Deck the halls at Holkham
Filled with exquisite decorations and festive cheer, Holkham Hall is transformed into a twinkling treasure at Christmas – but a great deal of planning is put into designing the seasonal spectacle each year…
A spectacular 18th century jewel set within 25,000 acres of rolling parkland, farmland, and coastline, Holkham Hall is regarded as a remarkable example of English architecture and design. The magnificent Palladian mansion is one of Norfolk’s greatest attractions, famous for its beautiful interiors, glorious gardens and rich history, but it is always at its most magical during the festive season.
Since they were launched in 2011, Holkham’s enchanting Candlelit Tours have become unmissable events for those wanting to experience a true Norfolk Christmas. An array of the hall’s striking corridors and state rooms are decked with twinkling lights, opulent displays, and fabulous Christmas trees every year, with each seasonal showcase surpassing the last.
The event is hosted by the Countess of Leicester who, along with talented designer Catherine Zoll, spends almost an entire year planning and executing the building’s breathtaking transformation.
“We started Holkham by Candlelight because we all felt the hall would lend itself so well to being decorated for Christmas; little did we know what we let ourselves in for!” says Lady Leicester. “Our visitors come knowing that decorations will be different each year. We don’t have an overall theme as this makes the concept too rigid, and we tend to come up with some of our best ideas over the months preceding Christmas.”
Preparations for Christmas at Holkham begin as early as January, when Lady Leicester and Catherine visit Christmasworld in Frankfurt to gather inspiration for room sets, installations and showpieces. Festive decorations are crafted and collected throughout the spring and summer, with many props from previous years thoughtfully reused in innovative ways. Collaborating with a team of volunteers, passionate local makers and the leading winter effects company Snow Business, the creative duo strive to create a truly enchanting atmosphere. It’s only when November arrives that everything is put in place, marking the busiest four weeks in Holkham’s calendar.
“We work to make the whole effect magical by designing a multi-sensory experience to inspire and wow visitors,” says Catherine. “Each year the façade of the hall is illuminated by Audio Resolution, allowing us to play around with colour on a normally imposing piece of architecture. The lighting sets the scene for what we hope will be a special journey through the state rooms, which are filled with floral displays, magnificent trees, scents, music, and exciting installations to put you in the mood for the festive season.”
Each tour begins in the splendid columned Marble Hall, which is filled with more than 14 glittering Christmas trees, the sweet scent of pine and melodic live piano music. Guests are welcomed with a glass of prosecco and a warm mince pie before being guided through the stunning state rooms, learning about the inspiration behind each setting. The team always aspires to push the boundaries with astounding new designs, so both first-time and regular visitors never know what to expect. 2022 saw the hall’s grand statue gallery transformed into a snowy alpine village, with cool temperatures, enthralling sound effects, real silver birch trees and 130 charming wooden houses combining to create a winter wonderland. Other highlights included a patriotic jubilee room to honour the late Queen Elizabeth II, an inventive moss room inspired by the estate’s natural elements, a buzzing bee-themed tea party room and a vibrant jungle corridor.
“Although it’s often nerve wracking coming up with new ideas each year, it is very satisfying seeing our visions put into practice and translated into a reality,” says Lady Leicester. “I also look forward to seeing the hall staff and external volunteers who help with decoration. It’s a stressful time during set up, but working with such a great team is a real joy and we all face the challenges together.”
With November here at last, a festive feel is in the air and Holkham’s marvellous Christmas makeover has begun. All hands are on deck to make 2023 the hall’s greatest display yet, with tradition set to be combined with a vibrant modern take on Christmas.
“There will be some real showstoppers this year, including everything from a beautiful winter wedding room to projections and pop art. We always hide Father Christmas in one of the state rooms too and he is great fun to spot,” says Catherine. “As Lady Leicester says, my favourite part of Christmas is working with the brilliant team to create spectacular room sets. I also love welcoming visitors to our candlelight experiences. Watching people’s eyes light up when they enter the Marble Hall is magical, and hearing the pianist play carols over a sea of clinking glasses is pretty special too.”
A spellbinding event designed to inspire and bring people together, Holkham Hall by Candlelight embodies everything Christmas is meant to be about. For more information, or to book tickets, visit Holkham Hall’s website at www.holkham.co.uk.