By Meghan McCloskey, Taking The Kids correspondent
I bet Lord Dunmore’s Christmas party is the most extravagant that you will be invited to this season. When you step into the Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia, you will be treated as guests in the British style mansion. Be careful what you wear, I was chastised for wearing my leather boots and not a proper ball gown! Take a tour of the mansion built in 1722 intended to impress colonists of British power with its architecture and magnificent display of bayonet-tipped muskets.
The holiday season is an excellent time to visit Colonial Williamsburg and see firsthand how 18th Century Virginians celebrated. The historic doors are adorned with fabulous wreaths and families can truly relish in American traditions in the footsteps of our nation’s founders. This would have been one of the best places to be in the colonies around Christmastime because Christmas celebrations were strictly outlawed in most of New England. There was even a fine in Massachusetts for having an extravagant meal or not working on Christmas day.
Partake in the community Christmas tree lighting on Christmas Eve where you will witness a ceremonial firing of Christmas guns, hear Christmas carols sung and see the huge Christmas tree light up before your eyes. Take a candlelit tour of the workshops of colonial Virginia’s most prestigious craftsmen at 7:00 or 8:30 pm.
For those who are last minute holiday shoppers, the adjacent 18th century style shopping area, Merchant Square, has over 40 shops like The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg with a wide assortment of Virginia peanuts and Wythe Candy and Gourmet Shop (both have samples). At the open-air market in Colonial Williamsburg, kids can buy or rent 18th century costumes and pick up some colonial toys to entertain hundreds of years later.
During the holiday season, you can still experience the regular Colonial Williamsburg activities held throughout the year. My family and I wandered down the Duke of Gloucester Street and into a court proceeding at the Courthouse. A woman from the audience got to argue her case against a man whose cart tipped in the mud while shipping her tobacco. In those times, only single or widowed women had rights in court.
Kids can participate in RevQuest, a scavenger hunt-like activity involving finding clues and solving a mystery to help play a part in the American Revolution. Kids wear a bandana to show that they are playing the game, receive some Virginia currency in case they need to bribe someone to help and text clues in to move from step to step. The activity is even included in the admission price.
Holiday events are running until January 1st so families can take advantage of the school break with an after-Christmas to visit. Enjoy the Nutcracker Holiday Buffet on December 26 with dishes inspired by the ballet including fresh-caught seafood and desserts fit for the Sugar Plum Fairy. Kids eat at half price. On December 30, Thomas Jefferson’s favorite music will be played in a concert at the Art Museum.
I recommend getting a multiple day pass; there is so much to see for just one day and it’s much nicer to enjoy Colonial Williamsburg at a leisurely pace. Christmas packages are available through the Colonial Williamsburg website. One package includes Colonial Williamsburg admission tickets, lodging at the Colonial Williamsburg hotel and breakfast; another gives guests the option of staying at the Colonial Williamsburg hotel and visiting both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens Christmas Town.
Virginia’s strong history of embracing the Christmas spirit and celebrating the season is certainly kept alive at Colonial Williamsburg. Maybe your family has holiday traditions passed down through the generations that you will find originated in colonial Virginia. As Thomas Tusser said in the mid 1500s, “At Christmas play and make cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year.”