Where did the idea for this year's advent theme originate?

Chatsworth is known locally as the 'Palace of the Peaks'. We noticed that there were 24 rooms on the visitor route, and 24 rooms overlooking the South Lawn - the house was just waiting to become an advent calendar!

How far in advance do you start planning the theme?

We finalise a theme two years in advance and start the serious planning details about one year in advance.

Each year, we aim to create the most memorable and magical experience possible and to do that properly, and to do each theme justice, takes a lot of planning.

As well as making many of the decorations and installations ourselves, we work closely with artists and makers on special commissions and bespoke artworks for the route. This year, we have pieces by fine artist, Bethan Maddocks, and digital artist, Leavon Archer.

What’s a future theme you would love to see in the house? 

We are already working on Christmas 2024 and have two further ideas for the future in the pipeline – which of course we can’t possibly share details of just yet as it would spoil the surprise.

How many Christmas trees do you need to decorate? 

We have 48 trees in the house – 28 are artificial and are reused year on year.

We have 20 real trees, including two majestic 24ft trees in the Painted Hall and Chapel.  Our trees are British-grown and we use Nordmann Fir trees in the house, as they are thought to be the best at keeping their needles. We use Norway Spruce trees outdoors in the Stables and farmyard.

This year, for the first time, we also have a mince pie tree in the house consisting of 300 mince pies, but all that needs is a dusting of icing sugar!

Who gets the huge trees into the house and how?

The trees are brought in by our house and landscape teams (very carefully) and then hoisted into place. It’s hard work and can take up to two days to get them all into position.

This year, due to the wet weather, the trees were sodden which made them even heavier. We had to wait a day for them to dry out before we could start lighting them. 

How long does the decorating take? 

Decorating takes two weeks and we do the bulk of it the week before we launch Christmas.

This year, we offered special behind-the-scenes Christmas tours when the house was closed so visitors had the opportunity to see us in action.

While it’s a year-round job, we start production proper in the summer – so while everyone else is buying buckets and spades and ice creams, we’re wiring baubles, making papier mache snowmen, sewing Christmas stockings and much more.

What part of the decorating takes the longest? 

Lighting our big trees can take around 4-6 hours each. Our biggest trees are 24-foot and we have several 18-foot trees too.

To get to the top we need to build scaffolding towers which we then reposition as we light the trees. It’s a time-consuming job that requires patience and a certain amount of skill, as we have to manoeuvre around the house and the Collections.

How many baubles do you think you have on all the trees and where are they from?

We estimate that we use around 20,000 baubles across all our trees. Incredibly, there are 4,000 baubles on the Painted Hall tree alone.

We have a considerable stock of baubles and we reuse most of them every year. It’s really important to us that we recycle and reuse as much as we can. As well as being sustainable, it adds another layer of history to the experience; there are some baubles that we made or commissioned for a previous year’s theme that both the team and visitors love spotting when they visit year-on-year. 

We are always seeking new local artists and makers and sustainable suppliers who can add something original to our collection. For example, this year, you’ll see new ceramic decorations by the Wirksworth Pottery Company in the marquee, Grotto, and Sculpture Gallery. 

How do you make the Christmas trees look so opulent?

In our opinion, the best way to decorate a tree is to combine a sense of scale with a variety of textures. Bury a selection of decorations deep into the tree so they add interest and it looks fully laden. Interweave lights along the branches as well so the trunk is well-lit. 

What do you think is the most beautiful Christmas decoration in the house? 

This year we love our new red velvet, embroidered decorations which were commissioned for Chatsworth, and feature on the Great Dining Room trees.

The stockings in Scotts Lobby are beautiful and also great fun. There are 80 of them and they were handmade by the team using fabric remnants from the textiles department. 

Usually, there is something for visitors to look out for along the route, perhaps a mouse or a bear. What should we keep our eyes peeled for this year?

With the theme being advent, we’re hoping visitors will seek out the number in each room. Some are large and some are tiny. They were all hand-made by Chatsworth staff.

You’ll also spot Father Christmas’ little elves up to mischief and getting themselves in some scrapes. These are delightful digital animations by artist Leavon Archer. 

We love adding playful details to our decorations, something that sharp-eyed visitors will spot. Textiles Assistant, Beth Cartwright, has made a series of snowmen for the West Sketch and in the final group, one of the snowmen is missing his nose. At first, visitors may think it has fallen off, but then they spot the cheeky snowman standing next to him, holding the little stolen carrot nose in his hand.

Do you honour any Devonshire family Christmas traditions each year?

Adam Wide’s Christmas tree brooch collection, featured in the North Sketch, is a gentle nod to Duchess Deborah who had an extensive collection of brooches, including ones with Christmas trees (see below).

However, perhaps the Devonshire family’s longest-running Christmas tradition, still honoured by Chatsworth House Trust, is to welcome visitors over the festive season. 

Chatsworth was built to entertain and Christmas would have been a very busy period with an influx of family and guests. (Learn more about the Devonshire family Christmas in this blog.)

Income from all ticket sales, gift aid, and membership schemes at Christmas, and throughout the year, is reinvested in the preservation and improvement of the house, collections, garden and landscape so they can continue to be experienced and enjoyed by all. Learn more.

How long does it take to pack up all the decorations? 

It takes as long to remove the decorations and trees as it does to put them up. We start on 8 January, when the house and garden close for restoration.

It's a two-week programme to deconstruct, pack away and move the pieces from the Devonshire Collections that have formed part of the seasonal experience back to their original locations. 

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