Week 7: Mount Vernon

Museum mission: The mission of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association is to preserve, restore and manage the estate of George Washington to the highest standards and to educate visitors and people throughout the world about the life and legacies of George Washington, so that his example of character and leadership will continue to inform and inspire future generations.

Three days before Christmas, I spent three hours and 45 minutes visiting Mount Vernon with my parents. (If we had not been hungry, and wanting to eat at an offsite restaurant, we could have stayed all day without running out of things to see.) With the historic mansion tour, the self-paced exhibits in the education center, and the grounds with their flora and fauna, it felt like three museums in one.

We were excited for “Christmas at Mount Vernon,” which would feature holiday décor in the mansion, special activities, and a camel onsite. The mansion was not elaborately decorated as we had expected, though the dining room table did feature special desserts, such as a fruit tower shaped like a tree and a cake shaped like a porcupine.

Dove of Peace tree and George Washington: Surveyor themed Christmas trees in the Ford Orientation Center

Dove of Peace tree and George Washington: Surveyor themed Christmas trees in the Ford Orientation Center, Mount Vernon

In the Ford Orientation Center and the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, however, Christmas trees and poinsettias were everywhere. And outside, visitors could meet the Christmas camel.

There may not have been Christmas trees in the mansion, but there was mansion in the Christmas trees. Each tree had a different theme that related to George Washington or his estate. Some of the ornaments were items available for sale in the gift shop. Many others were evocative of objects seen on the tour or in the museum exhibits.

The Little Parlor tree was decorated with musical instruments and sheet music. In the mansion, we saw the Little Parlor with its piano and heard about how Washington loved music and dancing. A horn was on display in the Reynolds Museum and Education Center.

A tree representing George Washington’s study boasted such festive objects as scrolls, books, and ornaments showing Washington at his desk. In the actual study, we learned that Washington owned almost 800 books (incidentally, about the same number I own), and we saw the chair where some of his pivotal decision making took place. The museum displayed the organization’s newly acquired treasure, George Washington’s signed and annotated copy of the Constitution.

Hoecakes and Hospitality themed trees in the Reynolds Museum and Education Center

Hoecakes and Hospitality themed trees in the Reynolds Museum and Education Center, Mount Vernon

There were Hoecakes and Hospitality trees that corresponded with the Hoecakes and Hospitality exhibit, which explores the related topics of food and hosting guests in Martha Washington’s Mount Vernon. I picked up a few brochures with recipes on them, and as part of the special holiday programming, I was given a free sample of hot chocolate.

My favorite tree was the Dove of Peace tree, covered with dove ornaments and standing next to a replica of the dove weathervane on the cupola of the mansion. We saw the real thing while viewing the outside of the mansion, a replica with explanatory text in the exhibit, and a tree topper version for sale in the gift shop.

As for my parents, my father described the Christmas trees as “ribbony” and “old-fashioned,” and my mother said they were “theme-based, gold, and red.”


December’s blog theme is There’s No Place Like Historic Homes for the Holidays!


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
This entry was posted in Museums and Holidays, Weekly Museum Visits Part III and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Week 7: Mount Vernon

  1. Carol says:

    You didn’t mention that your dad missed out on the samples of chocolate because he was waiting for your mom who takes forever in any exhibit.

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