CASTLE Howard's ornate Christmas display takes the theme of The Twelve Days Of Christmas, as envisioned and realised by theatrical designers Charlotte Lloyd Webber and Bretta Gerecke.

The 12 days of Christmas may be a traditional feast that runs from Christmas Day to Epiphany and the Twelfth Night Midnight Ball on January 6 – a finale outshone by New Year's Eve festivities in more recent times – but visitors can bathe in the delights of Charlotte and Bretta's festive artistry from mid-November to December 31, 42 days in all. Plenty of time to count all 8,000 baubles.

This season's displays are "more ambitious than ever before", turning the house into a celebration of Christmas, themed around not only the famous song, but also the traditions linked to the 12 days of Christmas.

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Charlotte Lloyd Webber in the Long Gallery at Castle Howard with characters from The 12 Days of Christmas. Picture: Charlotte Graham 

Visitors can see, for example, seven swans-a-swimming across a mirrored dining table; the obligatory solo partridge in a gilded pear tree, complemented by elements linked to the culmination of the feasting season – the Twelfth Night – when a Lord of Misrule would preside with a mischievous, carnival-style atmosphere.

All the public rooms have been dressed, with different colour-schemes and decorations as Charlotte and Bretta move through the familiar song and the rooms alike, culminating in the Long Gallery, the exhibition's piece de resistance. There they take the breath away with a bold and beautiful display – David Henthorne's five gold-leaf rings at its centre – that knits together all the elements of the Twelve Days with evocative lighting as the lords are a-leaping, suspended overhead, to the accompaniment of The Boston Pops' ebullient version of the song.

In keeping with the season's feasting theme, the rooms of the High South have been transformed into a Victorian kitchen and dining room, with the 12-sided table set for an opulent feast and a behind-the-scenes evocation of what the team of servants would have done to make sure every last detail was perfect.

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Charlotte Lloyd Webber with the Queen Pea's dress for the Twelfth Night Ball at Castle Howard. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Among the 12 Days of Christmas exhibits is a 26ft Norwegian Spruce Christmas tree, from Oxfordshire, one foot taller than last year's biggest tree, that required a 30ft scaffolding rig and at least15 men to erect it in in the Great Hall, where it is adorned with no fewer than 4,000 baubles. Look up and you will take in the no less spectacular glory of lights and baubles flowing like a waterfall over the balcony.

After preparations culminating in three days of decorating, the displays have a lovely flow to them, and contrasting scales too; huge in the Long Gallery; the aforementioned big tree, yet twigs, vines and branches cut from the Castle Howard woods too, and Mark Bond's newly commissioned miniature figures of the 12 Days of Christmas decoratively dotted around the scale model of Vanbrugh's Castle Howard design.

Look out for such delights as the Queen Pea dress, worn at the Twelfth Night ball, by whoever found the pea inside a cake; a fan from Castle Howard's fan collection, adorning the top of a Christmas tree; a Twilight tree for wassailing in a High South room; and Karen Fawcett's peacock sculptures, the peacock not featuring in the song but associated so strongly with Castle Howard.

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The 26ft Norwegian Spruce Christmas tree, decorated with 4,000 baubles, in the Great Hall at Castle Howard. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Whereas the Garden Hall was decorated with only one tree last Christmas, now Charlotte and Bretta have added three more, each glinting with exquisite glass lighting. The Music Room plays host to the song's drummers and pipers, with costumes from the Howard family collection and drums loaned from the Green Howards Regimental Museum at Richmond.

"What we have tried to do is inject into the display the theatricality that playwright John Vanbrugh brought to his Castle Howard design, his first as an architect having never lain a stone in his life before," says Charlotte.

"We started building in the summer in London and then installed the displays over a fortnight – and everything has been hand built."

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David Henthorne's five gold rings in the Long Gallery at Castle Howard, with theatrical designer Bretta Gerecke standing below. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Standing in the Long Gallery, with its cut-out leaping lords and drummers, Bretta says: "The greatest challenge and the greatest reward was this huge space, because it is three connected rooms and you have to get the scale right as you don't want to lose impact as you move through the rooms."

Elsewhere, Castle Howard's 2018 Christmas has incorporated augmented reality characters and games in various locations around the house and grounds. On arrival, visitors can download a free app that enables them to interact with the environment with a smartphone or tablet. The app, created by New Moon Studios, in York, reveals Father Christmas flying over Castle Howard’s rooftop and gives young visitors the chance to decorate a virtual Christmas tree. You may want to indulge in elf boxing, which can be filmed or photographed to share with family and friends.

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Mark Bond with the new model of Castle Howard and miniature figures from The 12 Days of Christmas. Picture: Charlotte Graham 

Visitors seeking a quieter way to enjoy the festivities should make their way to a Christmas Afternoon Tea, served in the Grecian Hall. The experience can be booked on the day.

Already, Charlotte and Bretta are turning their thoughts to next Christmas's display at Castle Howard. "We held our first official meeting on Thursday this week," reveals Charlotte. "Next year's theme has been decided, and yes, it is a secret!"

The Twelve Days of Christmas at Castle Howard, near York, runs until December 31(closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day). The house and grounds open at 10am; last entry at 3pm during the week; 4pm on weekends. Go to for ticket details.