Does all this noise about Black Friday, stores promoting Christmas sales so early, saying Seasons Greetings instead of Merry Christmas, the fight over nativity scenes and political correctness ruin Christmas for you? It does me, and has for years.
Recently my wife Ann and I visited the Biltmore House near Asheville, North Carolina, a pleasant eight-hour drive from our home west of Greenwood, through Lexington horse country and the Smoky Mountain foothills. Through January 2, the Biltmore is hosting Candlelight Christmas Evenings, where live Christmas music and decorations warm the heart with a holiday spirit.
In 1888, George Vanderbilt, the original owner, came from New York to visit North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Mountains. In 1889, he bought 125,000 acres of partially cleared ground and originally intended to build a 7,000-square-foot home. Located just south of downtown Asheville, the main house, finished in 1896, is sprawling. Instead of 7,000 square feet, it boasts 175,000 square feet (almost four acres), 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces, all within 4 grand levels.
In the late 1800s, the area was still so remote that Vanderbilt had to build a private railway to the site to transport supplies. He also constructed a village complete with a post office and a church to accommodate the laborers and their families.
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Now managed by his heirs, the home is open 365 days of the year, and right now it is decorated for Christmas and all the pomp that comes with it. Ann and I enter at 7:30 p.m. and take the self-guided tour, aided by a recorder detailing the house and it’s Christmas decorations.
Young singers and bell ringers in the tall atrium immediately greet us, and we are overtaken by the sheer size and grandeur of the home and its decorations. Two young children watch the singers, as their father puts his arm around their mom, and the grandfather puts his hand on the dad’s shoulder. This is Christmas; this is Merry Christmas, at the Biltmore.
The next room is the Family Banquet Hall with a 34-foot-tall cut Christmas tree decorated with 500 lights, 500 ornaments and 500 gifts. Per tradition, and tradition is abundant here, the Christmas tree is brought to the house by horse drawn wagon. On Dec. 15, a new tree replaces the exhausted first one.
We travel from room to room, some remarkable because of the decorations, such as what appears to be miles of ribbon and fresh garland following the grand staircase as it winds upstairs. Dressed in period clothes, dulcimer players tap out Christmas music in an upstairs Portrait Room. Other rooms are unique for their innovation or extravagance, such as the smoking, gun and billiards rooms.
Something worth mentioning is the Indiana connection at the Biltmore. Vanderbilt used 10 million pounds of Bedford limestone in the construction of his home. Add a little more Hoosier touch to this grand home by visiting this Christmas season.
If you have trouble talking your husband into going with you, tell him you will stop on the way at Exit 407 off I-40. The two of you can then go left to a huge Bass Pro Shop or go right a few miles to Smoky Mountain Knife works, the self-proclaimed Home of the Worlds Largest Knife Showplace. That should seal it.
Advance reservations to the Biltmore are almost a requirement, as is lodging in the Asheville area. Free wine tasting and numerous shops and restaurants on the grounds add to the pleasure of a day well spent on these magnificent grounds. One restaurant is even housed in the original horse stable, complete with seating inside the stalls.
Santa visits and caroling nights also are scheduled.