Christmastime in Williamsburg is a sensual feast of leaf-strewn brick walkways, period music, hearty food, creative decorations, and crisp air wafting with the mingled aromas of evergreens and burning fires.
I try to go for at least a day every December. Where else can you celebrate the holidays with fireworks, a Palace concert, and dinner with George and Martha Washington?
The purpose of this post is to help you plan your own colonial Christmas.
The heart of the Christmas season in Colonial Williamsburg is the special programming, the holiday events that occur only during the five-week period. Highlights include:
Step back to 1789, and listen as President Washington proclaims a non-sectarian day of “public thanksgiving and prayer”.
Cressets are the earliest known form of public street lighting. They’re metal baskets, perched atop poles, filled with wood chips. At sunset, the wood chips are set aflame as music plays on Duke of Gloucester Street.
Music accompanies a burning Yule log as it travels by wagon down Duke of Gloucester Street. By tradition, lighting a Yule log may symbolize the birth of Jesus or His triumph over sin.
In the 18th century, illuminations marked major events such as the birthday of a reigning sovereign, military victories, or the arrival of a new colonial governor with fireworks and gun salutes. On Saturdays in early to mid-December, Colonial Williamsburg continues the tradition with musical performances on multiple stages throughout the brick streets and fireworks displays from the Capitol building and the Governor’s Palace.
- During the Christmas Decorations tour, a guide describes the materials and techniques used to create the traditional decorations on display around the Capital.
- During Talk of the Town | Christmastide, an 18th-century Williamsburg resident guides visitors through the Capital and discusses holiday traditions and the news of the day.
- In Merriment and Measles, an outbreak of the infectious disease mars George and Martha Washington’s first anniversary on Twelfth Night in 1760.
- In A Christmas Remembered, a “Nation Builder” shares Christmas memories and hopes for the New Year.
- In A Soldier’s Christmas, James Innes, a colonel in the victorious Continental Army, tries to come to grips with the past in order to shape the future.
- In Of Christmas Past, a British servant in Virginia recalls the Christmas customs and traditions he left behind in the mother country.
Gunfire expresses joy and celebration on Christmas Eve.
There are lots of places to eat in Williamsburg, including historic taverns and hotel restaurants. These venues offer several special events during Christmastide, including:
- Thanksgiving Dinner at Christiana Campbell’s tavern, the King’s Arms Tavern, the Williamsburg Inn, and the Williamsburg Lodge
- Holiday Tea at the Williamsburg Inn
- Wine Dinner with a “Nation Builder” at the King’s Arms Tavern
- Grand Illumination Dinner at Christiana Campbell’s tavern, the King’s Arms Tavern, and the Williamsburg Lodge
- Christmas Dinner at Christiana Campbell’s tavern, the King’s Arms Tavern, the Williamsburg Inn, and the Williamsburg Lodge
- New Year’s Day Breakfast at the Williamsburg Inn
Colonial Williamsburg is popular during Christmastime, and grows more so later in December. I recommend going early in the season and making your plans as soon as possible. Please note that many of the events highlighted here require special tickets, beyond your general admission passes to Colonial Williamsburg. For more information, please check out Colonial Williamsburg’s holiday planner.
And don’t forget to wish the Washingtons a Merry Christmas!
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