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Time to Light the Luminaries

For the Home 11/20/15

Written By Leeann Donnelly

Late in the afternoon just before sunset, a small crew of Biltmore staff members hops out of a pick-up truck in front of Biltmore House to begin a long-standing holiday tradition: the lighting of the luminaries.

Single luminary overlooking Biltmore HouseThe glow of 300 luminaries lining the front lawn and Rampe Douce help set a yuletide tone for our guests as they prepare to enter Biltmore House for Candlelight Christmas Evenings, taking place nightly, now through January 8, 2016.

Each luminary contains a white votive candle, held in place with a generous scoop of sand. It takes about two hours for a 4-person team from our Housekeeping staff to hand-light each one.

The number 7 is an important one for Nell Swan, Facility Services Supervisor and a member of the luminary team for the last 15 years. Seven is the number of steps she takes to place each bag on the lawn to ensure that perfect symmetry for which this light display is known. Some areas require eight steps, she says, but the edge she was working, near the Stable Courtyard, calls for seven.

Luminaries in front of Biltmore HouseWhen it comes to “behind-the-scenes” activities, guests seem to be endlessly fascinated with how we do what we do at Biltmore. According to Vince Helton, Director of Facility Services, while the larger team lights the luminaries, one staff member enters Biltmore House to set up chairs, music stands, and lights for musicians, turn on all fireplaces on first and second floors, polish the brass threshold at the Front Door, and turn on the lights for the large outdoor Christmas tree. “Once the evening activities end around 11 p.m.,” said Vince, “the team starts picking up the luminaries so that everything is ready for our daytime guests.”

The luminaries, combined with the forest of lit trees in the middle of the lawn – including a 60-foot-tall Norway Spruce – create a magical welcome for our guests arriving to tour through Biltmore House. Kudos to Nell and team for making it happen every night!

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