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Our Christmas tree-toppers top them all!

For the Home 10/21/14

Written By Jean Sexton

When George Vanderbilt’s grandson inherited Biltmore House in 1960, the immense home had been open to the public for three decades. Each year, Biltmore House was closed December–March because there were so few visitors during the winter.

A successful experiment

After repeated requests from guests to see his family home decked for the holidays, William A.V. Cecil decided to keep Biltmore open and see what happened. What began as a modest experiment with a few decorated trees has grown enormously through the years to become Biltmore’s grandest season. The estate now welcomes approximately 250,000 visitors each year during this time period!

The showpiece of Christmas at Biltmore is always the 35-foot fresh Fraser Fir tree that adorns the Banquet Hall. Once lighted and decorated, the big tree—grown especially for Biltmore at a family farm in Avery County—becomes a memorable part of the guest experience.

Grand tree-toppers

Adorning the top of such a grand tree, there must be an equally grand tree-topper. Each year, Biltmore’s floral team envisions and then creates a tree-topper in keeping with the Christmas theme, the size of the tree, and the immense scale of the Banquet Hall.

“If we used an ordinary tree-topper,” said Cathy Barnhardt, Biltmore’s Floral Displays Manager, “it would be completely lost in that enormous space!”

Each member of the Floral team is responsible for the design and execution of the decorative them in several areas in Biltmore House—usually one of the elegant rooms on the First Floor, plus another section on upper or lower floors—and the team member assigned to the Banquet Hall has a big job ahead of her!

In 2011, Floral Designer Susan Partain created a beautiful Renaissance-style angel to top the big tree. From her fluttering wings to the rich fabric layers of her robe, Susan’s angel looked delicate, but had to be sturdy enough to survive a ride on the swaying tip of the tree as it was raised into position in the Banquet Hall. The angel passed the test with “flying colors!”

Two years later, Simone Bush, Biltmore Floral Designer and Wedding Consultant, drew on the idea of families coming together at the holidays, and the wonderful, whimsical ways in which their joy might be expressed, to create a charming, light-hearted tree-topper beribboned like a jester’s staff, delighting everyone who saw it atop the towering tree.

A new creation

For 2014, the theme is a A Vanderbilt Christmas. According to Cathy, “This year’s tree topper is a three-dimensional gilded globe star that is about three feet tall. It reflects a traditional vintage theme with glitter, tinsel, and beading.”

Be sure to look for the tree-topper as we raise the Banquet Hall tree on Wednesday, November 5, on your next visit during Christmas at Biltmore or Candlelight Christmas Evenings!

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