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Take a Look at These Historic Homes Decorated for Christmas

These Southern landmarks pull out all the stops for the most wonderful time of the year.

The American South might not be able to promise you a snowy Christmas, but if you fancy historic mansions, festooned with garlands, poinsettias, and thousands of lights, we’ve got you covered. These lavishly decorated homes throw open their doors every winter to share the yuletide spirit and make the rest of us jealous. ‘Tis the season!

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Bellingrath Gardens and Home

WHERE: Theodore, Alabama

Year-round, the interior of Bellingrath sparkles with crystal, porcelain, and antique silver. Christmastime ups the ante as garlands, gilt fruit, and seasonal blooms bedazzle the antiques. You might see an 18th-century cut glass dish filled with Christmas candies or an 1880s bust of a personification of Summer with a holly wreath around her neck.

But Bellingrath really wows in its backyard: 3 million lights strung across 65 acres to make over a dozen unique scenes. Mirror Lake reflects lighted swans and water lilies while a section along the river recreates an underwater garden with sea creatures from nearby Mobile Bay.

When: November 29-December 31


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Stetson Mansion

WHERE: DeLand, Florida

You’d never think the extravagant decorations at the Stetson Mansion could be the work of one man. It takes about two solid months, but owner JT Thompson transforms the Gilded Age villa (former home of famed hatmaker John Stetson) into a be-ribboned wonderland. All told, there are around 18 Christmas trees, 24 Nativity scenes, and no partridges but surprisingly several peacocks, a nod to Stetson’s love for the showy birds.

Each room has a dedicated theme. This year, see “A Woodland Escape” evoking winter’s first snowfall in the music room and “A Blue Christmas”—with blue jays—in the parlor. Guided tours elaborate more on the decor than the history, though you’ll pick up some fascinating facts about the home, too, like how it featured one of the world’s first strings of Christmas lights, a gift from Thomas Edison.

When: November 15-January 15


INSIDER TIPEvery piece has a story. Look for items wrecked by Florida hurricanes reborn as Christmas trimmings.

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WHERE: Memphis, Tennessee

Flashy and bright, Graceland comes alive for the holidays with a celebration befitting the King. Elvis Presley’s 17,552-square-foot Memphis home features all his original decorations. As you enter, note the colorful life-size Nativity scene and golden “Merry Christmas to all Elvis” sign suspended above Santa’s sleigh. It’s a teaser for what awaits indoors.

With John Stamos as your audio guide, you’ll tour this unusual home where garlands, trees, and poinsettias mix boldly with shag carpet, stained glass, and monkey statues. Even the weirdly exotic Jungle Room gets a Christmas makeover, and the blue velvet drapes (blue was his favorite color) get swapped out for red, a tradition Elvis started back in the 1960s.

When: Nov. 21-Jan. 8


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WHERE: Asheville, North Carolina

America’s largest home doesn’t scrimp when it comes to getting spruced up for the holidays. The famous chateau boasts some 45,000 lights, 13,500 ornaments, 1,000 bows, and 50 trees. These include a 35-foot fir in the Banquet Hall and two 16-footers at the other end, flanking the triple fireplaces.

Sure, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed as you shuffle from room to room, mesmerized by it all, but save time for the rest of Biltmore. There’s an extra 64 decorated trees scattered across the estate plus wreaths, lights, ribbons, and more. Tour the Conservatory, stacked with poinsettias, or relax in the Winery, where lustrous globes hang above you from the ceiling—like you’re in a glass of Christmas cheer.

When: November 1-January 5

INSIDER TIPStay after sunset when the entire estate glitters. The 55-foot lighted spruce on the front lawn, surrounded by glowing Christmas trees, is magnificent.

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Tate House

WHERE: Tate, Georgia

Known as Georgia’s “Pink Palace” for the rosy hue of its Etowah marble exterior, the Tate House brings Christmas to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains with true panache.

Each room follows a distinct color palette: jewel tones, black-and-gold art deco, copper, champagne. There are 18 trees, no two alike, miles of garlands and more bulbs and baubles than you can count. Understated, it’s not, but the decor manages to be tasteful, even when you’re standing in the heavily pink sunroom, eye-to-eye with a life-size Santa, or admiring the dining room centerpiece, a Cadillac convertible for St. Nick and his bride.

When: December 1-21


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WHERE: Meridian, Mississippi

A tradition since 1968, the Trees of Christmas take over Merrehope each winter, filling 27 rooms in two 19th-century homes on the property.

This year’s theme features live music and trees with names like “Silent Night” and “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” the latter potted in a clawfoot tub. Your program points out historical and design details, but it’s enough just to admire the clever decorations: “Blue Christmas,” hung with glassy teardrops; “Silver Bells,” refulgent with mirrors and, yes, silver bells. A partridge tops “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” decked with jeweled pears, rings, drummers and the rest of the lyrical entourage.

The signature tree, “White Christmas,” holds court in Merrehope’s floor-to-ceiling bay window. White silk and pale netting swathe this 12-foot evergreen, flecked with faux snow, holly and clusters of ornaments that seem to float, set on a shimmering sequined base.

When: November 22-December 30

INSIDER TIPAs you walk between the homes, don’t miss the bonus trees outside, including lighted mini evergreens in antique urns, a bottle tree, and branches strung with edible ornaments for the birds.

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Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens

WHERE: Houston, Texas

Bayou Bend takes a spunkier spin on Christmas decor. There’s a 90-foot faux snow slide on the main lawn, an arena for cotton “snowballs” fights, and a 3D projection of Santa climbing up (and repeatedly falling off) the side of the 1920s mansion. A rather judgy Rudolph stands at the bottom, hooves on hips, next to an 18-foot wrecked sleigh and scattered presents.

So you might expect the setup inside to be a little unusual, too. And it is. It’s festive and frolicsome, down to the room filled with elves, but don’t expect a guide droning on about history. Instead, live actors present an immersive, theatrical tour of the ground floor.

When: December 12-30

INSIDER TIPSnap a photo of the Victorian village outside, complete with a handcrafted model train, beneath a towering evergreen decked with 1,000 ornaments.

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Callanwolde Fine Arts Center

WHERE: Atlanta, Georgia

It’s hard to downplay the glamor of this Tudor Revival mansion, former home of Coca-Cola president Howard Candler and later host to foreign dignitaries and film crews. And it’s never quite so grand as during the holidays when it becomes the Christmas at Callanwolde Designer Show House and Holiday Market.

No gaudy baubles here. A team of designers and florists transform the stately rooms into templates for holiday greeting cards. Each has one or more live trees, dressed to the nines, and surrounding spaces, like lamps, windows, sideboards, and mantles, get equally custom treatment. Callanwolde’s naturally rich details—bronze balustrades, walnut paneling—heighten the effect.

When: November 29-December 7

INSIDER TIPIf you want to take home some of this Pinterest-worthy elegance, sign up for one of their three workshops, where you can craft your own centerpiece, wreath, or floral arrangement with the help of an expert.

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Burroughs Home & Gardens

WHERE: Fort Myers, Florida

A turn-of-the-century luxury house, the Burroughs Home & Gardens is Christmas at its most classic. Garlands and bows trim the picket fence, windows, and wraparound porch. Tiny renderings of reindeer, elves, and snowmen make frequent appearances indoors.

This year’s theme is “Colors of Christmas.” Expect startling shades of reds and greens plus blue, purple, orange, and fuchsia, harmonized with gold accents. There are a few throwbacks to previous themes if you know what to look for, like a nutcracker in each of the 11 decorated rooms. Santa is there nightly, accepting wish lists from naughty and nice alike.

When: December 7-22

INSIDER TIPYour admission includes access to the historic Langford-Kingston Home across the street, where the six signature colors are just as bright, this time accented with silver.

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