Thursday, August 17, 2017  

The Magic of Colonial Williamsburg during the Holidays
It's the most wonderful time of the year!  

It’s that time of year again when the Holidays beckon to us. The leaves on the trees rustle with the autumn breeze as their once brilliant hues of yellow, gold, orange and red that glistened in the October sun have now past their peak. The air has become clear and cold as the fresh clean scent of autumn and early winter fills the air — exhilarating our senses.

This is the time of year when jewel toned sapphire blue rivers, wetlands and waterways are absolutely breathtaking against the backdrop of an aquamarine sky. The golden marsh grasses quake and whisper in the breeze as they surrender their summertime color to winter dormancy. As evening rolls around the crystal clear nighttime sky reveals a diamond studded canopy of stars and Orion the Hunter stands poised, ready for the hunt, with his bow in hand. The seven sisters or “Pleiades cluster” can be seen huddled together as if drawing near to gossip and keep warm in the cold nighttime sky.

Truly, some things are the same today as they were hundreds of years ago. These faithful sentries are old familiar friends reminding us of the consistency of the seasons and that the year will soon come to a close. They are the same signs of the seasons that our fore-bearers have beheld since time began.

Priceless and Simple Pleasures
These hallmarks of the season including the scent of a wood burning chimney, spiced apple cider and fresh baked gingerbread are enough to coax even the most stoic of souls into a state of nostalgia, remembering when times were simpler and what mattered most in life was the gathering of family and friends around the Thanksgiving table or a Christmas fire. This is the best part of Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is the simple pleasures, the timeless moments that are so easy to pass by in our haste to get nowhere quickly.

This year has been a challenging year for many of us, bringing unforeseen changes, life altering circumstances, great joys, successes, great sorrows and loss. Whatever has befallen us, good or bad, it is time to take a deep breath, exhale slowly and revel in the myriad of blessings that are often right in front of us, but remain unseen. Our myopic vision often focuses on those things far and away or what we do not have rather than finding contentment and fulfillment in what has been right in front of us all along! It is often the quiet, nostalgic and simple things that are the greatest gifts of all…they are the ones that we treasure and ponder most in our hearts.

Christmas and Thanksgiving in Virginia’s Colonial Capital
For me there has always been one particular place that has been a catalyst for many of the best moments of my life, where I can visit with friends or family and walk for hours surrounded by history, beautiful gardens, fine dining and find myself in another world only 45 minutes from home! Colonial Williamsburg marries the traditions, history and experience of the past with the modern amenities of the present day close at hand.

As the wife of a farmer, a horsewoman from what sometimes seems like another life and a lover of American history, I have always been drawn to historical sites during the holidays. In my mind, there is no other place on earth that espouses the idea that was and is America like Colonial Williamsburg.

The characters and voices of the past echo here and still speak to us after all these years. They challenge us to learn from the past while living in the present.

The preservation of Colonial Williams­burg and the con­tinual interpretation of colonial history here is an unspeakable gift to all of us. It is not only a place for education and learning from the lessons that history teaches us it is also a place where history lives!

Christmas is a wonderful time of merriment, excitement, festive lights and busyness. This year, why not take time for a trip back in time, to Virginia’s Colonial Capital, during the 18th century. There is something truly magical about Christmas in Williamsburg, which is why people find themselves returning year after year, creating new family traditions that they pass on to their nieces, nephews, children, grandchildren and friends. The holiday festivities and decorations are well worth the trip to Williamsburg all by themselves. A visit here is not just taking in the preserved colonial capitol of Virginia, it is interacting with history!

Dining in one of Williamsburg’s Colonial Taverns is a must, at least once in your life! You might without even knowing it sit where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Francis Lightfoot Lee or Patrick Henry might have sat. In Williamsburg you can literally find yourself standing where America’s founding fathers and mothers stood, so long ago. This is where the murmurings of revolution were whispered in the hallways and shouted from the rooftops. From the costumed characters, who represent actual people who lived here and changed the course of history, to livestock from the ‘rare breeds” program you are beckoned to participate in life as it once was.

Anyone Up for a Carriage Ride?
If you really want to see how Williamsburg would have looked to visiting dignitaries, you will definitely want to take a carriage ride in one of Colonial Williamsburg’s reproduction horse drawn carriages or coaches. The old familiar clip-clop rhythm of the horse’s hoofs, the smell of horse leathers along with the sound of the carriage or coach in motion only add to the memorable experience of touring Duke of Gloucester Street in relaxing grand style. For decades now a carriage ride has been part of the living history experience that visitors look forward to with each visit. Although the average colonial resident rarely had the means to afford an elegant town coach or fancy travel carriage, much less ride in one, anyone can purchase a ticket to ride at Colonial Williamsburg! Tickets are available for purchase on a first come first serve basis. Time slots can be reserved for your ride while you are visiting Colonial Williamsburg.

What You Might See in Colonial Williamsburg from a Horse Drawn Carriage or on Foot
Christmas in Williamsburg is a feast for the senses! Every doorway, window, lamp post and fence is decked out with holiday wreaths, garlands, swags, festoons and half-moons that utilize the natural evergreen materials, fruits, seed pods, shells and other materials that were found “back in the day.”

Unlike our straight-laced and rigid Puritan cousins, in New England, Christmas in Colonial Virginia and Williamsburg was a very big deal, indeed! The celebrations and festivals would often go on for weeks, as family and friends visited with one another for extended stays which included revelry, merriment and feasting. Religious observances were also part of the season. The very best that every household had or could afford was utilized or imported for Christmas. The recession has caused many of us to do without certain items. Perhaps our Thanksgiving will be made that much sweeter this year, by enjoying things that we may have done without all year long.

The Scent of Days Gone By and Special Events Await You
The smell of Williamsburg at Christmas is unforgettable to me. In my own childhood, I remember my own great-great “auntie” pressing apple cider or making her own apricot brandy from the fruit in her orchards. How we loved that golden nectar. Places like this keep the methods and traditions of the past alive for us, for our children and our children’s children.

How often have we smelled a wood burning fire or warm apple cider and closed our eyes for just a moment to be transported to some of the most profound and wonderful memories of our lives?

Closing my eyes right now I can see cressets around town for the warming of the hands, chimneys giving off the comforting scent of a wood burning fire (a scarcity today due to propane) and the scent of warmed apple cider as it wafts through the air. As people await the Fife and Drums exhibition and Christmas caroling, they line up to purchase their share of Williamsburg’s hearty ciders, which are delicious. Ginger cookies and a host of other spiced treats also fill the air.

These are the smells of an old fashioned Christmas that are not to be missed. All of this takes place leading up to the evening climax—which lights up the sky (from the ground up) in a blaze of glory. It is a much different fireworks experience than what we generally see today.

With such a great resource in our midst as Colonial Williamsburg, including its museums, shops and the rare breeds program, why not create some wonderful memories of your own and see how Thanksgiving and Christmas was celebrated in 18th century Virginia. The “American Idea” and the Colonial experience are as relevant today as when our founding Fathers risked fortunes, life and limb in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

Come to Williamsburg this holiday season and see why people travel from all over the country, to celebrate a Colonial Holiday and participate in America’s living history! For more information on the Christmas and Holiday happenings at Colonial Williamsburg, visit them online at www.history.org.

A special Thank You to Penna Rogers (Communications Manager for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation) who graciously provided her time and the wonderful photographs used in this article.  Special Thanks also to Richard Nicoll, Director of CWF’s Coach and Livestock Department, who gave me a behind the scenes tour of the stables, carriage building and an enlightening overview of what the Carriage and Livestock Department through the Rare Breeds program contributes to animal husbandry and the overall experience at Colonial Williamsburg.

All photos by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.