Christmas at Biltmore 2022 kicks off with the raising of 35-foot-tall Fraser fir tree

Tiana Kennell
Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE - It takes a village to create an awe-inspiring holiday oasis that rivals the North Pole. And, each year, a team of “elves” manages to do just that at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville.

Year-round, guests from near and far visit and tour the Biltmore House. Dubbed “America’s Largest Home,” it is the historic landmark and former home of famed entrepreneur George Vanderbilt and his family.

For the holiday season, the property is transformed to create an especially enchanting experience for “Christmas at Biltmore.”

“When guests come to Christmas at Biltmore, they’re looking for a bit of nostalgia. Christmas is such a homey, magical time for all of us and we aim to deliver that experience,” Biltmore Floral Displays Manager Lizzie Borchers. “For us, Christmas means going back to our past and for Biltmore, that is those early years when George and Edith were living in the house. This was their home, and they were celebrating the holidays with their friends and family, so we want to create that experience for our guests, as well.”

On Nov. 2, a Biltmore tradition continued with the ceremonious Christmas tree raising that began with the Vanderbilt family more than a century ago.

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Trip Hudgins, of Biltmore Engineering Services, directed a team to carefully bring a 35-foot-tall Fraser fir tree across the threshold of the Biltmore House and into the Banquet Hall. The operation requires multiple poles, dollies and ropes used to carry in and erect the tree before securing it in place.

Scenes as the Biltmore’s 35-foot fir tree is installed in the dining room November 2, 2022.

“We have 40-plus guys from all teams — arborists, event logistics, engineering, gardeners — anybody that we can get a hold of,” said Hudgins, who's been a part of 23 tree-raising in his 12 years working at the Biltmore. The Biltmore team swaps out the grand tree midseason for a fresh tree to preserve the look through the holidays.

Borchers then led her team in the task of decorating. Nearly a dozen designers scale scaffolding and use extension poles to hang the ornaments – some measured at 3 feet long.

Borchers worked with Andrews Nursery to hand-select the tree from a mountaintop in Avery County in August, she said.

“That process is finding that one that’s the right height, and that really goes back to the archival information that we have of George Vanderbilt requesting a 35-foot-tree for the Banquet Hall tree at that first Christmas in 1895,” Borchers said.

“Christmas at Biltmore is an experience that’s so much more than the Banquet Hall. It’s a very special day for us, but the whole house is decorated from up in the Observatory to down in the basement,” she said. “Our team goes through a planning process that really begins the Christmas before and we start looking at the rooms, deciding who’s going to be decorating them and start developing plans.”

This year’s theme is Winter Landscapes, in homage to the would-be 200th birthday of Biltmore’s landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed New York City’s Central Park and other parks and landscapes across the U.S.

Scenes as the Biltmore’s 35-foot fir tree is installed in the dining room November 2, 2022.

“Our grounds here are one of his crowning achievements, so we really wanted to kind of acknowledge that by bringing the outside in,” Borchers said. “Our look this year is very wintry: lots of icy, snowy, branchy ― that outdoors look through the winter. I think it’s really neat to see the different interpretations of that that our designers have done and kind of varied takes.”

The Fraser fir was the final piece to put in place completing the holiday décor project, which includes smaller – yet still spectacular – Christmas trees, garland, poinsettias and other accents adorning each room and passageway.

The Christmas magic spreads from the Biltmore House and across the estate.

This season, 67 decorated Christmas trees may be found within the house with an additional 45 trees at other estate locations, Winery, The Inn on Biltmore Estate, Antler Hill Village and the estate restaurants.

Christmas at Biltmore daytime celebration will run from Nov. 4 to Jan. 8.

FROM 2021:Photos: Biltmore Christmas tree raising 2021

The Candlelight Christmas Evenings will run from Nov. 4 to Jan. 7, during which the Biltmore House will glow with candlelight and firelight and with musical performances throughout the home.

For more about Christmas at Biltmore events, activities and tours, visit biltmore.com/things-to-do/events/christmas/.

“Countdown to Christmas at Biltmore 2022” premieres at 6 p.m. Nov. 3 on Biltmore’s Youtube channel and Facebook page.

Tiana Kennell is the food and dining reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at tkennell@citizentimes.com or follow her on Twitter/Instagram @PrincessOfPage. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.