Behind the scenes at Chatsworth's Christmas lights display
Christmas begins with a visit to see the decorations at Chatsworth – and this year 20 Christmasses have been rolled into one magical show.
The best parts of festive displays from the past two decades have been reinterpreted for 2021 and are now on show.
A giant 24ft fir tree decorated with 2,000 baubles greets visitors in the Painted Hall, the Inner Court is blanketed in snow, the state dining room table is ablaze with vibrant floral displays, pulled crackers and party poppers and Jack’s beanstalk rises from a staircase.
In the Oak Room, mischievous weasels raid a box of decorations while Mr Toad relaxes in front of a fire.
Showstoppers this year include a life-size music box which takes pride of place in the chapel and the outdoor snow scene, complete with flurries, is reminiscent of Narnia.
Suzie Stokoe, head of textiles, is creative lead on designing Christmas at Chatsworth. She said: “We really wanted to capture the magic and nostalgia of Christmas.
“For me, Christmas is a time when it’s the Chatsworth family all pulling together on a common project. The florists have done the flowers on the dining table, the conservation assistants have made papercut figures for The 12 Days of Christmas, the garden team have got the trees in and the house team do the fake fireplaces. There is a pride throughout the people who work here in what we deliver. This is what Christmas is all about and that’s what I enjoy.”
Suzie described the run-up to opening day as ‘a bit of a juggernaut’. The staff have to dress the house in its Christmas finery when visitors aren’t around as well as keeping up to speed with their principal jobs.
But the dedication that the Chatsworth family puts into making a magical experience for the public is rewarded by the interest that the Christmas event attracts.
Suzie said: “Christmas was so difficult for everyone last year so this year there is a real desire and a need to get out and have a lovely time with friends and family. We broke records on social media within three and a half hours for this season.”
Visitors will notice a couple of features missing from The Magic of Christmas display compared to previous years as part of measures to minimise the risk of Covid infection.
Suzie said: “We can’t have wish trees, which are something much loved at Chatsworth, because people stop and read them, share pencils and share the desk.”
Actors are also absent to avoid bottlenecks of groups of people taking photos and because of budget restrictions.
Ironically, the theme for 2020 was Happy Christmas and staff hoped that the public would see their sparkling work. Suzie said: “We found out three days before we opened that we wouldn’t be opening, so we decided to finish it anyway. Walking through and switching the lights off was sad because we then went into lockdown.”
The Magic of Christmas takes the story full circle. This year’s display celebrates two decades since Chatsworth House first opened for the festive season to help revive the tourism industry which was badly affected by foot and mouth disease in 2001.
Tickets for the event, which runs until January 9, are available from www.chatworth.org.