Last Sunday my son, Donald, and I enjoyed a lovely dinner with friends from both Upper Milford and Lower Macungie townships. We had a great time sharing stories at a fabulous restaurant…in Colonial Williamsburg.
The dinner capped off a weekend of fun and celebration in the Virginia town. We traveled about 350 miles to see the Grand Illumination held each year on the first weekend in December.
In the 18th century, illuminations were held on occasions such as the arrival of a new governor, the king’s birth night, a festive ball, or other special times. They were celebrated with fireworks, bonfires, and the lighting of candles in windows of public buildings and private homes.
Colonial Williamsburg began its tradition of Grand Illumination in 1934, re-creating the illuminations from the past.
Weekend festivities began last Saturday with a morning parade on the main street of the town—Duke of Gloucester. It featured carolers, bagpipers, the Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps Alumni, along with other groups that brought the celebration of Christ’s birth to Colonial Williamsburg.
Garland was strewn around doorways, while wreaths adorned doors on residences and businesses—each different from the others. As the day wore on, more and more people came into the town to see the Christmas decorations and prepare for the next day’s activities.
As darkness fell throughout the village, Donald and I took a stroll in the evening’s cool, crisp air. Colonial Williamsburg was transformed into a different town in this darkness.
The hustle and bustle seen earlier in the day was gone. The sound of fifes and drums echoed in the distance. Couples slowly walked along the dirt roads arm-in-arm. Taverns came alive with activity. And a lone man in 18th century attire puffed on his pipe as he stood in the street watching passersby.
Then it was Sunday—Grand Illumination Day. It was a full day of socializing and merriment with guided holiday walking tours, musical performances, special meals, and more.
At dusk, candles were lit in the windows of public buildings and homes. Fire baskets (small bonfires in a wire basket about six feet off the ground) lit up the streets. Entertainment took place on four stages throughout the colonial town.
Finally, it was dark, and the crowd, estimated to be over 100,000, was treated to a spectacular fireworks show. The Governor’s Palace, Market Square and the Capitol Building were all aglow. The simultaneous booms and bangs from the three locations sounded like guns and cannons being fired. The sky was filled with the sparkle of lights.
Following the fireworks display, the Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg divided into four units and marched through the town. Crowds followed as they played music along the way to the center of the village. Once there, the marchers formed into one group and continued playing music.
The partying continued into the late evening hours at a local tavern, with guests playing colonial games, joining in a sing-along and enjoying food, wines and ales.
We said our good-byes to friends Sid and Linda Unser, and Richard and Janice Wetzel with plenty of hugs and handshakes. But it will only be a temporary good-bye, as we will surely see them again back in Upper Milford and Lower Macungie townships.