Note: This post is off-topic pertaining to a visit to Colonial Williamsburg during the Christmas season.
The wreaths caught my eye. The many, colorful wreathes decorated in the most imaginative ways possible. Carved artichokes mixed in with cranberries. Assorted apples arranged around the evergreens. Sprays of dried flowers mixed in with wheat chafe.
Later, as the sun set, and the people milled up and down Duke of Gloucester street (or as the locals call it, DOG Street), the torches that sat at the top of wrought iron posts were lit one by one, illuminating the colonial street. Off in the distance, the twang of the banjo and the hum of the fiddle filled the air with the sounds of an Irish jig. And as I glanced at the little colonial houses, candles dimly lit up each and every window throughout the colonial town. As hundreds and thousands of people filled the street, the air became more festive as we moved towards sunset.
Reenactors, dressed in colonial garb, men wearing tricorner hats, and women in their colonial dresses and aprons demonstrated various chores up and down the street, including candle making, millinery, and blacksmithing.
Finally just before 7 p.m., one of the men, dressed in a waistcoat and knee high boots, made an announcement. “A grand illumination of fireworks will fill the sky above us, celebrating the Christmas season.”
With that, the fireworks began with a big “Boom!” For the next 20 minutes, the residents and guests of Williamsburg were treated to a spectacular light show that lit up the sky with the full moon lurking in the background.
Even after the fife and drum corps marched down DOG street, capping off the end of the festivities, Bryon and I wanted to take in this celebration in one of our country’s oldest settlements. As we walked down the street and the people dispersed, we came upon a group of the families of the fife and drum corps taking pictures. Wanting to capture their natty attire in a photo, I paused for a moment.
“Those are my two sons over there!” said a man standing next to us.
“That’s so cool, we really enjoyed the evening. We’re from Colorado.”
I’m not sure why I told him that, but it yielded an unexpected bonus.
“Hey, they’re from Colorado, we should get a picture of them with you.”
Before we knew it, we were squeezed in between three tall, young men in their red and white dress coats and tricorner hats.
Grand Illumination celebrates Christmas history in Williamsburg, Virginia. As a student at William & Mary, I had been privy to a few of these evenings, but my family had not. My mom had longed to spend Christmas in Williamsburg, so we arranged to have a mini family reunion for the weekend.
Though Williamsburg’s routes go back to the 17th century, the Grand Illumination does not. Colonial residents did use to put candles in their windows during the holidays, so when Colonial Williamsburg was created in the 1930s, they decided to start the Grand Illumination in 1934, lighting the candles in the windows of the four buildings open to the public on the first Sunday in December.
Fast forward 83 years, and it has now turned into a full-on Christmas celebration, complete with a 20-minute fireworks display to cap off the evening. One of the store owners told me it is the single busiest day of the year in Williamsburg with thousands of people descending on CW to celebrate. We were especially lucky as we were blessed with clear skies, fall-like temperatures and a full moon.
What are your most memorable Christmas traditions? Perhaps they are ones created by your own family or perhaps they pertain to a certain time and place. Wherever they are, they help us remember that the holidays are a great time to celebrate family and friendship.