Home for the Holidays

Here’s something Democrats and Republicans can agree on — the time-honored elegance of holiday events at the governors’ homes in Raleigh and Columbia. 

North Carolina

Set amid acres of lawns and gardens in Raleigh, North Carolina’s Executive Mansion was completed in 1891 and, at about 30,000 square feet, is the third-largest governor’s mansion in the United States. Designed by Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan, the building features exterior details like ornamental wooden spindles, a series of steeply pitched roofs and ornate wooden “gingerbread” decorating eaves and porches, making it a picture-perfect example of the Queen Anne-style of Victorian architecture. When possible, designers utilized local materials for the home: the front steps were carved from Cherokee County marble, the sandstone that trims windows and doors came from Anson County and North Carolina timber was used to frame the structure. During your visit, look closely at the bricks — formed and fired by prison inmates, who drew their names into the wet clay bricks before placing them into the oven. Many of the names can still be read today. 

From Dec. 6-9, Governor Roy Cooper and First Lady Kristin Cooper open the governor’s mansion for a holiday open house. North Carolina grown Christmas trees, floral and mixed evergreen arrangements and ornate mantel displays decorate the first floor and local music groups provide entertainment. Floral designer and event planner Mel Day, of Dogwood Tree Floral Designs, directs the mansion’s holiday transformation, and says that most of the greenery is collected directly from the mansion grounds.

Several days after the open house, the first couple will light the state Christmas tree, which is located on the grounds of the State Capitol. The event is followed by a holiday festival that includes an open house in the capitol as well as music and museum tours. All events are free. 

While you’re in town: Visit the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts for special holiday performances like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical, A Christmas Carol and The Raleigh Ringers Holiday Concert. In addition, the Mordecai Historic Park offers a Holiday Lantern Tour Dec. 9 and a holiday open house on Dec. 9 and 10. 

South Carolina

Housed in what was once the officers’ quarters of the former Arsenal Military Academy, the South Carolina Governor’s Mansion will welcome guests for a holiday open house on Monday, Dec. 4, from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. This year, Governor Henry McMaster and First Lady Peggy McMaster will attend and greet guests as they arrive.

For more than 30 years, the Columbia Garden Club has been charged with decorating the mansion and work on the project begins in the spring.

According to decorating co-chair Martha Morris, Governor McMaster’s interest in South Carolina’s native plants, trees and wildlife was the catalyst for this year’s theme, which will focus on the natural beauty of South Carolina. The group began collecting the sea shells, pine cones, acorns and branches used throughout the home in early spring. Smilax, magnolia, pittosporum, cedar, hemlock and other native greenery for the mansion’s mantels, tables, doors and windows are hand-gathered from yards and wooded areas just after Thanksgiving. 

To celebrate the state’s many talented artists, the main Christmas tree in the large parlor will be hung with a collection of ornaments created by local artisans. For 2017, the team will also create a special tree for birds featuring bird houses, seed wreaths and other avian attractors. 

The Open House is preceded by the Governor’s Carolighting on Monday, Nov. 27, which features the lighting of the state Christmas tree, carol singing and other musical performances. The event is held on the plaza in front of the State House. All events are free. 

While you’re in town: Historic Columbia hosts a variety of family-friendly holiday events from Nov. 17, 2017 to Jan. 7, 2018. Choose from historic house tours, candlelight tours and carriage rides, breakfast with Santa and a Santa signing. 

To visit Columbia or Raleigh, contact your local AAA Travel Agent at 800-398-0379 or stop by your nearest AAA Travel office. 

(Illustrations by Ingrid Zahora and Arielle Bailey)


(Go Magazine Nov/Dec 2017)

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