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November 24, 2009

Grand Illumination old and new traditions honored for 75 years

Colonial Williamsburg celebrates the 75th anniversary of Grand Illumination on Sunday, Dec. 6. At the same time, the Fifes and Drums make their 50 appearance at the traditional Christmas celebration.

Grand Illumination, a signature event of Colonial Williamsburg’s holiday season, features fireworks, music and candlelit buildings. The celebration begins at 4:45 p.m. with a variety of entertainment on multiple outdoor stages throughout the Historic Area. The Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums provides 18th-century music appropriate to the season. Other costumed performers present holiday entertainment found in Williamsburg two centuries ago and today.

At 5:45 p.m. the Fifes and Drums signals the beginning of Grand Illumination, from all four stages. At 6:15 p.m., candles are lit in public buildings, shops and homes, and fireworks are launched at three Historic Area locations: the Governor’s Palace, Magazine and Capitol. After the fireworks, entertainment resumes on the outdoor stages and continues until 7:30 p.m.

The tradition of Grand Illumination originated in 1934 with a “White Lighting.” The first authentic re-creation of an 18th-century Christmas in Williamsburg featured simple single candles in the windows of the Historic Area’s restored and reconstructed buildings, as well as garlands and greens on the outside of the buildings.

The Fifes and Drums first performed at the Grand Illumination on Dec. 18, 1959. The group was founded in 1958. Today the Fifes and Drums performs in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area nearly 500 times during the year in daily programs from mid-February through December and during special programs observing major holidays.

Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

Media Contact:
Penna Rogers
(757) 220-7121