FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT
A COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG CHRISTMAS
What is Grand Illumination?
Colonial Williamsburg’s signature event, Grand Illumination, signals the
beginning of the 2008 holiday season Sunday, Dec. 7, and typically attracts
thousands of guests to the Historic Area. The tradition began in 1935 with the first
“White Lighting” of the Historic Area, during which a single candle was lit in each
window of homes and shops there. The program has become significantly larger, and
the lighting of candles in public buildings, homes and shops continues.
Guests are encouraged to arrive early and park at the Colonial Williamsburg
Visitor Center. Free bus service is provided between the Visitor Center and the
Historic Area until 10 p.m.
How many lights are displayed in the Historic Area?
Windows in more than 100 exhibition buildings, trade shops and other Historic
Area buildings are lit with more than 1,200 electric or battery-operated candles the
Friday following Thanksgiving through Jan. 1, 2009.
What makes Colonial Williamsburg’s decorations unique?
Colonial Williamsburg’s outdoor Christmas decorations are known worldwide for
their use of natural materials available during the 18th century. These typically include
pine and boxwood wreaths decorated with fresh pineapples, apples, oranges,
pomegranates, nuts, pinecones, holly and other materials.
Colonial Williamsburg’s floral staff decorates the exteriors and some interiors of
exhibition buildings and shops. They produce several dozen elaborate door wreaths and
plaques that are checked daily for maintenance. More than 2,550 white pine and Fraser
fir wreaths and more than three miles of white pine roping are used to put the finishing
touches on doorways, windows, columns and railings. Historic Area residents decorate
their own homes, and a contest is held each year to determine the most imaginative or
hooks, and filled with pitch pine or fat wood, which contain a high amount of resin
for an especially hot, bright flame. Set ablaze, they provide illumination during
Colonial Williamsburg’s evening programs.
What is the history of the Market Square Christmas tree?
There were no Christmas trees in 18th-century Williamsburg. The first
“Christmas tree” in Williamsburg was introduced and decorated in 1842 at the St.
George Tucker House. Far from the large, grandiose trees aglow with sparkling lights
and myriad decorations of today, early Christmas trees were shorter and simpler but
no less aesthetic or charming. The early trees typically were showcased on a tabletop
and stood no more than a few feet tall.
Williamsburg’s first Christmas tree is commemorated with the installation of a
decorated tree inside the St. George Tucker House and with the lighting of a large
evergreen at Market Square near the Magazine. The tree is illuminated Christmas
Eve during a ceremony that includes caroling and brief remarks by a prominent
How far in advance should reservations be made?
Since this is such a busy time, reservations for lodging and dining during the
holiday season should be made as soon as possible. Weekend reservations tend to
fill up faster than midweek reservations. The Williamsburg Inn typically is the first
Colonial Williamsburg hotel to fill up.
What are the minimum stay requirements?
There may be two-night minimum stay requirements, based on demand, in
Colonial Williamsburg hotels for Grand Illumination. Due to high demand for
accommodations during the holiday season, a three-night minimum stay is required
from Dec. 23 to 26 at the Williamsburg Inn, Colonial Houses—Historic Lodging,
Williamsburg Lodge and the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel and Suites. Guests are
encouraged to stay longer.
How do I get additional information and purchase tickets for holiday
To request a free planner that details Colonial Williamsburg’s holiday
programs or to make reservations by phone, call toll free 1-800-HISTORY or explore
the Colonial Williamsburg Web site at www.history.org.
How do I make lodging and dining reservations?
To make lodging reservations or to request a free Colonial Williamsburg
Holiday Planner, call toll free 1-800-HISTORY. Lodging reservations also may be
made on the Internet at
holiday events, call toll-free 1-800-TAVERNS or fax to (757) 565-8797. Priority
dining reservations are given to guests of Colonial Williamsburg Hotels.
What is The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation?
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is a private, not-for-profit educational
institution that receives no regular state or federal funding. The Foundation
preserves and interprets the Historic Area. In support of its educational mission,
Colonial Williamsburg operates for-profit businesses that include hotels and
restaurants, meeting, spa and recreational facilities, retail shops and sales of
licensed products and reproductions.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Fifes and Drums celebrate their 50th anniversary in
2008. Founded in 1958, the Fifes and Drums perform in Colonial Williamsburg’s
Historic Area nearly 500 times during the year in daily programs from mid-February
through December and during special programs observing major holidays, including
the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Grand Illumination.
Colonial Williamsburg’s education and preservation programs and activities
include archaeology, historical research, building and grounds preservation, historic
trades demonstrations, living history programs, educational outreach programs and
conservation of art and antiques. Colonial Williamsburg uses interactive television
and Web-based technologies for Electronic Field Trips each year to bring the 18th
century to life for more than one million students throughout the United States.
Colonial Williamsburg also operates three world-class museums: the DeWitt
Wallace Decorative Arts Museum which displays the Foundation’s exceptional collection
of British and American decorative arts; the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum,
the oldest institution in the United States dedicated solely to the collection and
preservation of American folk art; and Bassett Hall, the Williamsburg home of Mr. and
Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr.
When is Colonial Williamsburg open?
Colonial Williamsburg is open 365 days a year, generally from 9:30 a.m. to
5 p.m. during the holiday season. Information about specific programs, times and
locations can be found in
Center, all Colonial Williamsburg ticket outlets and Colonial Williamsburg hotels. Or,
visit CW online at
How do I get there?
Williamsburg is 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., and is midway between
Richmond and Norfolk. It is served by international airports at Richmond, Norfolk and
Newport News, and by Amtrak. The Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center is accessible
by Interstate 64, exit 238, and offers ample parking.
Established in 1926, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit
educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century
Revolutionary capital of Virginia. Williamsburg is located 150 miles south of
Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64.
For additional information and reservations or to
request a free copy of Colonial Williamsburg’s 2008 Holiday Planner highlighting
unique holiday programs, concerts and special dining events, call toll-free
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