Christmas Illuminations at Mount Vernon

Our family was given the opportunity to attend one of the special holiday events at Mount Vernon: Christmas Illuminations. Held this year on the Friday and Saturday evenings before Christmas (Dec. 16 and 17), this event provides a way to experience Mount Vernon in a whole new light, no pun intended! It is described by Mount Vernon as “an evening of family-friendly fun and fireworks.” We couldn’t wait to see what they had planned for this special evening.

We arrived at Mount Vernon around 7 p.m., a bit after the festivities had opened for the evening (the event runs from 5:30-9 p.m., with tour times ending at 8:30 p.m.). Entering through the Visitor Center, we were warmly welcomed to the estate and checked out the beautiful Christmas trees in the lobby. Map in hand, we headed outside and started our stroll to the mansion itself.

Our first stop was a big bonfire surrounded by carolers and a tent with hot cider and cookies to enjoy – a nice touch! We also saw Aladdin,the resident camel, though he was sleepy and it was a bit dark to really get a glimpse.The kids were not as impressed as I had hoped, but it was still neat to see him.

We continued our walk toward the mansion, passing by lots of people dressed in period costumes and riding horses. It was a fun way to set the mood of the event and take you back to the historical times.The line looked a bit long for the actual mansion tour that was part of our ticket, but when we inquired, the friendly staff member informed us it was about a 15-minute wait.

We got in line, which went very quickly, and entered George Washington’s home. The tour was only through certain rooms on the first and second floors, and you were moved along briskly by staff members who told short stories in each room. I really enjoyed seeing the dining room all set for a traditional 18th century feast and all the guest rooms on the upper floors. My son loved the kitchen and my toddler daughter loved seeing the antique baby crib. The tour was a bit short for those who would like to spend lots of time exploring inside the home, but it was the perfect length for a family with two small, energetic children.

After the tour, we were able to explore several of the outer buildings, including the salt room, spinning room and blacksmith shop, which had a working demonstration all evening. We unfortunately missed the window for the greeting by Martha and George Washington, but that was available to guests earlier in the evening. General Washington is not usually onsite, so it was a big deal!

There was a building with traditional 18th century dancing, as well, but that was very crowded and we didn’t make it through. We finally made our way to the lawn in front of the mansion’s piazza to grab a spot for fireworks viewing. Many people brought camp chairs or blankets to sit and enjoy the show, which I hadn’t thought to bring, but standing was just fine too. There was a tent selling snacks, sandwiches and beverages (adult and child options). We got each of our children a hot dog and waited for the 9 p.m. fireworks show over the Potomac River. Everyone gathered for a greeting from General and Mrs. Washington, where they welcomed guests and reminisced (winding in lots of history!).

Once they were done, traditional Christmas music started streaming from the speakers and the 21st century part of the celebration began. The fireworks show, choreographed to the carols, was spectacular. I adore fireworks and Christmas carols, and their combination was truly magical! We started back to the car when the fireworks were still in progress, and were able to catch the end of the show from another angle, watching the bright colors boom over the mansion – also beautiful!

The staff at Mount Vernon was very friendly, helpful and well informed. The visitor center and gift shop are beautiful and a great place to find a unique gift. There is ample parking within walking distance, though I would recommend a stroller for little ones as there is a bit of walking between the parking and strolling the grounds. It had rained a bit earlier in the day, so there were a few muddy spots, but nothing hard to maneuver. We got lucky and had a mild evening, but I highly recommend bundling up as most of this event is outdoors.

We had a wonderful time at the Christmas Illuminations event. We enjoyed seeing a bit of history in action and it certainly was a great place to share Christmas joy with lots of people. It is another fun Christmas tradition we can add to our list!

Note: Mount Vernon also offers “Mount Vernon by Candlelight” during the holiday season. Held in the evenings, starting the weekend after Thanksgiving and through December weekends before Christmas (with the exception of the two Illumination nights), the event offers guided candlelight tours, the 18th century dancing, viewing of the outer buildings and Aladdin the camel! The tours during this event are longer and include more interaction and historic role play. Tickets are a tad bit cheaper as there are no fireworks.

Vsit mountvernon.org for more details and to purchase tickets; Tickets are $34/adults, $24 child (2-11 years) with mansion tour, $30/$20 without.

Meet the Reviewer!

Christy Petrak is a systems engineer currently taking a leave of absence to raise her two children, Thomas (5) and Eliza (2). She enjoys spending time with her family, swimming and baking/decorating cupcakes.

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