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Employee Christmas Tradition

Estate History 11/26/13

Written By Leeann Donnelly

When Edith Dresser became Mrs. Vanderbilt in 1898, she added a special note of hospitality to holiday entertaining each year by organizing grand parties for estate employees. She ensured that all the children had gifts specially chosen for them, creating a tradition that we continue today.

According to Edith’s good friend, Anna Wheeler, Edith spent a great deal of time preparing for the holidays. “Mrs. Vanderbilt kept a book in which the individual presents were recorded yearly; her idea was to avoid duplication, but it served another purpose in assisting [her] in the better knowledge of each family.  It was just another example of her predominate kindness and her executive ability.  Mrs. Vanderbilt did the buying, and labeling and wrapping of all those many gifts.  As far as possible they were bought in Asheville soon after the first of October.  One of the west tower rooms assumed the appearance of a Santa Claus storage place.”

In keeping with this holiday tradition, our team was busy packing Christmas gifts over the last week for our annual employee party tonight.  Hundreds of gift bags were carefully stuffed with toys for each age group.  They spend months in preparation, looking for presents for children of our employees.   And while the gift list looks very different than the 1897 list below, the joy of carrying on the Christmas spirit at Biltmore is the same. 

A gift list from Christmas 1897 reads:

60lbs cut rock candy
2 boxes of oranges
6 balls
5 red balls
10 baskets
22 rubber toys
1 doz dolls
2 sets dishes
5 doll carriages
6 chimes
2 clowns
3 horns
1 drum
1 train
1 gun
1 wagon
1 bicycle
1 harp
120 candle holders
5 cakes
12 gallons cream

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