The most wonderful time of the year is especially wonderful at Reynolda House Museum of American Art. The historic Reynolda Estate has its roots in the Christmas season. The Reynolds family moved from their Victorian mansion on Fourth Street in downtown Winston-Salem into their country bungalow just in time for Christmas of 1917. That means that Reynolda House has been inhabited, either by a family or by the public, for one hundred years this December. Given this major anniversary, Reynolda has spent its centennial year celebrating the estate’s rich history, while revitalizing its traditions with an eye to the next century. There is no better example of this revitalization than the 2017 Centennial Christmas season.
“New scholarship about the time period of the home and enhanced decorations will help to further immerse our guests in the history and intimate beauty of the home and its collection,” says Chris Jordan, Director of Public Programs.
“Christmastime at Reynolda is always special, but this year, with the added excitement surrounding the centennial, there is something palpable in the air. New scholarship about the time period of the home and enhanced decorations will help to further immerse our guests in the history and intimate beauty of the home and its collection,” says Chris Jordan, Director of Public Programs.
One of the major elements of Reynolda’s signature holiday decor has always been the fresh Magnolia boughs, which adorn the stairs of the Reception Hall. This year, Reynolda will incorporate a variety of greenery into its holiday design: plants such as hemlock and spruce will diversify the Christmas decor.
“It turns out certain decorations that we thought were not popularized until the post-War era were actually used earlier,” explains Chris Jordan.
An example of such decorations are metallic garlands, which will be added to banisters traditionally only adorned with Magnolia boughs. Reynolda’s splendid holiday decor, from the mistletoe to the Christmas trees, is going to be magnified this season to further enhance the nostalgic experience of Christmas at Reynolda.
Reynolda has always been a blend of tradition and innovation, and the Centennial Christmas is a perfect example of this. For longtime lovers of Christmas at Reynolda, the beloved yearly tradition of “A Christmas Memory” continues. This iconic Reynolda event has become a Christmas tradition for many families, who flock to Reynolda to see Robin Voiers perform this adaptation of Truman Capote’s holiday story.
Reynolda’s holiday tours are another family favorite. Though the historic house is decorated for Christmas from November 21 until December 31, the holiday tours are a special opportunity to see Reynolda through the eyes of the Reynolds family. These Christmas tours whisk audiences back in time, as costumed interpreters share anecdotes about Christmas celebrations at Reynolda. In the past, these tours have focused on Reynolds-era Christmas celebrations. This year, the holiday traditions of the second generation, the Babcock family, will add to the storytelling.
The Centennial Christmas tours, “A 1917 Christmas,” will feature a new character: a “party-goer” will greet guests in the basement, a young woman who represents the lavish and fun-loving Babcock lifestyle. If the Reception Hall of Reynolda represents the Reynolds era, the basement reflects the Babcock era. This basement, with its rubberized floors for roller skating, shooting gallery, bowling alley, and Streamlined Modern bar, was clearly built for entertaining. The 1940s-esque party-goer will tell visitors about recreation at Reynolda. One beloved anecdote about Babcock-era festivities goes something like this: Mary Babcock planned a “hen party” for herself and some female friends. The Reynolda Archives have a letter in which Mary gives her housekeeper specific instructions for the event:
“At Reynolda at 10:00 [p.m.] for basement fun. Have water put in pool if possible. Will need a pin boy for bowling, maid at door, man in bar, Popcorn, Cheese & crackers on table, Cigarettes (figure pack per person) . . . Would like some man we know to sleep at house that night. Someone from the farm will be fine—
(not the minister).”
Who else will you meet on a Christmas tour at Reynolda? The cast of characters includes a nurse, a schoolteacher, and a butler. Though the tour highlights entertainment at Reynolda, life wasn’t all fun and games for the Reynolds family. The Christmas tours provide insight into the complexities of World War-Era life and discuss the untimely deaths of the Reynoldses. “A 1917 Christmas” shares the stories of the Reynolds family as a lens to see American life at the time. The tour highlights Katharine Smith Reynolds’s charitable contributions to the community, particularly during the holiday season. However, it wouldn’t be a trip to Reynolda without acknowledgement of the family’s immense wealth, so visitors get to oogle various Christmas gifts exchanged between family members. Among the perennial favorites: R.J. Reynolds’s fur coat and Barbara Babcock Millhouse’s ornate dollhouse. After the tour, enjoy refreshments in the reception gallery.
Holidays at Reynolda extend beyond Reynolda House. In fact, all of Reynolda Village lights up for the holiday season. In mid-November, the celebration kicks off with a Village-wide event, the Village Holiday Stroll. To get visitors in the spirit of the season, the family-friendly event features live music and visits with Santa. The Village Tavern, one of Winston-Salem’s most beloved restaurants, is the perfect place to seek respite from winter cold. Holiday shopping can be challenging, but the quaint shops of Reynolda Village offer many unique gifts in a relaxed environment.
Reynolda Gardens celebrates the Christmas season with equal fervor. The Reynoldses were lovers of holiday plants, so the Christmas season is an ideal time to celebrate with a special plant sale. From November 29–December 2, a variety of seasonal plants, from traditional poinsettias to unconventional Christmas cactuses, will be available for sale in the greenhouse. Prefer a more hands-on approach? Reynolda Gardens Education Wing is hosting a Wreath Decorating Workshop.
Reynolda is a beautiful chapter in the American story, and an escape for friends old and new. It is in this spirit that Reynolda offers Caroling Fridays. Starting the Friday after Thanksgiving through the Friday before Christmas, drop by the museum and join in song with other guests in the Reception Hall. Museum staff and special guests will be leading holiday carols around the Aeolian organ, Reynolda’s 2,566 pipe organ.
Christmas at Reynolda is an experience that enlightens the mind and warms the heart. The house echoes the joy and relief that the Reynoldses must have felt when they moved into the home, just in time to celebrate Christmas together. The history of the house comes alive during the season, through theatrical performance, song, and the laughter and conversation of our guests. Don’t miss this special celebration of Centennial Christmas at Reynolda.
REYNOLDA CENTENNIAL CHRISTMAS EVENTS
Tickets available at reynoldahouse.org/holidays.
NOV. 24–DEC. 22
2:45 p.m. each Friday Free with Museum admission. Join friends old and new in the Reception Hall of Reynolda to sing along with Christmas carols played on the Aeolian organ, led by Museum staff and special guests.
TOURS: A 1917 CHRISTMAS Members/students $15 non-Members $20
See the house decorated according to Katharine Reynolds’s instructions and hear festive stories told by costumed actors.
Tuesday afternoons, December 5, 12, and 19
Tours begin every fifteen minutes between 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Evening Tours – Two Nights Only
Friday, December 8 and Saturday, December 9
Tours begin every fifteen minutes between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
A CHRISTMAS MEMORY
SUNDAY DECEMBER 17
4 p.m. Members/students $15 $20 non-Members
For the 31st consecutive year, actress Robin Voiers stars in a one-woman adaptation of A Christmas Memory, Truman Capote’s tale of his own humble childhood and some uniquely quaint holiday traditions.