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Timeless Tradition Continues at Biltmore’s Employee Christmas Party

Posted on 11/11/2014 by Sharon Bell

One night each November, Biltmore employees and their families gather to enjoy a Christmas evening amidst the twinkling lights and evergreen aromas throughout Biltmore House. Though the impressive décor is admired by all, the child inside many of us would likely wonder, “What good is a 35-foot Christmas tree without equally grand amounts of gifts?”

When George Vanderbilt opened Biltmore House to his family and friends on Christmas Eve in 1895, guests were greeted in the Banquet Hall by a splendidly tall tree laden with gifts for estate workers. Though today's Banquet Hall only includes faux gifts underneath the tree for decoration, that doesn’t mean Biltmore has shied away from the gift-giving tradition. On this special night in November, employees and their families celebrate the ongoing tradition started by Mr. Vanderbilt and his mother in 1895.

Archival information shows that upon arriving at Biltmore House in October of 1898, Edith Vanderbilt quickly assumed the role of making lists of all employees' children, their ages, and choosing special gifts for each of them—more than 100 children at the time! Today, Hannah Parks, Entertainment and Event Programming Coordinator, oversees the process of choosing appropriate gifts to be handed out. The toys are timeless, often requiring creativity rather than batteries to operate, and bought from North Carolina manufacturers.

“It’s really neat to me that this tradition has remained year after year. We’ve slightly modernized it with Excel spreadsheets and such, but we give more than 300 gifts each year. Of course they are more contemporary than what children would have received in the early 1900s, but the gifts are always in tune with Biltmore inspiration,” Parks says.

An employee Chiristmas party held at Antler Hall in 1916 for families who could not travel to the estate.

This year’s holiday theme is “A Vanderbilt Christmas,” celebrating George Vanderbilt's contributions to the Western North Carolina community. “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 the Tennessee state line, and for people who couldn’t make it, Mrs. Vanderbilt would travel out to rural areas to do a similar party on a smaller scale,” says Hannah.

This 119-year-old tradition is just one of the ways Biltmore honors Mr. Vanderbilt’s legacy today, and we are honored that our employees help us keep history alive each year at the annual Christmas party.

Photos

Top: After receiving the child's gift, a family enjoys decorations at Christmas at Biltmore.

Bottom left: An employee Chiristmas party held at Antler Hall in 1916 for families who could not travel to the estate. 

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