Thanks to Mount Vernon for inviting us on this wonderful tour!
By Patricia Hall, Fairfax Family Fun
A visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, no matter how many times you’ve been there, always ends up being educational. The estate, museum, and gardens – home to the first president of the United States – offers much to see, do, and learn from for visitors of all ages. One way to enjoy the historic site and see it in a new light is to attend one of the many special events it hosts each year. During the winter holiday season, the Mount Vernon by Candlelight program offers tours that educate, entertain, and take you back to Christmases from centuries ago.
The tours – which take place this year on Nov. 23-24, Nov. 30, Dec. 1, Dec. 7-8, and Dec. 16, 2018 – have you experience what Christmas was like as a guest of the Washingtons. The experience begins in the modern Ford Orientation Center, where guests can enjoy the sounds of the holiday season and view beautiful Christmas trees highlighting the lives of the Washingtons. Each tree has a theme, such as presidents, with ornaments depicting several from throughout the centuries.
Tour participants receive a card with a formal welcome from “General and Lady Washington” noting they are guests of a special dignitary, who you can find out more about on the back. In our case (we took the tour last Saturday), we were guests of William Cushing, George Washington’s first appointee to the United States Supreme Court. Cushing travelled to Mount Vernon on December 24, 1798.
The lantern-illuminated tour is set in the 18th century and begins with visits to outside structures on the grounds such as the kitchen and the Slave Quarters. Costumed interpreters, fully in character, tell you their stories and what they are doing to get Mount Vernon ready for the holidays and its special guests.
Then you get to tour the inside the Mansion, where Martha Washington and other Mount Vernon residents welcome you into their home. They share stories of past Christmases and how they are celebrating, whether it’s preparing a lavish feast or getting ready for a wedding.
You do get to see the whole house as you would during a regular tour, but with added insights into the holidays. Guides provide details on what guests would have enjoyed during a Christmas in 1795, for example, dining on roast beef, turkey, fowl ham, wine, and punch. They also share stories of the senators and other guests who would visit the Washingtons.
Another neat feature is hearing the distinct sound of the dulcimer played live, something you don’t get on the regular tours. As a final bonus, the Mount Vernon by Candlelight Tour is the only time of the year when guests can take photos inside the mansion!
After the tour concludes, guests continue the experience by visiting the Greenhouse to participate in 18th-century dancing. Our guides taught us a group dance, the Indian Queen, which seemed a bit complicated to watch but was easy to learn and fun to do, since you switch partners and cross directions often. Even some very young kids in our group joined in on the dance!
The evening wraps up with gingerbread cookies and warm cider, fireside caroling and stories, and visit to the famous seasonal resident, Aladdin the Christmas camel. Before heading home, you can enjoy live music in the Education Center Lobby and an opportunity to visit the Education Center exhibits and The Shops.
Tour start times vary each day, and guests are allowed entry through the main gate 15 minutes prior to their tour time. Mount Vernon by Candlelight takes place rain or shine. There is a $3 transaction fee in addition to ticket price of $25 for ages 12 and up and $17 youth (ages 6-11). Tours are free to kids age five and under.
All photos by and (c) P. Hall
My group received complimentary admission on a private tour, with gift bags including magazines, a Christmas ornament, and other Mount Vernon-themed goodies. The opinions expressed here are strictly my own and provided to inform our readers.