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Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg: Like nowhere else

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olonial Williamsburg does the holidays like no one else. On the day after Thanksgiving, a team of a dozen gardeners begins building wreaths, garlands, and window decorations that will deck the Historic Area in Williamsburg's signature style.

In keeping with a tradition that began with the Restoration in the 1930s, professional landscape staff and amateurs create holiday decorations using natural ingredients. Coordinator of Garden Programs Laura Viancour says,

"Anything you see growing in the Historic Area is something that we can use on the decorations. So everything from walnuts to catalpa seedpods, any of the flowers that you see, we’ll dry them and use them."

Other items that might find their way onto a wreath include oyster shells, cotton pods, fresh and dried fruits, boxwood boughs and magnolia leaves. Sometimes items that suggest the use of the building are woven in: curlers at the wigmakers, rolls at the bakers, or mugs at the taverns.

Not a door goes bare during the holiday season. Eighty-eight exhibition buildings, both reconstructed and original, are decorated by Colonial Williamsburg's landscape staff. Many other buildings in the Revolutionary City are private residences, occupied by Colonial Williamsburg staff. Residents can create their own wreaths or call in a professional to design a decoration that visitors from around the country will want to snap a picture of.

Though much of the effort is made simply for the joy of the winter holidays, a cutthroat competition also lends a motivating force to the festivities. The contest for the best wreath began with Williamsburg's restoration in the 1930s. The wreaths are not necessarily representative of the colonial period, but the annual challenge unites the town's residents in a merry battle.

Walk the Historic Area and see the wreaths, ropes, garlands and swags go up beginning Nov. 29, 2013. The transformation will be complete in time for the Grand Illumination on Dec. 8, 2013.