Colonial Williamsburg® The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

September 21, 2003

Grand Illumination Starts 2003 Holiday Season with Fireworks that Light up the Sky

The weather may be sizzling around the country now but it’s not too early to begin making plans to join the excitement and merriment of the 2003 holiday season at Colonial Williamsburg.

A traditional 18th-century celebration lights up the night sky in one of the nation’s most historic towns as the Grand Illumination, Colonial Williamsburg’s Christmas gift to the nation, begins the Historic Area’s holiday season Sunday, Dec. 7. Tens of thousands of revelers crowd the Historic Area to celebrate the 69-year-old yuletide tradition -- begun in 1935 -- with an afternoon and evening of holiday merriment and colonial-style fireworks – also called “groundworks” because the displays occur at ground level and at low altitude.

Illuminations were commonly used during the 18th century to celebrate major events such as great military victories, the birthday of the monarch, arrival of a new colonial governor and the like -- by firing guns and lighting fireworks. Written accounts of illuminations in Williamsburg, the 18th-century capital of Virginia, before the American Revolution include descriptions of “candles in the cupolas of public buildings and the windows of gentlemen’s houses.” Colonial Williamsburg adapted the traditional practice to celebrate the advent of the season that, in the Christian tradition, celebrates the birth of the King of Kings.

A variety of entertainment begins at 4:45 p.m. on five outdoor stages. The Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums provide 18th-century music appropriate to the season while balladeers and musicians perform popular music of the time. Other costumed performers present entertainment found in Williamsburg two centuries ago and church choirs and other community organizations sing Christmas carols.
The Fifes and Drums signals the beginning of the Grand Illumination at 6 p.m. At 6:15 p.m., candles are lit in public buildings, shops and homes, and fireworks are launched at four locations. Following the fireworks, entertainment resumes on the outdoor stages and continues until 7:30 p.m.

Special areas are provided where guests with disabilities may park and view the fireworks.

Holiday programs during the Christmas season at Colonial Williamsburg provide a memorable escape from the hustle, bustle and commercialism of modern life and a welcome return to a time when the focus was on spiritual celebration and festive gatherings with family and friends.

Known worldwide as the nation’s largest living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg recently was recognized as the “Best Historic Site” by readers of Southern Living magazine for the seventh straight year. Colonial Williamsburg is conveniently located just 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information or reservations, call toll-free (800) HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg on the Internet at

Media Contact:
Lorraine C. Brooks
(757) 220-7280