This month for a little pre-Christmas celebration, we headed to Colonial Williamsburg…the 18th-century capital city of Virginia.
Prior to the Revolutionary War, Virginia was Britain’s largest, wealthiest, and most populous outpost in the New World. Today Colonial Williamsburg brings to life the story of a revolutionary city on 301-acres of Historic Area with hundreds of restored, reconstructed, and historically furnished buildings and costumed interpreters telling the stories of the men and women of the time.
Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg was a very festive time that really kicked off on Christmas Day…the twelve days of Christmas lasted until January 6, also called Twelfth Day or Epiphany. Colonial Virginians thought Twelfth Night a good occasion for balls, parties, and weddings.
On Christmas Eve, locals and visitors alike gather at the Courthouse steps on Duke of Gloucester Street for the annual Williamsburg Community Christmas Tree Lighting and the traditional retelling of the city’s first Christmas tree. This is still reenacted today.
We spent two-days immersing ourselves in Colonial Christmas on Duke of Gloucester Street, the main road through the eight-block by six block city:
- Christmas decorations of the time consisted of wreaths, candles, and greenery. Replicated today, over 10 miles of pine roping is used around town. We enjoyed the 53rd Annual Christmas Decorations Walking Tour where we learned all about the festivities of the time and took in some of the gorgeous wreaths still judged today. Materials for the wreaths today must be natural, found now and then in Virginia like seashells, cotton, yarrow, hops, wheat whiskers, magnolia leaves, peanuts and mistletoe (who knew it was a parasite that grows in trees?). My favorite was also the judges, the 9 out of 10-year winner…The Cow Jumped Over the Moon.
- Firing of the Christmas Guns – a tradition dating back to the 18th-century in which guns are fired in salute to the Christmas season as an expression of joy and celebration – complete with the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums.
- Strolling the streets, we toured the Capitol at one end and the Governor’s Palace at the other end. We visited the Apothecary, Printing Office & Bindery, Post Office, Milliner & Tailor, Silversmith, Blacksmith, Courthouse, Shoemaker, Weaver, and Magazine (where weapons and artillery were stored). Local shops are also open on Duke of Gloucester Street like the John Greenhow Store that sells baskets, porcelain, fabrics, copper items, craftsmen tools and other goods similar to those sold by Mr. Greenhow in the 18th century. We found lots of unique Christmas gifts for friends and family.
- We even saw the house where the first Christmas Tree was introduced, the Tucker House. Dr. Charles Minnigrode, a political exile from Germany who immigrated to America in 1839, came to teach at the College of William & Mary. A good friend of Judge Beverly Tucker and his family, Minnigerode decorated a tree at the Tucker house in 1842 for children of the family. The Christmas Tree has its origins in Germany.
My favorites of the trip were the dining and accommodations.
- We stayed in a Colonial House, Chiswell-Bucktrout House on Francis Street, that was very lovely. All the houses are historic and immerse you in the times. Another bonus is you check-in and enjoy the amenities of the award-winning Williamsburg Inn. When the doors opened in 1937, the Williamsburg Inn was meant to host guests, including kings, queens, and dignitaries, in the elegance, comfort, and style of a Virginia country estate.
- We dined with the colonists at three of the local Taverns…Christiana Campbell’s Tavern (George Washington’s favorite for seafood), Chowning’s Tavern (opened in 176 for the ‘ordinary sort,’ this people’s tavern also serves Gambols, or late-night light fare), and King’s Arms Tavern (the town’s finest gentry dined here). Every meal was the cuisine of the time and dining by candlelight with great wine (try some Virginia wine!).
We wish you a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!