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Timeless Tradition Continues at Biltmore’s Employee Christmas Party

Posted on 11/11/2014 by Sharon Bell

Although Christmas at Biltmore is our busiest season of the year, for one special night each November, Biltmore employees and their families gather to enjoy their own special Christmas evening amidst the twinkling lights and beautiful decorations adorning Biltmore House. The impressive décor is admired by all, but the child inside many of us would likely wonder, “What good is a 35-foot Christmas tree without equally grand amounts of gifts?”

A family enjoys Christmas at BiltmoreHow our tradition began

When George Vanderbilt opened Biltmore House to his family and friends on Christmas Eve 1895, guests were greeted in the Banquet Hall by a splendidly tall tree laden with gifts for estate workers. Although the wrapped packages under today's Banquet Hall tree are decorative rather than full of surprises, that doesn’t mean Biltmore has ended the Vanderbilt gift-giving tradition: for our staff Christmas party, all children 11 and younger receive a present chosen especially for their age range.

Children looking up at Biltmore Christmas decorationsThe celebration continues

Archival information from 1898 shows that Edith Vanderbilt quickly assumed an active role in estate Christmas preparations as soon as she and George returned from their honeymoon in October of that year. She began making lists of all employees' children, their ages, and choosing special gifts for each of them—more than 100 children in all! Today, Michaela Schmidlin, Entertainment and Event Programming Manager, oversees the process of choosing appropriate gifts for each age range. The toys are timeless, often requiring creativity rather than batteries to operate, and preference is given to North Carolina manufacturers.

“It’s really neat to me that this tradition has remained year after year. We’ve modernized it a little with Excel spreadsheets and such, but otherwise, it hasn't changed that much. We give more than 300 gifts each year, and though they are more contemporary than the presents children would have received in the early 1900s, they always reflect the Vanderbilt spirit of warmth and generosity,” Michaela said.

Biltmore employee Christmas party, 1916"A Vanderbilt Christmas"

For 2017, the holiday theme is “A Vanderbilt Christmas,” celebrating George Vanderbilt's love of the holiday season. “Not only did Mr. Vanderbilt provide very generous Christmas bonuses to employees, but can you imagine what this party meant to employees' children and families? Some people came from as far away as the Tennessee state line, and that was quite a trip—especially in horse and wagon days,” said Michaela.

This delightful tradition is just one of the ways Biltmore honors Mr. Vanderbilt’s legacy today, and we are honored to keep history alive each year at the annual Christmas party.

Images
-- Featured image: A Biltmore family enjoys the annual staff Christmas party
-- First image: A family admires the Banquet Hall Christmas tree

-- Second image: Children of all ages enjoy Christmas at Biltmore
-- Third image: Biltmore employee Christmas party held at Antler Hall in 1916 (Edith Vanderbilt is right of center in a black hat; Cornelia Vanderbilt is on her left in a light-colored hat)  

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