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Arrival of one-ton tree kicks off Christmas at Biltmore

J. H. Osborne • Nov 2, 2019 at 11:30 AM

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Christmas at Biltmore began Friday with what has become a holiday tradition for many people from near and far: estate workers delivered and installed Biltmore’s “holiday centerpiece” — a 34-foot-tall Fraser fir — into the Banquet Hall of Biltmore House.

Known for its monumental scale of traditional holiday décor and dazzling lights, Christmas at Biltmore runs through Jan. 5, 2020.

“This year’s decorating theme is Christmas Traditions,” said Lizzie Borchers, floral displays manager.

The arrival of the 2,000-pound tree, by horse-drawn cart with St. Nick aboard and with the Asheville High School marching band leading the way, drew the usual large crowd to Biltmore’s front lawn and driveway, despite temperatures in the 30s.  For many it is a multigenerational family tradition that heralds the arrival of the Christmas season. The T.C. Roberson High School choir performed music of the season as 40 estate employees lifted the tree from the carriage and carried it through the house and into the seven-story-tall Banquet Hall.

The towering tree, from Andrews Nursery in Newland, North Carolina, is a nod to a tradition started by George Vanderbilt on Christmas Eve in 1895 when he opened his 250-room home to friends and family for the first time. George Andrews and family have supplied the trees that have graced the Banquet Hall during each holiday since 1975. The nursery actually began growing trees specifically for Biltmore, and this year’s tree is from that special stock, Rick Conard, vice president of operations at Biltmore Estate, said. This is Conard’s 33rd year leading the team of employees in installing the tree. He noted this year’s tree was smaller in circumference than typical tree girths in past years, but that made it easier to maneuver into place.

With more than three decades under his belt and two trees installed in the Banquet Hall each season (the tree installed and decorated Friday will be replaced with a fresh tree come December — overnight, so guests will not see a thing during regular hours), Conard actually has participated in more than 60 tree-raisings.

Still, each year is a challenge, he said.

“We enjoy it. It brings Christmas to Biltmore. It brings Christmas to the area. People bring their families here year after year. It just kicks off Christmas.”

Once the tree was inside, 30 additional employees hoisted it into place.

Biltmore’s floral displays team, housekeeping team, and engineering services staff spent the afternoon navigating scaffolding to hang 500 ornaments and lights on the Fraser fir’s elegant boughs.

The Banquet Hall tree is the largest of the 62 hand-decorated Christmas trees in Biltmore House this year. Each room features the results of holiday designs that were months in the planning. More than 13,000 ornaments were used to decorate the trees. Miles of fresh evergreen garlands and swags provide additional seasonal beauty throughout the house.

Borchers said decorations throughout Biltmore this season reflect an elegant style. Along with the towering tree, the décor in the Banquet Hall features red and gold ribbons gracing the fireplace, giving the room a regal feel.

More information is available about tickets, reservations, overnight accommodations and Christmas at Biltmore at www.biltmore.com.

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