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December 2, 2002

Grand Illumination sparks holiday celebration

Tens of thousands of holiday revelers will ooh-and-ah their collective approval as the flash, boom and flicker of fireworks fills the night sky over Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area during the Grand Illumination—Colonial Williamsburg’s Christmas gift to the nation—Sunday, Dec. 8.

Signaling the beginning of the holiday season, the 68-year Yuletide tradition begun in 1935 offers an afternoon and evening of holiday merriment and 18th-century-style fireworks, historically known as “groundworks” because the displays occur at ground level and at low altitude.

A variety of traditional holiday entertainment begins at 4:45 p.m. on four outdoor stages. The Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums provide 18th-century music appropriate to the season while balladeers and musicians perform popular music of the time. Other costumed performers present entertainment found in Williamsburg two centuries ago and church choirs and other community organizations sing Christmas carols.

The Fifes and Drums signal the beginning of the Grand Illumination at 5:45 p.m. with a Grand Tattoo. At 6:15 p.m., candles are lit in public buildings, shops and homes, and fireworks are launched at four locations.

Following the fireworks, entertainment resumes on the outdoor stages and continues to 7:30 p.m. Special areas are provided where visitors with disabilities may park and view the fireworks.

The Grand Illumination is an adaptation of a common practice during the 18th century. Ordinary citizens celebrated extraordinary events—major military victories, the arrival of a new colonial governor, or the birthday of the monarch—by firing guns and using fireworks.

Accounts written in Williamsburg chronicling illuminations before the American Revolution include the use of “candles in the cupolas of public buildings and the windows of gentlemen’s houses.” Colonial Williamsburg adapted the historical practice to usher in the season that, in the Christian tradition, celebrates the birth of the King of Kings.

Grand Illumination schedule:

  • 8:30 a.m. Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center opens.
  • 8:50 a.m. Colonial Williamsburg buses begin operations between the Visitor Center and the Historic Area.
  • 9 a.m. Exhibition buildings, trade shops and Carter's Grove open.
  • 10 a.m. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and Carter’s Grove open.
  • 11 a.m. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum opens.
  • Noon Francis Street closed from York Street to Henry Street.
  • Noon Francis Street closed from York Street to Henry Street.
  • 3 p.m. Colonial Williamsburg buses limit operations. Buses will pick up and discharge passengers at the Governor’s Palace Bus Stop in the Historic Area and the Visitor Center only.
  • 4:45 p.m. Entertainment begins on outdoor stages at Palace Green, the Courthouse Green adjacent to Roscow Cole House and the north and south sides of the Capitol.
  • 5:45 p.m. Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums plays a Grand Tattoo signaling the beginning of Colonial Williamsburg’s holiday season.
    Colonial Williamsburg buses temporarily cease operations.
  • 6:15 p.m. Candles are lit in public buildings, shops and homes. Fireworks are launched at four locations: the Governor’s Palace, Market Square, and the north and south sides of the Capitol.
  • 8:15 p.m. Colonial Williamsburg buses resume operations.

    Media Contact:
    Jim Bradley
    (757) 220-7281



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