. From Thanksgiving weekend until New Year’s Eve, Haddonfield revels in the holiday spirit with a charm that attracts throngs of shoppers, diners and families.
“Haddonfield is a destination during the holidays,” says Julie Beddingfield, owner of the independent Inkwood Books in Haddonfield. “It’s festive and a throwback.”
Most of the merriment happens downtown, along Kings Highway, but it spills into the alleyways, side streets and along Haddon Avenue for several blocks. Visitors can take advantage of free parking during the season—or take the Patco train, which drops riders right in the center of things—and then take a leisurely stroll through town.
This quaint Camden County town dates back to 1662, when Quakers settled here. Named for landowner John Haddon, a wealthy London businessman who never set foot in the town, Haddonfield was officially founded in 1713. The New Jersey legislature met in the Indian King Tavern during the Revolutionary War; the tavern still exists and is now a museum. The first mostly complete skeleton of a dinosaur found in North America was uncovered in town and is commemorated with a sculpture on Kings Highway. Visiting Haddonfield for its history and shopping district is a treat any time of year, but it’s even more fun during the holidays.
The season kicks off the day after Thanksgiving. While the malls and big-box stores are claustrophobic, with shoppers fighting over TVs and gaming consoles, shoppers in Haddonfield find fresh air and unusual gifts at boutiques, galleries, jewelers and culinary shops. They walk among trees wrapped in twinkling lights, past singers strolling the streets, and through a downtown that feels like a magical village.
“The weekend after Thanksgiving has grown into Small Business Weekend,” says Remi Fortunato, retail recruiter for the Partnership for Haddonfield. It’s an extension of American Express’s annual Small Business Saturday, which encourages seasonal shoppers to spend some of their holiday budgets at independent and small businesses.
“Haddonfield emphasizes ‘shop small’ throughout the whole holiday season,” Fortunato says. It’s the quintessential small-business district.
Candlelight Shopping nights begin in 2016 on Friday, November 25 from 6 to 9pm. Luminarias line the walkways, stores stay open a little later and the borough’s holiday tree at Library Point will be lit at 6:30pm. This is also when Santa arrives on a fire truck as part of the parade. Horse-drawn carriage rides and musical performances up and down Kings Highway make the start of the holidays in Haddonfield complete.
Candlelight Shopping happens each Friday night between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year there are five Friday nights, giving visitors an extra night in the magical village. There are also two late shopping nights this year—Monday, December 19, and Thursday, December 22—when many shops will stay open until midnight. Any night is perfect to dine in Haddonfield, but several local restaurants create an especially festive atmosphere this time of year.
“Downtown is really charming, especially at holiday time,” says Edward Strojan, a partner in Haddonfield’s British Chip Shop restaurant, which celebrates the culinary traditions of the British Isles.
“There are many shops to find really good gifts that you can’t find in the mall. It’s a good place to come with families or friends to eat and bring a bottle of wine. “
The British Chip Shop does the holidays up right, with prix-fixe Dickens Christmas Roasts every weekend in December. Traditional dishes, including roast beef and stuffed pork loin, are served with accompaniments like Yorkshire pudding. Diners are encouraged to bring their own wine or beer.
If you want traditional British desserts and pastries, this is where you’ll find them. The British Chip Shop makes treats to order— Christmas puddings, mince pies, gingerbread men and women, Christmas scones and traditional fruitcakes that you’ll want to eat, not use as a door-stopper.
“We start our fruitcakes in October,” says Strojan. “Dried fruit sits in brandy and macerates before being used in the cakes. The cakes get washes of simple syrup and more brandy. By the time they are ready to go, they are dense and moist—really good.”
Another event you won’t find anywhere else is an airing of the Doctor Who Christmas Special. Fans gather at the British Chip Shop on Christmas Day to watch the TV show while feasting on specials like deviled alien eggs and Dalek cakes based on the wildly popular BBC series.
For traditional American sweets, Sweet T’s Bakeshop in King’s Court is the place to go for all things pumpkin—including pie, cheesecake, scones and pumpkin-maple cupcakes.
During “25 Days of Christmas,” Sweet T’s bakers get creative, with a different cupcake every day. Buddy the Elf, Rudolph and Santa’s Belly are just a few of the holiday-themed toppers. They also serve peppermint lattes and flavored coffees.
“Haddonfield is a dry town with many BYO restaurants,” says Fortunato. “Some of them sell bottles of wine from New Jersey wineries. Jersey Java has Auburn Road wines, Tre Familia has Sharrott, and Zaffron Mediterranean Cuisine has Hawk Haven. Anyone can buy a bottle of wine from these places and take it home or to another restaurant.”
In the Kitchen Cooking School offers gifts and a full cooking-class schedule. “We have non-stop classes for the holidays,” says owner chef Kathy Gold. “For Thanksgiving, we offer timing classes for the meal, a class that focuses just on sides, a vegan/vegetarian class, and a class that teaches the whole shebang.”
In the Kitchen’s holiday classes start the first week in November. Booking ahead is recommended.
“Every class is a party,” Gold adds. “People can bring their own alcohol, but we wait to drink it until the cooking is done. Pairing knives and booze is not a good idea.”
One of Gold’s most popular classes is the Cookie Exchange. “We do two Cookie Exchange classes that are open to 20 people,” says Gold. “We bake 12 different kinds of cookies.” Participants leave with a tin full of homemade holiday cookies and go home to a clean kitchen.
For specialty culinary gifts and spices for holiday cooking, baking and drink making, Hannah’s Gourmet has it covered. The store sells more than 300 spices, including salts and peppers, and carries the difficult-to-find ground mace that’s used in many old-world recipes. “We also make our own mulling spice blend,” says owner Monika Harris. The blend smells just like Christmas and can be used in red wine, apple cider or cranberry juice.
A short, luminaria-lit stroll down from the spice store is A Taste of Olive, its walls lined with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegars of the highest quality. Tasting before buying is encouraged.
“We search for the small producers who are quality conscious,” says sales associate Gary Lebo. “We make connections with the producers so we can find untampered products.”
A Taste of Olive also sells a large variety of olives, pickles, spreads, compotes, jellies, sauces and mustards—all great wine-and-cheese accompaniments. Both Hannah’s Gourmet and A Taste of Olive make custom gift baskets, so shoppers can buy gourmet products for holiday entertaining and pick out specialty items for the food lovers on their gift list. A cookbook or cocktail-recipe book from Inkwood Books would complete the gift.
“Cookbooks are huge sellers during the holidays,” says Inkwood’s Julie Beddingfield.
The holiday season in Haddonfield officially ends on New Year’s Eve with First Night, a nonalcoholic, family-friendly event with a countdown to fireworks at 9pm, then a second countdown to midnight.
Haddonfield has one gift that lasts into January. The twinkling-light- wrapped trees stick around till the middle of the month, keeping the magic alive for just a little longer.
POSH POP BAKESHOP
“Everyone who’s gluten-free deserves a place to go where they can say, ‘This is my place,’” says Krizha Bautista, owner and recipe creator at Posh Pop Bakeshop. So she creates baked goods with simple, high-quality ingredients, using certified-gluten-free ingredients.
For the holidays, she creates kid favorites like gingerbread men, hand-decorated Christmas cookies and cake pops shaped like snowmen or Christmas trees—all totally gluten-free, made in a kitchen with no cross-contamination. Some of her best sellers for the holidays are apple-cider donuts, pumpkin cheesecake, caramel-apple pie and cinnamon rolls—a Christmas-morning favorite of many of her customers. Bautista (who is able to eat gluten) taste-tests her recipes against versions with gluten in them, creating recipes so similar that people who don’t need to avoid gluten still come in to buy her goodies. In addition to sweet treats, the Posh Pop Bakeshop also bakes breads and rolls and carries many dairy-free and vegan items.
POSH POP BAKESHOP
109 Kings Hwy E.
31 Kings Hwy E.
BRITISH CHIP SHOP
146 Kings Hwy E.
SWEET T’S BAKESHOP
14 Kings Ct.
JERSEY JAVA AND TEA
140 N. Haddon Ave.
403 N. Haddon Ave.
ZAFFRON MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE
113 Kings Hwy E.
IN THE KITCHEN COOKING SCHOOL
10 Mechanic St.
128 Kings Hwy E.
A TASTE OF OLIVE
106 Kings Hwy E.
For a full list of shops, casual and fine dining establishments and events, visit downtownhaddonfield.com.