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Mount Vernon by Candlelight 2016

November 27, 2016
Our Kids
Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens
3200 Mount Vernon Highway
Mount Vernon, VA 22309
Average: 5 (2 votes)

Ever wonder what it was like to celebrate the holiday season during colonial times?  Step back in time at Mount Vernon by Candlelight.  This annual event is a must for your holiday bucket list and is a really special way to see the home of our first President in a different light, especially this election year.

Mount Vernon by CandlelightOn the way to Alexandria we listened to the soundtrack of a currently popular Broadway show, and when we arrived, we noticed license plates from around the country, as far west as Washington State.  Sure it might be a stretch to say "we just happen to be in the greatest city in the world," but we in DC are lucky to live in a place that people want to visit, and are able to.      

We arrived at Mount Vernon in time for the first tour, which was at 5 p.m.  When you purchase your tickets online, you will select your tour time and we recommend selecting a tour time that is on the earlier side.  This will allow you ample time to explore all that the evening has to offer, and time to consider how Washington conducted himself in all matters - very aware that he was setting precedents for those who would follow.  As you walk through the Texas Gate (the primary entrance to the grounds), you'll head into the Ford Orientation Center where you'll show your ticket, have your bag inspected and be handed your calling card.

Mount Vernon by CandlelightTurns out we were guests of Benjamin Dulany.  Dulany and his wife Elizabeth were regular guests at Mount Vernon and original owners of Blueskin, one of the horses that George Washington rode during the American Revolution.  As we waited for our tour to begin, we enjoyed seasonal music and the beautiful decor indoors.  Guests could also purchase dessert and drinks treats. And then it was the moment we’ve been waiting for - the town crier asks the guests of Benjamin Dulany to gather.

Sunset on a clear night is the perfect time to see Mount Vernon, the place Washington called home and where he returned after a peaceful transfer of power to the newly elected John Adams "to sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree."  The sky was beautiful as the stars came out, and the candlelit grounds and seasonal decorations added just the right touch.  The guide's glowing candle and carefully tended firepits along the way took the edge off the evening's chill.  As we were led carefully along a paved path, our tour guide shared with us a little bit about 18th-century holiday traditions, which you may be shocked to learn involved a fair amount of drinking.  (Turns out George Washington's distillery made more whiskey in 1799 than any other!) We slowly made our way around the grounds of Mount Vernon, passing by the Slave Quarters and the Blacksmith Shop.

Mount Vernon by CandlelightThe highlight of course is a tour of the Mansion.  Each stop along the way features servants, slaves, and Washington family members from the 18th-century come to life to let us be in the "room(s) where it happened" - the kitchen, General Washington's study, the upstairs visitor's rooms, and the dining room.    Enjoy banter in the kitchen from the two servant cooks (one hired and one enslaved) where you'll learn about the Washingtons' famous Great Cake.  Then head into the Mansion and see various servants preparing for the holidays.  We really liked seeing Martha Washington and her granddaughter Nelly Custis in the New Room where they shared with us some of their favorite food on the table.

The Mansion tour is brief, but it was an absolute thrill to be in the house during the evening.  After leaving the Mansion, the tour guide wishes you well and gives you the option of visiting a few other places on the grounds on your own.  Our first stop was to the Greenhouse where 18th-century dancing, specifically the Indian Maiden, later famous as the Virginia Reel, was being taught.  Farther down the path is a pen where you'll see Aladdin the Christmas camel. (he was sleeping when we visited).  Improbable as it might seem, there's truth in it (as with most everything at Mount Vernon):  in 1787, Washington did pay 18 shillings to have a camel on the grounds during Christmas, to astonish his guests.  After Aladdin, fortify yourselves with some warm apple cider and gingersnaps.  Cozy up to the two fires being tended by servants and enjoy carolers singing traditional 18th-century Christmas songs.  We couldn't resist asking to hear "The World Turned Upside Down", and they were happy to oblige!

Additional Information

  • Mount Vernon by Candlelight is open from 5 to 8 p.m. on December 2, 3, 10, 11 and 18, 2016.
  • This event often sells out, so be sure to get your tickets online now.  Tickets are $24 for adults and $16 for youth ages 2 to 11.  Under 2 is free.
  • Tours are intimate and there were about 15-20 people in our group.  I'd recommend Mount Vernon by Candlelight for ages 6 and up.  Definitely think about how interested in history your child is and use that as a gauge for attending.
  • Dress warmly as most of the tour is outdoors.  We recommend a hat, gloves, coat and appropriate footwear.  We brought some hand warmers, which we didn't use, but I could see needing them as the colder air starts to usher in this year.
  • While you can't take photos in the Mansion, you can most everywhere else. 
  • Parking is free and there are several lots to choose from.
  • If you can't make it for Mount Vernon by Candlelight, then try to get over for Christmas at Mount Vernon which runs daily through January 6, 2017 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  There are special weekend activities for the kids such as holiday ornament making and holiday teddy bear teas.  There's also a wreath-making class for ages 16 and up.
  • Save the date of December 16 and 17, 2016 and enjoy the Christmas Illuminations event - a family-friendly fireworks display all choreographed to holiday music.  Purchase tickets online.

Mount Vernon by Candlelight  Mount Vernon by Candlelight

Photos courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and Our Kids.

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