Note: This post was originally published on November 26, 2018 and updated on December 28, 2022
The most celebrated Newport cottage of the Gilded Age gets dressed for the holidays
Each year, The Preservation Society of Newport County hosts Holidays at the Newport Mansions. The Breakers, The Elms, and Marble House are decorated in full holiday splendor to celebrate the Christmas season. In addition to daily mansion tours, visitors can also participate in special Holiday Evenings or Santa Sundays.
I visited The Breakers mansion last week to see New England’s most grand oceanside estate. Built by the Vanderbilt family, The Breakers is a monument to the grandeur of the Vanderbilt empire, as well as the pinnacle of America’s Gilded Age.
I’ve already done this tour a handful of times, but it’s the most beautiful to see The Breakers and the other nouveau riche “summer cottages” on Bellevue Avenue decorated for the holidays. I also feel like I pick up on new pieces of trivia from the audio tour.
Visit The Preservation Society of Newport County’s website to purchase tickets and learn more information on Holidays at the Newport Mansions and other year-round events.
After visiting so many different chateaus in France—Versailles, Fontainebleau, Chantilly, Chambord, and Chenonceau to date—it’s interesting to make the connections between the original French historical design and architecture versus the historicist interpretation in Newport.
On a personal note, Christmas in Newport is special.
In years past, I worked retail during holiday shopping strolls, helping clients find special gifts to put under the tree while serving cabernet sauvignon or homemade glogg (Swedish mulled wine).
There would always be a Christmas party somewhere at a friend’s house, just a stumble along Spring Street or Bellevue Avenue. If you knew anyone who worked at one of the major restaurants in town, you had to find a way to crash their holiday parties.
Nearly every shop is decorated with fresh garland and well-adorned wreaths. There are porcelain ornaments hanging on the branches—the real ones, not the cheap ones.
Even if the streets are buried in three feet of snow, it seems like every interior you enter is warm. Yes, obviously the heat is blasting and you’re numb from walking in the Newport cold, but there’s something else.
Maybe it’s the nice feeling you get from seeing at least one person you know and having a polite conversation about your holiday plans. Maybe it’s the laugh you get from seeing tourists inappropriately dressed for the weather and completely unprepared for the biting windchill on a December night.
Maybe it’s that extra “splash of wine” you had before leaving the last bar and how the corners of your smile slip more easily to meet your eyelids around midnight.
It’s always a bit strange coming to Newport as a non-resident. I never managed to stay in the state on a long enough, permanent basis to be an official Rhode Islander with the license plate, but this place still feels the most like home wherever I am in the world.
Seeing The Breakers during Christmastime is a far cry from my old Newport nights, but the decorated trees, light, and warmth make me reminisce about what used to be.
Remember to visit The Preservation Society of Newport County’s website to purchase tickets and learn more information on Holidays at the Newport Mansions and other year-round events.