Deck the Halls (like a Founding Father) // Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
It was unseasonably mild- upper 70s in the middle of December. Based on the grin of the stagecoach driver, he certainly didn’t mind the warm breeze, nor did I. Duke of Gloucester Street, Colonial Williamsburg’s main pedestrian throughway dating back to the 18th century, was full of other pleased visitors. Interpreters wearing period costumes led groups on themed walking tours across the 301-acre historic area. As an advocate for all things Christmas no matter the temperature or season, I quickly opted for the holiday decoration stroll.
During my previous visit to Colonial Williamsburg I had been very distracted playing a game with a friend during the blacksmith’s demonstration, at lunch I had made a face at the bowl of peanut soup I’d been given at the King’s Arms Tavern, and I certainly didn’t recall the details of the basketmaker’s beautiful White Oak baskets. My approach to travel was a bit different in 7th grade.
Now returning to the living-history museum nearly 15 years later, I was happy to discover that the appearance of the property was almost exactly the way I remembered. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s commitment to authenticity extends from 18th century construction practices down to the fabrication of the interpreters’ shoes. It seems that no details are overlooked, not even the paint recipes.
With the late-summerlike weather, I opted to spend my time almost entirely on foot with my camera in hand, only stopping once to eat a tasty ham sandwich at The Cheese Shop in Merchants Square. As I was standing before the opulent Governor’s Palace, a horse-drawn carriage fled by, directed by a tricorn-hatted man who appeared to be running late for a party. For a moment I felt out of place, as though I’d stumbled into a foreign country wearing an inappropriate combination of a t-shirt and jeans. Later, during my search to find the first home that decorated a Christmas tree, a farmer looked at me oddly when I politely asked if I could take a picture of him arranging wreaths for sale at the market. After a pause he replied, “of course”. It seems that the living aspect of the living-history museum was a concept that took awhile to truly sink in. My guide explained that the impersonators take their roles just as seriously as the Foundation’s attention to detail. This commitment to authenticity might explain why I was subconsciously convinced that I was the one that was out of place, not the petticoat-clad ladies selling handmade gifts.
While revisiting the demonstrations with a more observant eye was a goal, during my time in town I was keen on scoping out the holiday decorations. I learned that decor must be created using materials that would have been available during the period. In place of blinking string lights, the houses and stores are modestly adorned with pine roping, fruit and wreaths. The church was disappointingly barren of exterior décor, which my guide later explained was true to the period. In contrast, I spent a solid 10 minutes trying to capture the beautiful apple-coated wreath at the Wythe House and another 15 doting on a giant maroon and orange wreath hanging from the eave of the Courthouse. As I walked the length of Gloucester Street the air filled with the smell of pine and evergreen. It was peaceful and beautiful.
After my dip into the 18th century I headed to the nearby Holiday Inn Historic Gateway. Downstairs the Bistro was buzzing with travelers, likely reveling from their warm winter’s day with the Colonists. I opted to call it an early night and took a long hot shower then dove headfirst into the fresh white sheets. The next morning I headed to the Bistro and took my time sipping coffee while scrolling through images on my camera. In contrast to my 7th grade peanut soup-scorn, I beamed at the arrival of the vegetable omelet with perfectly sautéed onions and green peppers.
Sailing home on the pine-scented breeze, I coasted back into the flurry of Christmas shopping and to-do lists. While today we are blessed with advancements like electricity, cars and Target to aid our holiday prepping and festivities, I realized that stepping back into the beautiful simplicity of the Colonists holiday season had elevated my Christmas spirit. Colonial Williamsburg’s display of the Nation’s original holiday celebrations makes for the perfect getaway into a festive world very different from ours, passport not required.
Tricorn-hats off to Holiday Inn Historic Gateway for hosting me for the night, and big thanks to Danielle at the front desk for her sincere Virginia hospitality.