Imagine traveling by private rail car 700 miles at the end of December in 1895 to a remote mountain retreat in North Carolina and arriving in a Pullman Car right to the terrace of the largest home in America, gently lit by moonlight. The palatial structure is reminiscent of a Grand French Chateaux, ablaze with lights and set on 2000 acres overlooking the mountains. The estate would later encompass 125,000 acres. You’re greeted on the Terrace by George W. Vanderbilt himself and he ushers you into the great banquet hall to join his other guests gathered around a 40 ft. high Christmas tree dripping with ornate decorations and surrounded by gifts piled high. You are celebrating Christmas in Grand Style at the height of the Gilded Age. This was the scene at the first Christmas at the Biltmore Estate.
This was a momentous occasion for the young and bookish Vanderbilt heir. It was the unveiling of his grand creation, his great estate, to two dozen members of his prestigious immediate family as well as his friends in New York society. The preparations were exhaustive and the effect was luminous and opulent. It was also the genesis of Biltmore Christmas traditions for years to come.
The treasured tradition that highlights the generosity of spirit shown in the Biltmore Christmas festivities was begun that first year. At the Christmas Tree party on Christmas morning all of the resident employees and their families were welcomed to the Banquet Hall where each one was given a Christmas gift by George himself, assisted by his guests. To this day, children of Biltmore Estate Employees receive a special Christmas gift at the Employee Christmas Celebration.
When George W. Vanderbilt married three years later, in 1898, his wife, the former Edith Stuyvesant Dresser took over planning and hosting the Christmas Celebrations. With the birth of their daughter Cornelia in 1900 the holidays took on even more significance. And when Cornelia married John Cecil, a former British diplomat, in 1924 the young couple took over and added a new tradition. Cecil would dress as Santa and hide inside one of the triple fireplaces in the Banquet Hall, perched on a ledge. At the appointed time he would drop down to delight the children gathered.
Today the preparations for the Biltmore Christmas begin mid-December of the year before while the current season’s decorations are still up. When the time comes, it takes a crew of more that 30 people four weeks to complete “decking the halls” of the Biltmore estate. Fifty-five lavishly decorated trees and over 10,000 feet of fresh garlands adorn the home along with 450 wreaths and countless floral displays. The raising of the grand tree in the Banquet Hall is a tradition that attracts crowds every year to watch the tree arrive on a horse drawn wagon, carried by 40 staff members into the Entry Hall and hoisted into place. It’s the official beginning of the holiday season for Asheville residents.
By November 3rd the special Candlelight Tours will begin at the estate. You can view the lavish displays by the light of the many fireplaces, candles and Christmas lights while live performances of Christmas music serenade you throughout the house. Even Antler Hill Village and the Winery are aglow with holiday decorations, lights and visual effects. It is truly magical.
Relive that first Christmas at The Biltmore Estate. Ask us at A Bed of Roses about our many Biltmore Candlelight Packages. We will help you customize your perfect Biltmore Christmas.