Festive weekend rings in holiday season for thousands

A wealth of holiday cheer filled the streets of Williamsburg last weekend, from Saturday’s 52nd annual Christmas Parade and the Homes Tour, to Sunday’s Grand Illumination.

City streets echoed with the warmth of Christmas carols, marching bands, rhythmic percussion and the crackling of fireworks in the sky.

The parade brought back memories for those who had seen or taken part in it previously, while children squealed in delight at seeing Santa. Homes not normally on display got their once-a-year public unveiling.

At the Grand Illumination, people hustled down Duke of Gloucester Street to view the Fifes and Drums in formation while dodging others gathered to sing Christmas carols. They all later settled into their preferred spot to watch the skies flash with the crackling of fireworks.

Some faced challenges getting settled in, though city police did not make any arrests related to the events over the weekend.

“We didn’t have any big problems to deal with, and I think both events went smoothly,” said Williamsburg Police Maj. Greg Riley.

Riley said Williamsburg Police dealt with a few disgruntled people trying to find places to park at the parade, including one person who was not able to park along the parade route as they had in years past.

Parade stirs memories

The Williamsburg Christmas Parade may have changed over the years — altering its route, shortening its length and, this year, allowing no cars to be parked in the parade path — but for nearly 50 years Teresa Randall has been a constant.

Since 1968, Randall, now 56, has viewed the parade from the sidewalk in front of her mother’s home on Richmond Road.

On a chilly Saturday morning, Randall was joined by several members of her family who use the parade as a kickoff to the holiday season.

“We do this every year,” Randall said. “It’s wonderful. We invite all of our friends to come. We get to hang out. We drink hot cocoa after it’s over with and watch the traffic go by. We get to wave to Santa and all of our friends.”

Raven Erskines, 23, of Williamsburg, escorted her 3-year-old sister London Erskines in the parade. The younger Erskines said the songs were her favorite part.

For the older Erskines, the parade brought back memories of participating with Girl Scouts, Warhill marching band and Toano Flag Squad.

“It’s a great experience because being a young girl myself, my family would always bring me here as well, so it’s good to witness it with my little sister and partake in it for her first year,” Raven Erskines said.

This year’s parade route went down Richmond Road, starting at Brooks Street, wound through Merchants Square onto Henry Street and ended at the corner of Henry and Francis streets.

Randall also was in the parade for 22 years, when it ended, rather than began, near her mother’s home.

Her favorite part?

“Getting to see everybody, and getting into the spirit of Christmas, and seeing all the different schools and supporting all the local businesses,” Randall said.

Randall said in years past, the parade would start at 9 a.m. instead of 8, and go until noon, and the route would have parked cars along it.

This year, no cars were allowed to park along the parade route for security reasons, said Williamsburg Police Maj. Don Janderup, who was handing out candy to children at the corner of Brooks Street and Richmond Road at the start of the parade.

Still, children and their families bundled up and enjoyed the parade, which concluded with the appearance of Santa Claus.

“It always starts the season off for Williamsburg, with the parade and (Sunday’s) Grand Illumination,” Randall said.

Homes Tour draws a crowd

At the Benjamin Waller House Saturday morning, people waited for up to a half-hour to take the 15 minute tour.

The house was open as part of the 58th Annual Christmas House Tour, which the Green Spring Garden Club puts on. The garden club staff said more than 1,000 people visit the six homes during the tour.

The operation takes a lot of help.

Every year about 350 volunteers take on a variety of tasks including hostessing, selling tickets, photographing arrangements and distributing brochures, according to the club.

“We’re here to enjoy it and see some different homes,” resident Mary Alice Joss said. “This is my first time.”

Bobbi Cullinan comes to Williamsburg every year from Florida meets a friend from Ohio just for the tour of the six homes. He said it’s the highlight of his visit being able to travel through history.

“It’s so cool you’re walking on floorboards and going through houses that were there in the 1600s,” Cullinan said.

Money raised from the tours goes to toward scholarships at Christopher Newport University, the College of William and Mary and Virginia Tech students who are studying horticulture and the environment. Money will also go toward the Williamsburg Botanical Gardens.

City resident Barbara Salins was one of many in the long lines, but she enjoys viewing the homes year-after-year.

“The Garden Club does a fabulous job, and it’s nice to see some homes you don’t usually get to see,” Salins said.

Grand Illumination provides memories for all

Grand Illumination onlookers came from near and far to celebrate Colonial Williamsburg and its past.

Thousands packed Duke of Gloucester Street on Sunday night to view the fireworks, hear the Fifes and Drums and glance at holiday decorations.

Cleveland native Kathy Kuhn was joined by four friends, all of whom had been to Colonial Williamsburg many times over the last 32 years, but they had never experienced Grand Illumination. She said they looked forward to the fireworks.

Steve Herndon, 43, of Fredericksburg, perhaps summed up the festive atmosphere around Grand Illumination that wrapped up the weekend’s holiday celebrations.

“I think for us it’s the ease of people, everybody’s so nice down here,” Herndon said. “Just the colonial spirit, a little bit of a history lesson at that, the auction and the events. Things are just a lot more laid back around here. … You’re in a crowd, but you don’t feel crowded. It’s a good start to the holiday season. Everyone’s in a joyous, festive mood.”

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