I had so much fun at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Christmas by Candlelight tour last year that I wanted to share the experience with others so they can be ready for the 2023 holiday season.
This magical history tour is something that should be on everyone’s bucket list because it offers visitors a unique opportunity to step back in time and experience the joyous Christmas holiday the way they did in the 1700s.
In addition to the Mount Vernon Christmas Candlelight Tour, you can also purchase tickets for the Holiday Illumination at Mount Vernon, and enjoy a Mount Vernon Christmas fireworks display over the Potomac River.
Either way, these are the kind of events you will remember for a lifetime.
Here’s everything you need to know.
Past Lane Travels contains affiliate links and is a member of the Amazon LLC Associates Program. If you make a purchase using one of these links, we may receive compensation at no extra cost to you. Read our disclaimer for more information.
Table of Contents
Related Post: Christmas in Bethlehem PA is magical!
Mount Vernon Historical Background
Mount Vernon is the plantation estate and burial location of George Washington, the military general who led the Continental Army and the first President of the United States, from 1789 to 1797.
In addition to a 1735 mansion and the tomb of George and Martha Washington, the property includes a large number of outbuildings and interpretive spaces, such as a Pioneer Farm and a Gristmill & Distillery down the road.
Amazingly, the property has been open to the public since 1860, and is open 365 days a year, thanks to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, who owns and runs the estate.
Step Back In Time For A Mt Vernon Christmas
I was enthralled by the idea of strolling through the grounds of Mount Vernon, guided only by the glow of candlelight and the twinkle of distant stars, but I discovered that there is a lot more to the Mount Vernon Christmas Candlelight Tour than just that experience.
The event transports visitors to a bygone era, recreating the magic of the holidays as they would have been celebrated in the time of George Washington.
For instance, I got to “dance like a colonial” in George Washington’s greenhouse on a cold December night. I’m usually quite the wallflower, but I had so much fun learning how to dance like they did in the 1700s that I forgot to take any photos!
Like History and Travel? Sign up for the Past Lane Travel Newsletter.
The main house at Mount Vernon and the historic buildings scattered throughout the estate provide a captivating backdrop for this unique immersive experience.
You can’t help but feel the sensation of walking through history as the flicker of candlelight throws shadows on the dimly lit paths. You might even hear the clanging of a blacksmith through the darkness as he bangs out a piece of hot iron.
Don’t forget to take notice of the ancient trees on your tour, some of which are old enough to have witnessed historic events at Mount Vernon.
These are just some of the things you can experience during the Mount Vernon Christmas Candlelight Tour and Illumination events.
What Happens During A Mt Vernon Candlelight Tour?
The Mount Vernon Christmas Candlelight Tour lasts about 45 minutes, but you can expect to spend about two hours because there is lots to do.
You should also plan to arrive at the Ford Orientation Center 15 minutes before your ticket time so you can warm up and view the Christmas trees!
On the guided tour of the estate, you learn about holiday traditions of 18th-century Virginia, and hear stories of Christmases past from costumed character actors portraying Washington’s family, friends, and enslaved or hired staff.
The walkway is dimly lit with candle lanterns which creates an extraordinary experience that really transports you back in time. You make a stop at the Slave Quarters, outbuildings, and inside Washington’s Mansion.
After the tour, you can greet Aladdin, the Christmas camel (see more below), or participate in 18th-century dancing in the Greenhouse. (Fun!)
You can also listen to 18th-century music and caroling while enjoying complimentary ginger cookies and spiced cider in the Donald W. Reynolds Education Center Lobby.
This year’s tour commemorates the year 1773 (250 years ago) on the Road to Revolution. You’ll hear how a young Colonel Washington and his family celebrated Christmas in a year of personal loss, growing tensions, and uncertainty.
The Shops at Mount Vernon are open until 8 p.m. (Note: I was awed by the large gift shop and selection, but as I was heading to the counter to make a purchase, I noticed the item I planned to buy was Made in China. I did not make the purchase. I’m very conscious about buying products Made in the USA)
Christmas At Mount Vernon By Candlelight
The Mount Vernon Christmas Candlelight Tour isn’t just a visual feast—it’s an interactive experience that engages all the senses.
Expert historical reenactors (top-notch actors, really!) don period attire and bring the estate to life, sharing stories, traditions, and anecdotes from the 18th century.
Guests are encouraged to ask questions, which provides a unique opportunity to learn about the holiday customs of the time directly from those who portray the figures of history.
In the “New Room” you meet Martha Washington and see the table set with dessert delicacies on French porcelain dishes.
The hedgehog cake with currant eyes at the edge of the picture below is an eye-catching confection of almond paste, eggs, cream, sugar and butter , with silvered blanched almonds representing bristles.
Another attention getter that you can see in the picture of the table at the top of this post is the glass dessert pyramid. The glasses were imported from London and were full of brightly colored jellies.
This 18th century “jello” was made from the gelatin from calves’ feet and fish, with the addition of nutmeg, mace, sugar and fruit flavors. The red color was made with cochineal (tiny bugs), green with spinach juice, and yellow from saffron.
When Do Tickets For The Mount Vernon Christmas Candlelight Tour 2023 Go On Sale?
Tickets for Mount Vernon by Candlelight and the Mount Vernon Illumination go on sale October 2, 2023.
Fun Fact: George Washington bought up to 50 pounds of chocolate bricks each year. Hot chocolate was a favorite holiday treat, made with ground cocoa, spices, hot water and a little sugar, then frothed.
Dates & Cost for Mount Vernon Christmas Candlelight Tour
The dates for the Christmas at Mount Vernon Candlelight Tour in 2023 are:
(5:30 to 8:30 p.m.)
✅ November 24 and 25
✅ December 1 and 2
✅ December 8 and 9
✅ December 17
Cost for Mount Vernon by Candlelight tour
Members: $28 adult, $20 youth
Non-members: $38 adult, $30 youth
Mount Vernon Christmas Illumination 2023
Another special family-friendly event that occurs during the holiday season is the Mount Vernon Christmas Illumination.
You can enjoy fireworks over the Potomac River and see George Washington’s mansion aglow in a beautiful amber light.
Other festivities include classic holiday music and patriotic inspirational quotes on the Bowling Green, we well as seasons greetings from General Washington himself.
Food and holiday drinks are available from the Mount Vernon Inn Food Truck, and you can warm up in the Donald. W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center.
✅ The Illumination will be held December 15 and 16 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Note: Tickets go on sale October 2 and they usually sell out.
Mount Vernon Illumination Cost
Adult with Mansion Tour: $50, No Tour: $48
Youth with Mansion Tour: $28, No Tour: $26
Adult with Mansion Tour: $60, No Tour: $58
Youth with Mansion Tour: $38, No Tour: $36
Why Is There A Camel At Mount Vernon?
If you’ve ever visited Mount Vernon over the Christmas holiday, you’ve met Aladdin, the camel.
But you may be wondering, ‘Why is there a camel at Mount Vernon?’
According to records, George Washington paid 18 shillings to bring a camel to Mount Vernon to entertain his guests in 1787.
Aladdin the visiting camel at Mount Vernon is about 16 years old. He has been Mount Vernon’s Christmas camel every holiday season since he was eleven months old.
This camel is 7 feet tall and weighs about 1400 pounds.
Does Mount Vernon Decorate For Christmas?
Lots of people ask if Mount Vernon is decorated for Christmas.
The answer is yes… and no.
Yes, volunteer crews are busy at work well before the Christmas holiday, spreading holiday cheer by installing and decorating 12 themed Christmas trees on the property.
Ten of those can be found in the Orientation Center and two in the Education Center. (They are spectacular).
To go along with the trees, they have 150 poinsettias that add to the Christmas spirit and festive holiday look.
On the other hand, the only changes in the Mansion house at Mount Vernon for the Christmas holiday is that the New Room is set up to reflect a holiday dining scenario in mid-November. (Shown in photo near the top of this post)
I was amazed at how smoothly the Mount Vernon Christmas Candlelight Tours ran despite the large numbers of people who buy tickets.
I learned that they have 18 to 20 volunteers who assist for each of the seven evenings, and 8 to 10 volunteers for each of the two nights of Illuminations.
In December of 2022, volunteers provided 671.5 hours over nine nights to help with Candlelight tours or Illuminations. Another 13 volunteers donated 50.5 hours decorating of the trees.
Other Mount Vernon Christmas Candlelight Tour Facts
➡️ How many candles illuminate the way?
There are approximately 150 to 175 candles lit at dusk each night.
➡️ How long does it take to light them all?
It takes approximately 45 minutes to light all of the candles in the lanterns along the path during the Mount Vernon Candlelight tour.
➡️ How many people visit Mount Vernon each night for the special holiday events?
Christmas Illuminations: Two evenings guaranteed to sell out every year at 2400 guests
Candlelight Tours run seven evenings across four weekends. In 2022, Mount Vernon Christmas tours entertained 7,469 guests
More Information About Mount Vernon Candlelight Tours
The Mount Vernon Christmas Candlelight Tours and Christmas Illuminations are outdoor walking experiences at night, so be prepared for low temperatures and uneven walkways.
The Illumination event also includes moving lights, amplified music, and musket firing demonstrations.
Parking is free.
Although they enjoy pets during the day, Mount Vernon does not allow pets at the evening events.
Need A Place To Stay Near Mount Vernon?
Wrap-Up Of Mount Vernon Christmas Candlelight Tour
The Mount Vernon Christmas Tour is different from a regular tour, not only because it’s at night by candlelight, but also because of the stories that are told.
George Washington and his wife Martha were interesting figures, who entertained guests at Mount Vernon regularly. It’s really educational to learn more about their private lives and how the holidays were celebrated in the 18th century.
If you’re looking for an event to help kick off the holiday season with the whole family, take a look at the Mount Vernon Christmas Candlelight tour.
Mount Vernon is located roughly 15 miles south of Washington, D.C. and 8 miles south of Alexandria, VA.
The Candlelight Tour is one of the best Christmas events near Washington DC.
Other Washington Historic Sites
There are a lot of historic sites related to George Washington that few people know about. For instance, the abandoned town of Matildaville near Great Falls, is part of Washington’s legacy.
Another interesting site if the first monument built to Washington, which is a stone tower that stands near Boonsboro, Maryland.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary ticket to Mount Vernon, but the opinion here is my own.