Christmas at Mount Vernon is a program at the famous estate of George Washington that offers the visitor an authentic 18th century Christmas experience. It runs the full Christmas season from the day after Thanksgiving to the Epiphany (January 6). Mount Vernon is beautiful all year long with its restored mansion, outbuildings and museum set on the banks of the Potomac River. But Christmas at Mount Vernon rivals any other Christmas venue in the Washington DC area. AAA voted it one of the Top 12 Places in America to Catch the Christmas Spirit.
Who wouldn’t want to peer into George and Martha’s homelife? To see clothes they actually owned and utensils from their original kitchen? To visit Mount Vernon is to walk closely with the Washingtons inside the context of early American history. Get to know the first President as a man who loved to farm, loved his home and once purchased a live camel just to entertain his guests on Christmas. See up close how Martha would have run a household with none of today’s modern conveniences. In fact, meet Martha … she’s often there, telling guests stories and reminiscing about the old days. Celebrating Christmas in the Nation’s Capital has been a thrill for me since I was little. But Mount Vernon is the icing on the Christmas Cake.
The Museum and Artifacts
The Museum and Educational Center has 23 galleries and theaters that provide the visitor with an immersion experience through films and interactive displays. These exhibits help the visitor see the Washingtons inside the context of history. The museum houses 700 artifacts which includes clothing that belonged to the Washingtons , three life-size models of George Washington that were crafted using forensic evidence, and many personal possessions of the Washingtons.
George Washington’s Personal Copy of the Constitution
One of the most intriguing artifacts is George Washington’s copy of the Acts of Congress. This is a book that was custom-bound for him and personalized with a plate on the front cover that reads “President of the United States.” It contains the George Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution along with his own hand written notes in the margins. Mount Vernon acquired the book for $8,700,000. It will be one of the prized artifacts in what will become the George Washington Presidential Library. This artifact alone makes the trip worthwhile.
The Mansion and Outbuildings
The fourteen room mansion that was home to the Washingtons for 40 years is where the intimate spirit of Christmas is felt most at Mount Vernon. The visitor sees the home as it would have been when George and Martha lived there, before in-home Christmas trees when Christmas was celebrated through special foods, drink, dancing and entertaining.
The table is set with the Washington’s china and the house decorated as it would have been for entertaining. There is even a live camel on the grounds – this one named Aladdin – to commemorate the time when George Washington paid eighteen shillings for a camel which he brought home to Mount Vernon one Christmas (1787) to entertain his guests.
During Christmas at Mount Vernon guests are invited to tour the third floor of the mansion (normally closed to visitors). Though it is small, it houses the apartment where Martha retired after George’s death. Once he died, she closed off their bedroom and never slept in it again. Instead, she made her private quarters in the small third floor apartment.
Twelve original outbuildings are still on the property. They include a kitchen with over 100 original kitchen objects, a slave quarters, smoke house, greenhouse, coach house, gardener’s house and servant’s hall. A Blacksmith Shop has been reconstructed and now serves as a working blacksmith’s shop where visitors can see craft demonstrations.
Other Specialties – Chocolate Making and Recipes
Chocolate Making Demonstration -Food is big part of the authentic Christmas experience at Mount Vernon. Chocolate would have been a rare treat, served only on special occasion like Christmas. The smell of chocolate from chocolate making demonstrations is one of the top five things visitors remember during Christmas at Mount Vernon. These demos show the visitor the tedious process of making chocolate in the Washington’s day.
Hoecakes and Hospitality – This exhibition is a behind the scenes look at how food was prepared and presented in the 18th century. The visitor will see how Martha Washington might have managed her staff which would have including house maids, waiters, butlers and enslaved cooks, to bring produce from the garden and storehouses into the kitchen for preparation and then presented on the family table.
RECIPE: Each visitor who attends Christmas at Mount Vernon receives a special 18th century recipe from the Washington’s kitchen.
What People Remember the Most
In doing the research for this post, I interviewed Melissa Wood, the Director of Media Relations at Mount Vernon. I asked her what she thought visitors remember most about Mount Vernon. She said, “Certainly the mansion and the feel of the Washingtons in that home. Then the Education Center and perhaps a particular exhibit there. And, of course the dentures. George Washington would probably be mortified to think they were such a memorable artifact, but everyone seems to remember his dentures.”
I told Melissa that the last time I went to Mount Vernon was as a cub scout den mother, escorting my little den of bear cubs on a field trip. My cub scout is 33 years old now – so it’s been a long time. What do I remember the most?
Go figure. Here’s to remembering much more after the visit I’ll be making to Mount Vernon with the Travel Hags on December 22nd. I’m looking forward to catching the Christmas spirit, hearing the stories, understanding more about Geroge’s legacy and adding Mount Vernon to my tapestry of travel and Christmas memories.
LINKS and INFO
Mount Vernon is located in Northern Virginia near Old Town Alexandria. It’s a 15 to 20 minute drive to Washington DC (depending on traffic). It can easily fit into a DC vacation.
3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy
Mount Vernon, VA 22121
ADMISSION – $15 Adults / $7 for kids Group Sales Available
TIME NEEDED FOR A GOOD EXPERIENCE – At least four hours. There is a food court at Mount Vernon as well as a restaurant (reservations recommended).
SHOPPING – The Mount Vernon Shop – There’s also shopping at Mount Vernon. Great gifts and mementos, plus upscale reproductions of historic tableware.
CREDIT: Special thanks to Melissa Wood, Director of Media Relations at Mount Vernon.
PHOTOS: Photo of “Aladdin” the Christmas Camel by Adam – army.arch on Flickr. Used with permission.
Remaining photos are courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, also used with permission.