- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 1, 2002

By daylight Mount Vernon is stately and imposing, but by candlelight George Washington's home by the Potomac River takes on a cozy yet mystical air rich with history and yuletide cheer.
"There is a big difference between the atmosphere in the day and in the twinkling light," said Ray Hawn of Alexandria, a volunteer docent at the Mount Vernon estate.
Dressed in a black cape and tricorn hat, Mr. Hawn guided visitors through the estate's mansion Friday evening, the start of the annual "Mount Vernon by Candlelight" tours.
"The evening tours gives those who work in the day a good chance to see Mount Vernon and learn about Washington," Mr. Hawn said. "And it is a nice way to start the holiday season."
Festooned with holly, the mansion was aglow with the light of hundreds of candles burning in different rooms.
Throughout the evening, about 1,200 visitors peeked into Washington's large dining room to view a table set with his favorite apples, pears and nuts on French blue-and-white porcelain china.
They peered into the Little Parlor, where women of the house played the harpsichord or pianoforte, and the nearby cozy West Parlor, used for games of cards and chess. In the small blue dining room, they contemplated a massive "Christmas pye," made with turkey stuffed with goose, stuffed with hen, stuffed with partridge, stuffed with pigeon.
A painstaking adherence to historical accuracy permeates the displays at the more than 200-year-old Mount Vernon estate.
For example, visitors looking for Christmas trees brimming with gifts underneath were disappointed. Christmas trees didn't become a tradition in the United States until almost a century after Washington died. Christmas in 18th century Tidewater Virginia was a religious holiday, a time to spend in church with family and friends. Gift-giving was a minor concern.
This year, visitors can tour the mansion's third floor, which has been closed off, where Martha Washington lived after her husband died in 1799. The garret chamber displays her trunk, which she used to visit her husband during the Revolutionary War.
Next door, the attic rooms store toy tops, wooden horses and other items.
"It is such a wonderful place to visit," said Ann Hessenius of Lynchburg, Va., who visited the estate Friday with her family. "And it is so special at night, so different. Everything looks beautiful in candlelight."
Volunteers said the tours are a good way to ensure that Washington farmer, general, president isn't forgotten.
"He made a great contribution to our country," said volunteer docent Richard Pape of Springfield. "In this day and age, people are forgetting that."
The candlelight tours are held Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., through Dec. 15. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for children 11 and younger, and can be bought through Ticketmaster at 202/432-SEAT or www.ticketmaster.com.


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