Christmas Begins at Meadow Brook Hall

by ELENA DURNBAUGH

The estate glitters in the dusk, and the sound of crooners singing Christmas classics drifts across the lawn to welcome visitors. Inside, fireplaces burn cheerfully and ornaments sparkle.

Meadow Brook invites everyone to experience its 47th annual holiday walk from now, through Sunday, December 23. Guests can tour the decorated National Historic Landmark and enjoy bonfires, strolling carolers, warm holiday drinks, and S’mores as part of the “Holiday Lights and Winter Nights” tour.

“The whole house turns into an unreal Christmas experience,” Pete Townsend, a volunteer at Meadow Brook, said.

The Great Estate has more than 50 trees on display, including a 10-foot tall Poinsettia tree created with 150 live plants. Outside, people can visit the playhouses of Frances and Danny Dodge, which are also decorated for the holidays.

Touring the estate gives visitors a glimpse of Christmases past. Constructed between 1926 and 1929, Meadow Brook Hall was the home of Matilda Dodge Wilson and her family. The 110-room mansion is one of the best examples of Tudor-revival style architecture in America and is known for its craftsmanship and architectural detail.

Apart from its historical significance, Meadow Brook holds special memories for people, especially at Christmastime.

Beverly Miller, a Meadow Brook member, attended the holiday walk preview on Tuesday. She graduated as part of Oakland University’s first class in 1963 and recalls attending parties at The Hall when she was a student.

“Mr. and Mrs. Wilson were always so kind,” Miller said. “It was just a fairy tale… I’ll always remember that.”

Dave Calendine is a volunteer organist at Meadow Brook and has played Christmas songs at the holiday walk for ten years.

“It’s something I look forward to each Christmas,” he said. “Coming out and giving the old organ a whirl.”

At the holiday walk preview, Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett spoke about Meadow Brook’s special place in the community.

“Every time I’m here, I’m thankful that Mrs. Wilson believed in legacy,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like the holidays really start until we do this event.”

It takes a small army of volunteers to transform the house for the holiday walk. According to Nick Campbell, Visitor Services Manager at Meadow Brook, it took more than a dozen people three days to decorate the inside of the house. Another team started decorating the grounds weeks ago.

“Every year we outdo ourselves, and this year is no exception,” said Shannon O’Berski, Director of External Relations at Meadow Brook Hall.

New this year, visitors can learn about the Wilsons’ favorite Christmas memories on “Cleo’s Candy Adventure.” Inspired by the family’s beloved St. Bernard, kids will enjoy following the candy trail from the Fountain Room to Knole Cottage. They can also visit Santa’s Workshop in Danny’s Cabin, where a mailbox is set up to send wish lists to Santa at the North Pole.

From December 21-23, Santa himself will visit Meadow Brook for “Family Festivities.” Parents and kids can take photos with Santa and visit live reindeer. They’ll be at The Hall from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on December 21 and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on December 22-23.

This year, Meadow Brook is a contender for USA Today’s Best Holiday Historic Home Tour. People can vote online for The Hall at 10best.com until December 10.

Self-guided tours are available from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout the season and on select nights in December until 8 p.m. Last admittance for tours is one hour before closing. Admission between November 23 and December 20 is $20 for adults and $7.50 for children ages 6-12. Kids under 5 are free. “Family Festivities,” December 21-23, costs $22.50 for adults and $10 for children. Reservations are not required, and proceeds go toward the preservation and interpretation of Meadow Brook Hall.

To learn more about the holiday walk, call 248-364-6200 or visit meadowbrookhall.org/.