Colonial Williamsburg tree lighting ceremony brings tradition and spectacle to holiday

Staff writer

Few events are as quintessentially Christmas as a Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

And you’d be hard-pressed to find a ceremony that combines the region’s colonial character with a dazzling display better than the 59th annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony held by Colonial Williamsburg and the Kiwanis Club Thursday.

The star of the show is a 40-foot spruce clad in almost 7,500 lights. There also will be special guest appearances by Mayor Paul Freiling and Father Christmas, as well as music by the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums and Jubilee Performers at the event, which will be held at Market Square.

Top all that off with classic Christmas stories to warm your heart and hot beverages to warm your body, and you have a holiday celebration not to be missed.

“Colonial Williamsburg is thrilled to once again share this special tree lighting ceremony with the Williamsburg community,” said Bill Schermerhorn, Colonial Williamsburg creative director of signature events.

Williamsburg was one of the early adopters of the public Christmas tree lighting ceremony when it held its first lighting ceremony in 1915, Schermerhorn said.

The electric light made its Christmas-tree debut just a few decades earlier when Thomas Edison’s associate Edward Johnson put electric lights on the tree inside his New York City home in 1882. Some of the first recorded instances of outdoor tree lighting ceremonies took place in New York City and Boston in 1912.

The local light show was originally a community event, and the first lighting was held on the Palace Green in Colonial Williamsburg. Over time, Colonial Williamsburg gradually took the lead on the event. In 1959, the Kiwanis joined forces with Colonial Williamsburg to make the event happen, Schermerhorn said.

The event originally took place on Christmas Day, and then Christmas Eve before being scheduled a few days beforehand. The ceremony also became more involved, and appearances by the mayor and caroling were added.

The event was canceled during the World War I and II, but endures to the present day as a unique Christmas experience. It stands apart from the other public display events that have come to crowd the field thanks to the venue’s colonial decorations and setting, Schermerhorn said.

“The environment is perfect for Christmas,” he said.

Guests will gather outside the Courthouse on Duke of Gloucester Street before 5 p.m. Thursday. There, Kiwanis volunteers will hand out candles.

“This special holiday kick-off is a cherished event for our community,” said Missy Zimmerman, president of the Kiwanis Club of Williamsburg. “We are excited to partner with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation again and fulfill the Kiwanis mission to make the world brighter one community at a time.”

Stories and songs will entertain guests before the main event: lighting the tree. The music of the Colonial Fifes and Drums will close out the ceremony.

The event is free to the public and no tickets or reservations are required. Ginger cakes and hot drinks will be available for purchase. The tree will be lit every night until Jan. 6. And Colonial Williamsburg will fire off Christmas guns 5 p.m. Dec. 24 on Market Square, according to a foundation news release.

“This is what Christmas is all about, a community coming together,” Schermerhorn said.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, jojacobs@vagazette.com, @jajacobs_

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