Secrets To Christmas Magic At The Greenbrier

Sparkly Ribbon
Photo: Ball & Albanese

If you love Christmas, spending a holiday night at The Greenbrier is something to put on your holiday wish list. Nearly 1,300 guests have been known to check into this storied White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, hotel on a single holiday night. It's no wonder. Decked in shimmering lights, garlands, trimmed trees, and wrapped packages, it's reminiscent of the North Pole. With tree lighting, caroling, letters to Santa, and a Snowman Ball, guests may just feel transported to a scene in their favorite Christmas movie. A lot of work goes into the resort's seasonal cheer. We go behind the employee-only doors at The Greenbrier to uncover the magic that keeps the crowds coming back at Christmas and get a few tips to recreate it in your home.

01 of 07

244 Years of the Greenbrier

The Greenbrier
Ball & Albanese

There's nothing like this show. Decorated by America's first stylemaker, Dorothy Draper, and kept up today by her protégé Carleton Varney, the hotel is already primed for the holidays with public rooms painted in eye-popping colors like red, green, pineapple yellow, and "Jefferson" blue—the same as the boxes from Tiffany & Co. For the season, busy elves trim a cluster of trees, hang over 120,000 lights, string miles of greenery, wrap thousands of gifts, and give poinsettias a coat of fairy dust. Pulling this off takes planning and a touch of brilliance. So when Southern Living asked for their best hosting ideas, the gracious hotel invited us to follow those responsible for making the magic happen. Here, The Greenbrier staff's unguarded secrets for helping you recreate this kind of holiday hospitality in your own home.

02 of 07

Greeting Guests

James Poteat
Ball & Albanese

James Poteat, Bellman

The plane was late, and the family arrived feeling fried. As they walked in, they saw James Poteat, who believes in treating guests as family. "To me they are," he says. "So I ask, 'Can I help with anything?'" His other secret weapon? A card for a complimentary ice-cream cone (redeemable at the restaurant), which puts a smile on any child's tear-stained face.

03 of 07

Mastering a Drink

Henry Hill
Ball & Albanese

Henry Hill, Bartender

If artisanal beer is the fall beverage trend, mixing innovative cocktails is the Christmas trend. "We spend a couple of weeks inventing new drinks with holiday spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice and nut-flavored liquors like Frangelico to update the classics, and then we do a tasting together," says Hill. "For an easy one, make a Manhattan and add cinnamon and pureed apple. If you mix in a little lemon juice and honey to the apple, it removes the tartness." Another of Hill's favorites: the Queen of Hearts, made with citrus vodka and muddled strawberries. (A muddler is an inexpensive bar tool that mashes fruits and herbs to release their flavors.) "Experiment," Hill advises. "Start by adding one new ingredient that you like to give a cocktail a holiday twist." Your guests will be wowed by these little touches.

04 of 07

Decorating a Tree Quickly

Sparkly Ribbon
Ball & Albanese

Betsy Conte, Director of Social Activities

Conte adorns the dozens of themed trees and can do each one in about 20 minutes. How is that possible? Ribbon. She uses 4- to 6-inch-thick wired ribbon to create gravity-defying bows and a 10-inch-thick ribbon to make these festive garlands. The ribbon goes on first, and then she stuffs ornaments around the ribbon. "If the tree is against a wall, skimp on the back side's embellishment," she says, to save time and conserve decorations.

05 of 07

Prepping a Guest Room

Katie Dooley
Ball & Albanese

Katie Dooley, Housekeeper

If your company is traveling to see you, there is nothing nicer than preparing a lovely room where they can plop down and unwind. Dooley believes it's important to set the room up right with a beautifully made bed—her technique takes about 10 minutes. The trick to a polished bed: good "hospital corners." Dooley uses her knee to prop the mattress up a tad so she can fold the sheets underneath it extra tight. Then, to tackle the rest of the room, she likes products that smell clean—such as Spic and Span—because guests love to walk into a fresh-smelling room. Much of The Greenbrier's furniture has been lacquered, and "a little Windex makes it really shine," says Dooley. Using abundant mirrors was another Draper tactic, and all overnight visitors will appreciate finding both a full-length one and a well-lit makeup mirror in a guest room. In fact, these rooms have two full-length mirrors facing each other, a smart touch that ensures complete visibility, which is such a help when getting dressed for holiday cocktail parties. And don't forget the kids: Stockings hung over their beds makes the little ones think, "Santa does know that we're here!" Even blasé teens appreciate having their own quiet Christmas-morning moment before going downstairs.

06 of 07

Shipping and Assembling Gifts

Ed Tolley
Ball & Albanese

Ed Tolley, Porter

"The smartest thing to do," says Tolley, "is to ship ahead." With the rising costs of checking luggage, this not only makes travel easier but also saves money. Tolley advises using a slower ground service instead of a Next Day Air option to ship gifts to your destination before your holiday stay. He says, "If there's a nor'easter, you won't get your stuff no matter what you paid." His other bit of wisdom: Choose the shipping company with a distribution center closest to your final stop, so nothing gets stuck two counties away. Tolley receives the toys and puts them together. He does just about every one with a rubber mallet, a Phillips screwdriver, and a set of adjustable pliers. (Yes, having a neighbor like Tolley around would also be useful.)

07 of 07

Displaying Poinsettias

Displaying Poinsettias
Ball & Albanese

Curtis Webb & Gary Wykle, Director of Grounds & Greenhouse Manager

Are these holiday floral arrangements passé? Not at The Greenbrier. Maybe you can't pull off this 600-poinsettia creation at home, but there are other great, stealable ideas around the hotel. The team builds tabletop trees by stacking poinsettias on upside-down flowerpots and then surrounding them with another circle of plants. This can also be done with empty boxes for a modern, geometric effect. You can even create sparkly blue poinsettias. Spray white ones with food coloring, and then sprinkle them with glitter while they're wet. Let your kids help!

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