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A Filoli Family Christmas

Categories: Blog

Holidays at Filoli is in full swing. We want to take a look at how the Bourn and Roth families, the Estate’s previous owners, celebrated their holidays. You will find their stories throughout the House: sprinkled on panels, in our special Holidays-themed tour, and, of course, with our knowledgeable staff and volunteers. Filoli was always a family home and it comes alive when people are enjoying it!

The Bourn Family


The Bourn’s decorated the House with lots of greenery from the Garden. The Italian gardeners made beautiful wreaths with pinecones, redwood boughs, and pine tree boughs. They decorated these with colorful ribbons and bows. But, the true star of the Bourn’s holiday celebrations was the food. Their Swedish chef, Alma Johnson, would make cakes, sugar cookies, and her special coffee ice-cream.

The Bourn’s were incredibly kind to the legion of staff who worked on the property. Alice Estrada, nee Lowrie, grew up here at Filoli. Her father was the head chauffeur. In 1928, she received a purebred spaniel puppy as a Christmas gift from Mrs. Bourn. She named her dog Dawn Elder. That year, Alice also received a

Agnes Moody Bourn c.1915 by Sir William Orpen RHA

beautiful doll with a trunk full of clothing. Her brother got his own pedal cart (similar to a tricycle). Every Christmas, the staff of Filoli received their gifts as they lined up in the Reception Room. Mrs. Bourn went down the line and shook everyone’s hand and wished them a “Merry Christmas.” The male staff all received pipes or cigarettes along with money. The female staff got little lacquered boxes with potpourri or lace handkerchiefs and money. 


After receiving their presents,  the staff would gather together to celebrate their own Christmases. If the way the Bourn’s celebrated the Holidays reminds you of a scene from Downton Abbey, you would not be far off!

The Roth Family

With ten grandchildren, Bill and Lurline Roth always had a busy, family-filled holiday! The Roth’s decorated the House rather simply—They only set up trees in the Reception Room and the Study. There would also be creches (nativity scenes) on the mantles of the fireplaces from Mrs. Roth’s collection. Mrs. Roth would also set up many small trees and décor in the Reception Room, so her staff and their families could have holiday parties and gift exchanges. The Roth’s would usually exchange presents in the Study. With such a big house, Mrs. Roth would sometimes forget where she hid all of the presents for her grandchildren!  

Lurline (Maston) Roth in the Reception Room c.1960s

Christmas Eve was the big night with a dinner for the Roth family members and their friends in the Ballroom. The staff would set up a massive buffet in front of the Fireplace and sometimes the gardeners would help to serve! Mrs. Roth would always have her fruitcake out for all to enjoy. She even shared this recipe with some of our first volunteers in the 1980s!

Christmas morning was always hectic. Along with Mrs. Roth’s grown children, the grandchildren, and visiting family, there were dogs everywhere. Mr. Roth kept at least two labradors while she had her poodles. She used to joke about the labs being at the perfect height for their wagging tails to knock everything off the tables!


Since the Bourn Era, holiday entertainment has been a keystone of celebrations here at Filoli. The Bourn’s had the local Woodside school choir come to sing annually on Christmas Eve. This was such a longstanding tradition that the Roth’s were surprised by these kids singing outside the House on their first Christmas at Filoli! Today, we continue this beautiful tradition with live music in the ballroom.

Choral Group in the Ballroom

Check out our entertainment schedule to create or continue your own Filoli family tradition!