Christmas at the Biltmore

Maybe it was because we visited The Biltmore on the fourth day of my friends’ visit to Asheville and I was exhausted from four days of going at it. Maybe it was because it was one of those late fall days that starts cold but ends warm so I was walking through a mansion with a fireplace in every room in a wool sweater on what ended up being an almost 60 degree night. Maybe it’s because while my boy Joe Biden won the Presidency two days prior, I was still grappling with the fact that over 74 million people willingly voted for Trump. Whatever the reason, I chose to view my holiday visit to the Biltmore through a Scrooge-like lens.

Let’s start with the underwhelming aspects of this joyous festival of lights: the lights themselves. I thought for some reason there’d be more, and that’s probably on me for not doing enough research. All the buildings in Deer Park Village, our first stop on our Biltmore tour, were lined with lights, but no more than your average shopping center. The only thing really outstanding there was several hanging walls of lights just off the side of the village to seemingly satiate “influencers.”

What I’d been excited about, was walking around the decorated grounds, but the decorated grounds consist of one giant, decorated tree on the Biltmore lawn. It’s pretty, but it’s one pretty, giant decorated tree on one very gigantic lawn. And the lawn’s drive is lined with votive candle filled paper bags. I’m sure that takes much time and effort, but my hometown does this at Christmas too, deploying many more bags. I guess I was expected something over the top, but they went for understated and classy. That’s not my Christmas light vibe. If I’m paying good money to see your lights, I want the Clark Griswald show. I want tacky. I want excessive. I want them to make the neighbor wonder why her carpet is all wet!

When I visited the Biltmore this past summer, I thought they did a good job of making you feel like you could visit a large tourist attraction safely. I’m not sure I could say that about this particular attraction after our Christmas walk through. While they only let so many people in at a time, once we were inside every room was packed. And every room seemed to be packed with people who didn’t seem to give a shit whether or not they stood on top of you or not. As someone who enjoys their personal space, I’d find that frustrating during the best of times. I think as someone who enjoys personal space and has gotten used to it being strictly enforced, combined with the aforementioned wool sweater amongst the roaring fires, I became irritated.

I’ve been out and about in the world. That’s well documented here. And I willingly went to the biggest tourist attraction in town in the midst of a pandemic to see some Victorian Christmas trees. I don’t really have the strongest leg to stand on when it comes to judging others for eschewing social distancing and mask usage, but since hypocrisy is an American right, let’s get at it: I think what really enraged me was how many people at the Biltmore were bumping up right into you with masks beneath their nose. I kept thinking, as I walked through the house sweating my god damn ass off, that these were probably some of the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump. What enraged me more was that here I was amongst them, prioritizing giving a large corporation money in order to do what they do every day: cling to the pretense of “the way things were.” Linus, of a Charlie Brown’s Christmas fame, would’ve been sorely disappointed (which is fine…I always found him a little sanctimonious).

You know what wasn’t disappointing and the sad highlight of my night? Going back to my apartment with my friends once we’d taken in all the festivities and ordering a Papa John’s extra cheesy alfredo pizza. It’s really, really good. Like, if fancy garlic bread, spinach artichoke dip, and pizza had a baby, it would be a Papa John’s alfredo pizza. I never thought I’d be sitting here pontificating on how great a Papa John’s pizza is, but we are living in unprecedented times. Merry Christmas, indeed.

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