Some one has said that the house party is the latest and most luxurious development in Christmas entertaining. In a way, it is new to Americans. It is simply the outgrowth of the adoption of English country life and English country customs. But it may be called a survival from the colonial period, rather than an absolute novelty. The house party was a very popular method of entertaining in the colonial days, especially in Virginia and Maryland, where there existed ans still exists many old manor houses, which are well adapted for large companies. After the Revolution there was a period in which an adherence to English customs became almost a treason, and Christmas was celebrated in the North more in the old Dutch spirit. It became, apart from its religious significance, the day for children and servants.
More and more, since country and suburban life became the vogue has Christmas passed out of town. At many of the large estates near New York there are house parties, and the plans for the inviting of congenial guests begin during the early days of autumn. The American house party, as a rule, with the exception of those given at the "Dukeries" and other celebrated English manors and estates, is likely to be on a scale of greater magnitude than those abroad. Sixty or even one hundred or more guests are asked, and this is made possible by the ample accommodations for the unattached man, who must be present in superior numbers. Nearly all the large country houses have a "club building" especially arranged for bachelors. Some of these parties last through the holiday weeks. The distance between town and country is made so slight by the employment of the motor car, that many men can go to town in the morning and return back for tea or dinner. Possibly, at house parties which are given weekly from November until after the holidays, no one entertains more lavishly than Mr. William K. Vanderbilt at "Idle Hour". There are seldom less than one hundred guests, and there is a varied program of all kinds of amusements for their benefit, including each evening recitals of music by the best talent procurable in this country. Within the grounds of "Idle Hour", there are golf links, tennis and squash courts, pigeon shoots, and arrangements for aquatic sports of all kinds. There are garages filled with motor cars, stables with horses and traps, motor boats, launches and yachts; in fact, there is everything requisite excepting, perhaps, the aeroplane and this no doubt will be added as soon as it is practicable.
"Idle Hour" is a little world to itself, a pleasure kingdom by the sea. The Vanderbilt family is now so large and has so many branches that each head of one of the houses has a gathering of its own. Dr. and Mrs. W. Seward Webb usually observe Christmas at "Shelburne Farms", where, besides their own children, there is always a number ot extra guests. "Shelburne Farms" is one of the few places in America which has its own game preserves, and it is more like an English estate. The high latitude gives full scope for winter sports of all kinds. Mr. and Mrs. William D. Sloane frequently open "Elm Court" at Lenox for the holidays. Besides their young son, who has just graduated from Yale, there are three married daughters, Mrs. James A. Burden, Jr., Mrs. Hammond and Mrs. Field, and with a few intimate friends, a large house party is easily assembled. Sleighing, skating and tobogganing are among the pastimes of the week. Lenox has become a favorite place for Christmas celebrations; here-Mr. and Mrs. Giraud Foster, Mr. and Mrs. George Westinghousc, Mr. and Mrs. George Winthrop Folsom and others entertain during the holidays, participating in a real old-fashioned New England Christmas.
Again, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Vanderbilt usually give a large Christmas house party at their camp in the Adirondacks. Here, last year, were Miss Evelyn Parsons, Miss Gwendolyn Burden, Mrs. Arthur Scott Burden and Miss Natica Rives, now Mrs. Williams Burden, as well as Mr. and Mrs. William Goadby Loew and a number of men in the Newport set. Mr. and Mrs. H. McK. Twombly go to Madison, N.J., for their Christmas and Mr. and Mrs. George Vanderbilt have a royal celebration at "Biltmore House" in the far South. Here, near the Land of the Sky, in North Carolina, they assemble a party of congenial friends for the holidays. There are services in the Biltmore church, which has one of the best choirs in this country and a celebrated organist brought from England. In the afternoon, there is a Christmas tree for the children of the tenants on the place and the employes, and the gifts hung on a tall pine in the great ballroom are distributed by Mrs. Vanderbilt. Afterwards, there is a performance or concert and a collation. For the guests there are recitals of music by well-known artists from New York, hunting trips and all the delights of life in the open in the Southland. Mr. and Mrs. Pembroke Jones take a party of guests to their North Carolina plantation. Colonel and Mrs. John Jacob Astor usually have a house party at their estate near "Rhinebeek," and Mr. and Mrs. Ogden Mills celebrate the Yule-tide in the good old English fashion at Staatsburg in the splendid manor house of the Livingstons. Mr. and Mrs. Frederick G. Bourne give a house party at their Long Island estate, and Mr. and Mrs. Anson Phelps Stokes have a family gathering at Noroton, Conn. At the club settlements and such colonies as Tuxedo, Christmas is observed, not only by individual house parties at the various cottages, but also by sports and contests of all kinds at the club-house and by a jolly dance. At Tuxedo, the New Year is welcomed by a ball, which is one of the events of the winter season.
Thus has the Christmas house party gradually taken the place among national observances. Every one now who has a country house feels that the great festival should be celebrated there rather than in town, where, too often, the streets are given over to a noisy and boisterous Saturnalia. It seems more in accordance with the traditions. In the second century of the Nation we are rapidly acquiring age with other characteristics. However, the universal observance of Christmas in the country, and the bringing together by the very wealthy of large assemblages of young and old, of giving to every member of a household an opportunity to enjoy the day and to join together in celebrating the greatest of festivals with a social, democratic spirit, are good signs. The traditions are preserved and the celebration is more in accord with the letter of that heavenly message given to the shepherds who watched their flocks by night on the hills of Palestine—that old sweet message of "Peace on Earth. Good Will to Men."