By CARDEN HEDELT

One tradition that artist Gari Melchers and his wife, Corinne, had at their Stafford home, Belmont, was the annual country dance on New Year's Eve.

For this yearly soiree, Corinne tidied up, hired a quartet to entertain her guests and decorated her home with such zeal that she confided to her diary that she was anxious for New Year's Eve to arrive because then and only then could she "sit still and look pretty."

Even though there has not been a party on New Year's Eve at Belmont for some time, the spirit of the country dance lives on through Belmont's Holiday Open House.

This Sunday, Belmont will open its doors for the 31st annual Holiday Open House, with the whole Belmont estate open and free to the public to tour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"The holidays were a very important time for the Melcherses, and a lot of their traditions at Christmas show that," said Michelle Crow-Dolby, education coordinator at Belmont. "It wasn't so much a time for presents as it was a time to be with friends and to be with each other, and that's what we try to keep alive in our open house."

One of the traditions from the Melcherses' country dances that is alive and well in these open houses is the music.

A number of musicians will be playing, including the Spotsylvania Middle School Bulldog Quartet at 1 p.m., the Fredericksburg Chamber Chorale at 2:30 p.m. and the Fredericksburg Academy Upper School Chorus at 4 p.m.

"It wouldn't be a holiday party without music," Crow-Dolby said. "I don't think Corinne would like that."

Carden Hedelt: 540/374-5000

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