Inside look: Decorating the Carolina Hotel for Christmas

The Carolina Hotel is so meticulously decorated for Christmas, one might think a merry gang of elves sneak in at night to trim the trees and deck the halls.

In reality, the bulk of the work is done by just two women.

Starting the first Monday of November, Mallory Caddell and Taylor Dykeman begin turning the historic hotel into a winter wonderland.

It takes more than three full weeks of decorating and months of preparation to pull off the annual transformation.

Take a look at the process.


While most people are gearing up to celebrate our nation’s independence, Mallory and Taylor have Christmas on the brain. The women use the Fourth of July as their jumping off point to start planning for the holiday season.

By the end of the month, they typically have nailed down a theme for each of the hotel’s Christmas trees.

While a few of the trees stay the same, most are updated each year.

“We want to keep tradition and some of the favorite trees available to our guests, but we also want to have new trees that have never been done before,” said Mallory, the Resort’s recreation manager. “We’re both pretty creative people, so that helps.”


Photo Nov 03, 11 47 16 AM (1)

The Nutcracker tree is on display in the hallway across from the Ryder Cup Lounge.

Classics like the Nutcracker and Peacock trees are back year after year with minor tweaks.

“Sometimes adding new ribbon is all you need to freshen it up,” Mallory said.

Funky, fluffy birds adorn the new Owl Tree, which is positioned near the Cardinal Ballroom. Just down the hall, exquisite flowers and lavish ribbons are used to decorate five botanical trees.

“They are all so beautiful,” Mallory said.

owl tree

The owl tree is a new addition this year. It is located near the Cardinal Ballroom.

September & October

Just after Labor Day, Mallory and Taylor head to a floral warehouse in Charlotte to pick out the decorations they’ll need to deck out the hotel for the holiday season.

They hit the tree show room first to scope out replacements for those that are past their prime.

“We get about four years out of our trees before they need to be replaced,” Mallory said.

The embellishments like garland, ribbon and ornaments have a longer lifespan, lasting about eight years.

It takes the women about three hours to make their way through the warehouse. They pay careful attention to make sure the items they pick out will make each tree unique.

After the Charlotte trip, the pair starts purchasing mini lights. It takes a while to track down the 300 boxes they need to light up the inside and outside of the Hotel. An average tree needs between 12 and 15 boxes to provide the right amount of sparkle.

When October rolls around, Mallory and Taylor begin organizing the decorations.

They sift through box after box to make sure they are ready to hit the ground running come November.

Photo Nov 03, 11 49 59 AM (1)


Week 1

Mallory and Taylor were calm and collected as the task of decorating the Carolina Hotel got underway on Nov. 3.

Taylor, the Resort’s recreation supervisor, finished the Candy Cane tree before Mallory was out of a morning meeting and the pair knocked out the Nutcracker tree before lunch. By the end of the day, they had completed five of the Hotel’s 23 trees.

They breezed through another five trees the following day.

That’s 10 trees in two days, folks. And it’s not like they were rushing. The finished product is more important than speed, so they don’t decorate with any particular haste.

Photo Nov 03, 11 35 59 AM

Mallory touches up a ribbon on the Nutcracker tree.

As they add lights, ribbon and ornaments, they step back to see how it’s all coming together. Mallory often takes photos with her phone to see if they have missed any holes.

The women are able to decorate the trees so quickly because of their organizational skills.

“We have started to take notes while we are decorating so we’ll have them for next year,” Mallory said. “We keep track of what needs to be replaced and what works or what might need to be tweaked a bit. It helps give us a clear picture of what to expect and makes planning easier.”

Another thing that makes it easier is their relationship. The two-woman recreation department spends most of their time together year-round, so they know each other pretty well.

“I’m the one who thinks big picture, Taylor thinks about the details and the logistics,” Mallory said. “She’s very type A and I’m very type B, so we work really well together.”

The pair have made the task more fun than taxing by coming up with quirky names for the supplies. One of the extension plugs they use has been dubbed the “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” and the long, decorative picks that add color and glitz are now known as “Ting, Ting.”

“It’s great because we’re getting paid to have fun,” Mallory said. “It’s nice see an idea come to fruition.”

Mallory and Taylor completed at least three more trees, including the one over at the Holly Inn, by the end of the first week.

Photo Nov 03, 11 38 06 AM

A bucket of “Ting, ting” sits in the hallway as Mallory and Taylor work on the Nutcracker tree.

 Week 2

The ladies started the second week of decorating in the Presidential Suite. The room included a North Carolina-themed tree with handcrafted ornaments from the famous Seagrove Potters.

By Tuesday morning, they were ready to head to the Fair Barn to pick up the rest of their supplies.

Photo Nov 11, 10 03 30 AM

Taylor sorts through bags of garland as they are loaded onto the truck at the Fair Barn.

This required a little help. About 10 people packed into three cars and headed over to the barn. They brought out bag after bag filled with garland. As they piled the dust-coated bags onto the back of the truck, Taylor read the labels and organized them by area. Some of the bags would need to go outside on the porch railings and gazebo, while the rest would go inside on the hallway columns and banisters.

The Resort’s maintenance crew hangs the garland in the hallways. Mallory and Taylor fluff it before adding bright red bows.

The women spent the end of the week adding lights to the “Pinehurst” topiary and the bushes lining the entryway, creating a magical view as guests cruise down Carolina Vista Drive.

christmas at carolina dark

The exterior of the Carolina Hotel glows as night falls.

Week 3

Almost all of the trees were up by the third week, except the towering beauty that greets guests near the front door of the Carolina Hotel.

It used to take Mallory and Taylor almost 10 hours to complete the mammoth tree, but they were finished this year before lunch.

“We learn new things each year that helps us get it done faster,” Mallory said.

Taylor work on the top of the tree for nearly an hour, making sure it was just right as she stood suspended on a ladder above the lobby.

“It’s instinctual for me,” she said. “I don’t really think about it, I just look at it and know when it’s right.”

Photo Nov 17, 11 19 51 AM

Taylor works on the top of the tree inside the lobby at the Carolina Hotel.

The next thing to check off their to-do list were the trees for the roof. Instead of erecting just one tree, they made a bolder statement with three.

They climbed atop the roof from the window of a second-story hotel room on what happened to be one of the coldest days of the season.

Wrapped in scarves, their hands warm in gloves, they fluffed the tree branches and added the lights before a maintenance crew secured them to the building.

“We definitely don’t do it all by ourselves,” Mallory said. “These guys help us a lot.”