It's hard to miss the start of Christmas season in Williamsburg, especially when the arrival is ushered in with a parade of colorful floats and a resounding chorus of fireworks.
Starting Saturday with the annual Williamsburg Christmas Parade — culminating Sunday in Colonial Williamsburg's Grand Illumination and filled with everything in between — the first weekend in December cloaks the community in enough Christmas spirit to last the entire season.
Here's what you should know.
Williamsburg Christmas Parade
Last year, the Williamsburg Christmas Parade turned 50, and nearly 8,000 people turned out for the celebration, according to Naomi Flythe of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance.
It's hard to top a semi-centennial celebration. Thankfully, the parade's theme changes annually, allowing fresh creativity.
This year's theme? The Night Before Christmas.
"That's open to interpretation," Flythe said.
From odes to lines in Clement Clarke Moore's classic poem to depictions of the Biblical story, we'll find out Saturday morning what interpretation the parade's nearly 100 units chose.
Those units — school marching bands, civic groups, nonprofit organizations, performers, you name it —will start at Brooks Street and Richmond Road, parading down a long stretch of Richmond Road, through Merchants Square onto Henry Street. From there, the parade will split, with some floats turning left onto Francis Street toward Nassau Street and other floats continuing along Henry Street to Court Street.
"Anywhere you are, you're going to see the whole parade," Flythe said.
The route is the same as last year. Flythe said parade organizers have taken steps to ensure timeliness, since last year, adjusting to the new route, the parade started 30 minutes late. With an earlier start time, increased police presence and a pre-organized parade lineup, Flythe believes the 2016 parade will have a less hectic start.
When: 8 a.m., Dec. 3 (streets close at 7:30 a.m.)
Where: Richmond Road and Merchants Square
Historically, illuminations marked military victories, monarchs' birthdays and other major events. The Colonial Williamsburg tradition, introduced in 1934, marks the start of something more seasonal.
"It's sort of like that big bang that says: Christmas is here," said Valerie Deichsel, Historic Area events planner. "It's like all of a sudden the holiday just comes to life, right then and there."
The biggest bang, of course, comes from the 20-minute fireworks display starting at 7 p.m. on Dec. 4. The fireworks will launch from the Palace, the Magazine and both the Capitol Green and the Capitol's lawn opposite the Goal. The display, presented this year by Pyrotecnico, follows an 18th-century, low-to-the-ground style.
"They're all the same show, and because they're so low, you can't miss them," Deischsel said, though her favorite viewing spot is the Magazine.
But even before fireworks, the Historic Area lights up with flaming cressets along streets and candles in the windows of buildings clothed in Christmas decorations.
This happens at dusk, which is around the same time the live music begins at 5 p.m. on four stages: Palace Green, Market Square, the south side of the Capitol and opposite the Goal. Performers include the Greater Richmond Pipes and Drums, Botetourt Chamber Singers, Gentlemen of the College, USAF Heritage Brass Band and, new this year, the First Baptist Church choir.
9 a.m. – Historic Area sites opens.
10 a.m.-10 p.m. – Liberty's Ice Pavilion open.
12:15 p.m., 2:15 p.m., 4:15 p.m. – "Jazz for the Holidays" in the Hennage Auditorium at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.
12-3 p.m. – Santa Claus visits William and Mary Bookstore.
12:30, 2 and 3 p.m. – Virginia Theatre Machine performs "A Christmas Carol" in Merchants Square.
1 p.m. – Market House live auction.
4 p.m. – Food trucks on Nicholson Street between Queen and North England Streets and on Blair Street serve sandwiches, barbecue and tacos.
4:30 p.m. – Illumination Feast and Festivities at Williamsburg Lodge.
5 p.m. – Entertainment begins on outdoor stages at Palace Green, Market Square, Gaol and Capitol.
6:45 p.m. – Fifes and Drums, Pipes and Drums perform.
7 p.m.-9 p.m. – Father Christmas strolls Merchants Square.
7 p.m. – Fireworks at Governor's Palace, Market Square and Capitol, followed by Fifes and Drums march down Duke of Gloucester Street.
8 p.m. – Grand Medley of Entertainments at Kimball Theatre.
In between the parade and the pop of fireworks, there's plenty more to see.
Head to Kimball Theatre for the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra's popular Holiday Pops concerts, held twice each day, to indulge in Christmas music you've suppressed all year.
Over in Yorktown, you'll discover a different, more aquatic, Christmas parade with the annual Lighted Boat Parade Saturday evening along the York River.
There's something about model trains that captivates the imagination, especially at Christmas time, and the Ford's Colony Model Railroad Club's layout show will fill the James City County Library with 12 model railroad displays.
Busch Gardens' Christmas Town is in full swing, and this Sunday it even introduces a Christmas Town Dash 8K.
For more ideas, check out visitwilliamsburg.com/seasons/christmas-williamsburg or colonialwilliamsburg.com/holidays.
Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.