Holiday season kicks off in Williamsburg

Staff writer

People travelled from far and wide to ring in the holiday season in Williamsburg last weekend.

The festivities began Saturday morning with the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance’s Christmas Parade, and rolled on with other fun events throughout the weekend before culminating with Colonial Williamsburg’s Grand Illumination.

The fireworks display is estimated to bring about 30,000 people to Williamsburg each year, according to Bill Schermerhorn, Colonial Williamsburg creative director of signature events. He said the tradition began in 1934, when CW celebrated the holiday season by placing candles in the windows of shops and homes along Duke of Gloucester Street. Fireworks were added in 1957, and the rest is history, he said.

“Fireworks and pyrotechnics were always used during the colonial period for big occasions,” Schermerhorn said. “It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the season.”

Along with the three fireworks displays at the Governor’s Palace, Magazine and Capitol, attendees could enjoy musical performances from acts including the Gentlemen of the College a capella group and Appalachian Music Ensemble from William and Mary, local jazz ensemble the Truetone Honeys, 504 Supreme and Colonial Williamsburg’s Fifes and Drums.

Attendees came from all over the country to see the show, and ranged from first-timers to families who said it’s a yearly tradition. Stephanie and Don Kibler make the trip from Strasburg each year, and said Colonial Williamsburg feels like home.

“My parents brought me down as a kid and I fell in love with the place and I’ve been coming ever since,” Don Kibler said. “It’s just like a home away from home, and being a history buff, you’ve got to love it. Today is so busy, and being here humbles you, you can get back to when times were simpler.”

Keith and Linda Weldon from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, said this was their fourth time at Grand Illumination, and they were happy to ring in the holiday season in the festive and historic atmosphere.

“There’s just a myriad of things that bring us back,” Keith said. “A lot of it is just the people that you’re around. Everybody seems to have one thing in common, and that’s the spirit of the season.”

While there was plenty to do before the sun set, the fireworks display was the star of the show, and folks agreed that it didn’t disappoint.

“It was fantastic, I loved the colors and the explosions, and the finale was just amazing,” said Ken Patterson, who visited from Richmond with his wife Jenny. “The setting, with the Palace behind it, it was so lit up and it was just gorgeous.”

Holiday Homes Tour

While Grand Illumination gave locals and visitors a chance to celebrate the season, the Green Spring Garden Club’s 59th annual Christmas Homes Tour Saturday let guests step back in time and experience a colonial Christmas.

This year’s tour featured three restored homes in Colonial Williamsburg’s historic area, along with a more modern home in the city’s Peacock Hill neighborhood and the Colonial Williamsburg horse stables. It was the first time in 10 years that the Colonial Williamsburg Stables were part of the tour, club member Patti Sagman said.

Club president Rita Grove said the tour is the result of months of work on the part of members, who were responsible for decorating each home and learning about their histories in order to lead tour groups through the buildings.

“It’s a year-long work to get the houses and arrange for everything, and we have a lot of people in the community that get together and help to serve as hostesses,” she said.

But Colonial Williamsburg wasn’t the only place to get some holiday cheer this past weekend. Speakers blared holiday favorites as crowds lined Richmond Road Saturday morning, eagerly anticipating the Chamber and Tourism Alliance’s 53rd annual Christmas Parade.

This year, the parade’s theme was “A Miracle on DoG Street,” taking inspiration from the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street. Around 100 area organizations paraded down Richmond Road on foot, bicycles, motorcycles classic hot rods, floats and more.

The route took floats and marchers from the corner of Richmond Road and Brooks Street and go through Merchants Square all the way to the lawn of The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

Michelle Williams, the chamber’s director of business events, said this was the most well-attended Christmas Parade yet, with around 10,000 people in the downtown area.

Parade participants included marching bands from Warhill and Lafayette high schools, Williamsburg, James City and York County police and fire departments, as well as area non-profit organizations, clubs and businesses.

There were 20 judges evaluating each local group’s contribution to the parade. Judges included City Councilman Benny Zhang and Williamsburg Area Restaurant Association Executive Director Debi Schaefer.

“All categories include following the theme of the parade which is selected each year by the parade committee as well as creativity and imagination,” Williams said.

Parade units were split into nine categories including performances, school bands, nonprofits and commercial businesses. Winners from this year’s Christmas Parade included the Marching Elites from Hampton and area businesses Williams Landscape and Design and Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center. Local groups took home top prizes as well, including the Bruton High School and Queens Lake Middle School marching bands and James River Baptist Church.

Maureen and Rich Mulder traveled from Charlottesville to see the parade, and said they were most excited to see Newfoundland dogs walking with local organization Colonial Newfoundland Rescue.

City resident Robert Keys arrived bright and early Saturday morning, setting up lawn chairs near the College Delly for himself, his wife and their children. He said watching the parade is an annual tradition for his family.

“It’s a good way to spend time with my sons and my wife, we try to make it a family tradition. There’s always something new to see.”

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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