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A Very Mount Vernon Christmas

In the 18th century, George Washington celebrated Christmas with his family at Mount Vernon. While it may not have been as flashy as it is today with all the decorations and gifts, the themes of spending time with family and friends and taking a break from the hustle and bustle of working life have remained the same.

Christmas with the Washingtons

Learn about the holiday practices observed by the Washingtons and their enslaved workers at Mount Vernon.

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Did the Washingtons Decorate for Christmas?

Modern visitors to Mount Vernon might be surprised to find so few contemporary holiday decorations in the Mansion.

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Meet Aladdin the Camel

Stop by Mount Vernon during the holiday season to meet the famous Aladdin — a tribute to a very special visitor in 1787.

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What Is Epiphany?

Epiphany, or the Twelfth Night, is an Anglican celebration recognizing the day the three wise men visited Jesus in the manger. Instead of celebrating on a single day, the Washingtons celebrated a holiday season beginning on Christmas Eve and lasting 12 days until Epiphany on January 6.

Epiphany had added significance at Mount Vernon, as January 6 marked the wedding anniversary of Martha and George Washington!

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Where Washington Spent his Christmases

Take a look at the Christmases of Washington's life and the historic events they accompanied.

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Martha Washington and Christmas

For Martha Washington, the Christmas season was a festive religious occasion and an opportunity to impress her guests with a variety of holiday dishes.

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Christmas in the Mansion

Christmas in the Mansion

Every year, Mount Vernon's team brings some wintertime changes to the Mansion to mark the holiday season.

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Recipe: Great Cake

One of the few surviving recipes directly associated with Martha Washington, the Great Cake likely would have been served as part of a grand Christmas dinner or Twelfth Night party.

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Recipe: Yorkshire Christmas Pie

Christmas pies such as this appear to have been a holiday custom in the Washington household.

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Gingerbread Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon by Candlelight: A Christmas Tour

Learn about what Christmas was like in the 18th century on this evening tour of George Washington's estate, Mount Vernon.

Christmas for the Enslaved Community

On the estate, the Washington family wasn't the only ones who celebrated Christmas. This time provided a rare opportunity to rest and visit with family and friends at Mount Vernon and on neighboring plantations.

For a particular group of enslaved people, however, the Christmas holiday did not bring relief from their labor. Cooks, housemaids, waiters, and others working in the house were required to do extra work through the holiday, as the Washingtons hosted additional guests. The rest of the enslaved community was often given four days off, as well as extra food or possibly spirits.


The replica slave cabin at the Pioneer Farm at Mount Vernon (MVLA)

Twas the Night of Christmas, 1776

General George Washington reminiscences the crossing the Delaware River on the evening of December 25, 1776. A day that forever changed history.

One Special Christmas

Gifts were not typically a tradition on a colonial Christmas, but Martha and the children at Mount Vernon did receive them once on December 24, 1783. On that date, Washington rushed home in time for Christmas from Annapolis after resigning his commission. He had also won the Revolutionary War that November, and it was the first time he had been at Mount Vernon for Christmas in over 8 years. His homecomeing was more than enough reason to celebrate.

Close friends and relatives frequently came to Mount Vernon for the holiday, which the Washingtons seemed to have eagerly anticipated. George Washington once humorously wrote to a friend who could not attend the festivities that:

... Altho I lament the effect, I am pleased at the cause which has deprived us of the pleasure of your aid in the attack of Christmas pies ....

Holiday Meals at Mount Vernon

Dinner is an essential part of any Christmas celebration and at Mount Vernon, there were no exceptions. Known for setting an appetizing table, Martha Washington kept extremely busy preparing for an onslaught of guests during the holiday season.

While there are no descriptions of a specific Christmas dinner at Mount Vernon and few references to foods associated with the season, descriptions written by visitors have been examined over the years.

It was Mrs. Washington's habit before or after breakfast to start planning the meals for the day, and one description by her grandson reported that she "...gave orders for dinner," at this time, "appointing certain provisions, a pair of ducks, a goose or a turkey to be laid by, and to be put down in case of the arrival of company; a very necessary provision in that hospitable mansion.” Martha really pulled out the stops during the holidays.

Especially before the Revolution, the Washingtons often visited with close friends on or about the sixth of January (Twelfth Night). Martha Washington would have prepared a specially decorated “great cake” for the Twelfth Night. Among Martha Washington's papers is a recipe for this great cake, copied for her by a granddaughter, Martha Custis. This rich fruit-filled pastry was a custom staple for Twelfth Night festivities.

Martha's great cake

Modern interpretation of Martha Washington's great cake recipe. Food photography by Renée Comet, styled by Lisa Cherkasky.

Did George Washington Have a Christmas Tree?

How did the Washingtons decorate Mount Vernon during the holidays? Did they put up a Christmas tree? Jeremy Ray, Mount Vernon's director of interpretation, explains 18th-century Christmas decorations.

Christmas at the Shops

Christmas Quiz

Feel up-to-speed on the Christmas habits of the Washingtons? Put your knowledge to the test with this Mount Vernon Christmas Quiz.

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