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September 14, 2005

Frequently Asked Questions about a Colonial Williamsburg Christmas

What is Grand Illumination?

Colonial Williamsburg's gift to the community and the nation, Grand Illumination signals the beginning of the 2005 holiday season Sunday, Dec. 4 and typically attracts more than 25,000 guests. The tradition began in 1935 with the first "White Lighting" of the Historic Area, during which a single candle was lit in each window of homes and shops throughout the restored area. Though the program has become significantly larger, the lighting of candles in public buildings, homes and shops continues.
Because of heavy traffic, guests are encouraged to arrive early and park at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center. Free bus service is provided between the Visitor Center and the Historic Area until 10 p.m.

How many lights are displayed in the Historic Area?

Windows in more than 100 exhibition buildings, trade shops, private homes and other Historic Area buildings are lit with more than 1,200 electric or battery operated candles from Thanksgiving weekend through Jan. 1, 2006.

What makes Colonial Williamsburg's decorations unique?

Williamsburg's outdoor Christmas decorations are known worldwide for their use of natural materials that would have been available during the 18th century. These typically include pine and boxwood wreaths decorated with fresh pineapples, apples, oranges, pomegranates, nuts, pinecones, holly and other materials.

Colonial Williamsburg's floral staff begins decorating the exteriors and interiors of exhibition buildings and shops the week after Thanksgiving. They produce several dozen elaborate door wreaths and plaques every year and create elegant interior table and mantel decorations as well. More than 2,550 white pine and Fraser fir wreaths and more than three miles of white pine roping are used to put the finishing touches on doorways, windows, columns and railings.

Historic Area residents are encouraged to decorate their homes and a contest is held each year to determine the most imaginative or original decorations.

What are cressets?

Cressets are iron baskets that are placed on iron poles. Pitch pine, or fat wood, is placed in them and burned to provide illumination during evening programs. This particular wood contains a high amount of resin that provides an especially hot, bright flame.

What is the history of the Market Square Christmas tree?

There were no Christmas trees in 18th century Williamsburg. The first "Christmas tree" in Williamsburg was introduced and decorated in 1842 at the St. George Tucker House. Far from the large, grandiose trees aglow with sparkling lights and myriad decorations of today, early Christmas trees were shorter and simpler but no less aesthetic or charming. The early trees typically were showcased on a tabletop and stood no more than a few feet tall.

Volunteers at the St. George Tucker House – now the home of Colonial Williamsburg's donor reception center – re create the tree as it might have appeared in 1842. The Tucker House staff also decorates a much larger, American style tree with a folk art theme. Volunteers make decorations using themes from the book "Christmas Decorations from Williamsburg's Folk Art Collection" and other sources. The Tucker House is open to Colonial Williamsburg supporters who contribute $100 or more annually.

Williamsburg's first Christmas tree is commemorated with the lighting of a large evergreen at Market Square near the Magazine. The tree is illuminated Christmas Eve during a ceremony that includes caroling and brief remarks by a prominent Williamsburg citizen.

Where do Williamsburg's holiday guests come from?

Holiday guests typically come from the same places as during the rest of the year – primarily from the Northeast. The majority of them come from large cities and metropolitan areas: Washington, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Norfolk, Richmond, Raleigh-Durham and Atlanta to name a few.

How far in advance should reservations be made?

Since this is such a busy time, reservations for lodging and dining during the holiday season should be made as soon as possible. Weekend reservations tend to fill up faster than mid week reservations.
Williamsburg Inn typically is the first Colonial Williamsburg hotel to fill up, followed by the Colonial Houses, Williamsburg Lodge, and Woodlands Hotel & Suites. The Governor's Inn sometimes has rooms available throughout the season.

The Williamsburg area has 10,000 hotel rooms to fit every budget. If no rooms are available in a Colonial Williamsburg hotel, accommodations generally can be found close by.

What are the minimum stay requirements?

There may be two-night minimum stay requirements, based on demand, in Colonial Williamsburg hotels for Grand Illumination. Due to high demand for accommodations during the holiday season, a four day minimum stay is required between Dec. 22 and 26 at the Williamsburg Inn, Colonial Houses and the Williamsburg Lodge. The Woodlands Hotel & Suites requires a two day minimum stay between Dec. 24 and 26. Guests are welcome to stay longer, of course.

How do I get additional information and purchase tickets for holiday programs?

To request a free planner that details Colonial Williamsburg's holiday programs or to make reservations by phone, call toll free (800) HISTORY (447-8679) or explore the Colonial Williamsburg website at

How do I make lodging and dining reservations?

To make lodging reservations or to request a free Colonial Williamsburg Vacation Planner, call toll free (800) HISTORY (447 8679). To make dining reservations other than for holiday events, call toll free (800) TAVERNS (828 3767) or fax to (757) 565-8797. Priority dining reservations are given to guests of Colonial Williamsburg Hotels. Reservations also may be made on the Internet at

What is The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation?

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the private, not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century capital of Virginia. It is not part of the state or federal park system. Your purchase of tickets, gifts, licensed products, as well as food and lodgings at Colonial Williamsburg hotels and your tax deductible contributions, help us preserve and operate this national treasure. The Historic Area comprises 301 acres with 88 original colonial buildings and hundreds of other structures that have been reconstructed on their original foundations.

From 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg was the political, social and cultural capital of Britain's largest, wealthiest and most populous North American colony. Educational tours and programs re create daily life during the 1770s when colonists were taking their first steps toward becoming a new nation.

Colonial Williamsburg also operates the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and Bassett Hall – the Williamsburg home of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr. In addition, Colonial Williamsburg operates five hotel properties, 10 restaurants, three golf courses and numerous retail stores.

When is Colonial Williamsburg open?

Colonial Williamsburg is open 365 days a year, generally from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the holiday season. Information about specific programs, times and locations can be found in Colonial Williamsburg’s “This Week,” which is available at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center, all Colonial Williamsburg ticket outlets, Colonial Williamsburg hotels and at

How much are Colonial Williamsburg tickets?

Colonial Williamsburg offers several ticket options for the holiday guest.

The Colonial Sampler, $34 for adults and $15 for youth 6-17, provides a single day’s admission to Great Hopes Plantation and authentic 18th-century exhibition sites such as the Courthouse, Gaol, Magazine, and the homes of Peyton Randolph and George Wythe, and includes an orientation walk, complimentary Historic Area shuttle bus service and viewing of the classic movie, “Williamsburg—The Story of a Patriot.”

The Governor’s Key-to-the-City Pass, good for two consecutive days, is $48 for adults and $24 for youth 6-17. It includes all features of the Colonial Sampler Ticket, plus admission to the Capitol, the Governor’s Palace, the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and Bassett Hall, the Williamsburg home of Colonial Williamsburg benefactors John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.

The Freedom Pass is the best value for extended visits over multiple days or up to a full year. Priced at $59 for adults and $29 for youth 6-17, the Freedom Pass also features Colonial Explorer activities such as walking tours and behind-the-scenes programs, and a 50 percent discount on evening Colonial Performances (except during the Christmas season).

The Independence Pass, which provides a full year’s access with special privileges, is $72 for adults and $36 for youth 6-17. The Independence Pass includes all the benefits of the Freedom Pass, plus free tickets to evening Colonial Performances (except during the Christmas season) and seasonal special offers.

How do I get there?

Williamsburg is 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., and is midway between Richmond and Norfolk. It is served by international airports at Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News, and by Amtrak. The Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center is accessible by Interstate 64, exit 238, and offers ample parking.

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