Mount Vernon by Candlelight
Christmas is approaching fast Day Trippers! Our decorations are up and we are finally done with our shopping. We hope you’ve had a chance to enjoy some of the holiday festivities in the area. Sunday night, we took a break from the hustle and bustle of last minute Christmas shopping and headed to Mount Vernon for the Mount Vernon by Candlelight tour to see how Christmas was celebrated in the 1700s.
When we arrived, we met our tour guide as guests of Charles Lee. Charles Lee was the third Attorney General of the US, who often visited George Washington at Mount Vernon. We learned that guests of the estate were often sponsored by a friend of Washington and given a letter of introduction to present to anyone at the estate who requested it. Armed with our fictional letter of introduction from Charles Lee, our group set out on our tour.
First off, Mount Vernon is beautiful by candlelight. There are lanterns lining the paths all over the estate setting the mood for one of Washington’s famous holiday parties. While Washington was often away from his home fighting in the revolution, participating in the Constitutional Convention, and serving as our first President, we learned he and his wife Martha especially loved celebrating Christmas at Mount Vernon with their friends, children, and grandchildren. We especially loved the ambiance set up to reflect the way the estate would have looked for a Christmas celebration, including the many carolers, dancing, and tidings of Happy Christmas.
After exploring the grounds, we headed inside the main house where we found that Martha Washington’s recipe book was missing! As we moved through the house, we met a number of characters including maids, chefs, and Washington’s children. They each told us about their experiences at the house and how they hoped to find Mrs. Washington’s recipe book soon. It seemed like her famous Christmas pie was everyone’s favorite! The story and characters really brought the Mount Vernon to life and made us feel like we had stepped back in time. In fact, when one of our group members told one of Washington’s sons she was from West Virginia, he ask her why she felt the need to specify. After all, West Virgina would not separate from Virginia to be admitted to the Union until 1863!
The sheer size of the estate gives visitors so much to explore and experience. However, Mount Vernon wasn’t always as as big as it is today. It started as just a small farm house and eventually grew as George Washington’s wealth and power grew. Washington was known as a very humble man and never let his power go to his head. While he never wrote an autobiography, our tour guide said some historians say Mount Vernon is his autobiography.
After we finished our tour of the house (and found Mrs. Washington’s recipe book!), we were free to explore the grounds and see other exhibits of Washington’s time. We saw a blacksmith demonstration, explored the slave quarters, watched a dancing lesson, and drank hot cider. We also learned that Washington rented a camel for 18 shillings to entertain his party guests on Christmas and Mount Vernon has kept the traditional alive. Be sure the meet Aladdin the camel before you end your visit.
The Mount Vernon by Candlelight Tour is considered a special tour and tickets must be purchase separate from general admission. However, the estate is also open during the day for holiday celebrations. You’ll find a number of the activities we already described as well as a chocolate making demonstration and additional musical performances. Mount Vernon also offers annual passes for $28. We think this is a great investment as the estate is fun to visit year round, especially during 4th of July and in the fall. Mount Vernon is filled with both inside and outside activities, so dress for the weather!