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The stately stone three-story colonial on Highfield Road glows from within with candlelight and buzzes with the murmurs of greetings and animated conversations. Outside on the lawn, 10 students from the St. Paul’s School for Boys’ Route 81 choral group croons in unison as partygoers march up the front walk to enter. The occasion is the 28th annual Guilford Holiday Cocktail Party, sponsored by the Guilford Women’s Civic League.

“I just love this party,” says longtime league member Beverly Quiñones. “Everybody turns out for it.”

Held early last December at the residence of Keith and Nancy Getter, the annual party is a chance for Guilford residents to catch up in a festive atmosphere and to raise money for a good cause: maintaining the neighborhood’s pride and joy, Sherwood Gardens.

“Since the city has cut back public funding for the gardens, we said, ‘Well, we’ll step up,’” says Quiñones. “The proceeds from the party are basically all profit that goes to the gardens.”

Indeed, it’s a civic affair. There’s no formal catering, and everyone brings a tray or platter of delectables to add to the spread. A few servers are hired to pass hors d’oeuvres and clear plates. One professional bartender is supplemented by volunteers who take turns manning the bars in half-hour shifts. “The neighborhood men fight over who gets those shifts,” says Quiñones.

The party moves to a different house every year, with families volunteering their homes sometimes up to two years in advance. Some guests confess there’s a curiosity factor. “Sometimes you pray that a certain house will host it, just to see what’s been done, when major renovations or redecorating have gone on,” whispers one guest.

That may have been the case last year, when the Getters opened their doors to neighbors after completing a major two-year overhaul on the property, which they purchased in 2002. Some may recognize the house from the 1999 film “Liberty Heights.” “We should qualify for ‘Renovators Anonymous’ after finishing this one,” says Nancy Getter, who welcomed close to 200 guests who paid $40 each to attend. After checking in at the front hall, guests roamed throughout the house— from the deep-red formal dining room where the long center table was laden with platters of beef tenderloin, turkey, chicken wings, multiple spreads and crab dip— to the tented rear terrace, where cocktail bars were set up at each end.

A casual question to neighborhood resident and volunteer bartender Drew Krim-ski yielded that Manhattans and bourbon are the preferred drink requests for the evening.

Guests wandered from the formal living room with its 10-foot Christmas tree festooned with ornaments, ribbons and twinkling white lights, to the kitchen, where stacks of desserts, sweets and pots of steaming coffee were on offer. “Thank heavens for No Pink Flamingos,” says the hostess, motioning to the seasonal decorations. “They came in and did all of this; I couldn’t have pulled it off without them.”

Lots of folks from the neighborhood turned out, including Greg and Kelly Pease, Courtney and Jamie Wood, Amy Fink, Landon and Joan Royals and Rene Pallace. Amidst the rustle of taffeta, velvet and navy blue blazers, the chatter of excited conversations drowned out the background music, but to no concern. “I can’t believe a whole year has gone by— we’ve got tons to catch up on!” was overheard more than once.

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