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Grand Illumination At Colonial Williamsburg

December 16, 2007
By Barb Romick Staff Writer
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — I had waited more than 15 years to be in Colonial Williamsburg for the Grand Illumination.  Before I had retired from teaching, a vacation during the first weekend of December did not fit in with the school calendar — Thanksgiving break was too early and Christmas break, too late. But I was here now, and even the overcast sky with a forecast of rain showers was not going to dampen my spirits.


The daily activities at Colonial Williamsburg are informative and varied, and the day of Grand Illumination is no different. Everything from talks by historical figures, such as George Washington and Patrick Henry, to the folk art exhibit at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Museum to seeing historical tradespeople such as wheelwrights, coopers and wigmakers, demonstrating their crafts and answering questions from visitors and much more is available. “Colonial Williamsburg, This Week,” is a weekly publication of what’s going on and which trade shops are open, and is a must for even the seasoned visitor.


With all of these offerings, my husband and I had no problem filling the time before the Grand Illumination.


The talks by the historical figures continue to amaze me. The men who portray George Washington, Patrick Henry and others become the persona of their characters. After they present their basic speech, they answer questions from the audience; and keeping in their persona, they do a marvelous job of handling any type of question that comes their way.


Grand Illumination is such a big event in Williamsburg that as we walked from our hotel over to the Colonial area, there were tailgaters partying in many of the grassy areas around the periphery of Colonial Williamsburg. We had never seen anything like this in Williamsburg before.


We decided to watch the fireworks at the Capitol, but fireworks also are set off at the Governor’s Palace and the Magazine. 


Let me tell you, the fireworks here are “up close and personal.” We were standing about 50 feet from the Capitol walls — so close that some of the cinders and ash fell on us as the fireworks exploded above, just the way fireworks were done in the 18th century.


After the fireworks ushered in the holiday season, we joined hundreds of people in walking Duke of Gloucester Street. We strolled past houses, taverns, and stores lit with candles in the windows and decorated with wreaths and seasonal swags on doors and porches. We continued our walk past fires burning in cressets and in the street near the Kings Arms Tavern and Chowning’s Tavern, which were open for a late supper; the powder magazine; the courthouse; and Bruton Parish Church on our way to Merchant’s Square. 


No visit to Colonial Williamsburg would be complete without enjoying a free evening candlelight concert at Bruton Parish Church. Concerts are performed by professors and students in the music department of William and Mary College, the Bruton Parish Church organist, and other musicians and choral groups. I’ve enjoyed concerts featuring harp, organ and hand bells. While they were all exceptional, my favorite was the hand bell concert. 


Colonial Williamsburg always reminds me of a kinder, gentler time — no cars or trucks on the streets, no blaring stereo or television noise, just the clomp of horses’ hooves and the scrape of wooden wheels, and the smell of a wood fire. However, that is not the case in Merchant’s Square.


Merchant’s Square is the shopping area at the west end of Colonial Williamsburg. You can’t drive in Merchant’s Square itself, but driving is permitted on all streets bordering Merchant’s Square. There are a number of free parking lots in the area.


Merchant’s Square is where you will find fine men’s and women’s clothing stores, a Christmas ornament shop, cheese shop, the Colonial Williamsburg Craft House, pewter store, an upscale doggie boutique and much more. There also are four or five eateries in the three-block area.


Getting around Colonial Williamsburg is easy. The admission ticket includes unlimited bus riding. Bus service runs from the Visitor Center to a number of bus stops around the Colonial Williamsburg area.


So, if your legs give out or you just want to go for a ride around the area, hop on a Colonial Williamsburg bus.


Outside Colonial Williamsburg


Oh, did I mention shopping? My favorite shopping destination, however, is Williamsburg Pottery Factory, which has a number of buildings and outlet stores that cover more than 100 acres and sell everything from soup to nuts to wedding bouquets to Oriental carpets and more.


Williamsburg Pottery is located a few miles from Colonial Williamsburg on Virginia 60.


Also along this route are the Prime Outlet Mall, Williamsburg Outlet Mall and a number of specialty stores and boutiques.


 

Article Photos

This house, as are many in Colonial Williamsburg, is decorated for the holiday season.

 
 

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