Colonial Williamsburg®

History.org: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

CW Foundation navigation

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

December 1, 2006

CW's Grand Illumination heralds the start of the holiday season in the 18th-century capital of Virginia

Sunday, December 3 begins Colonial Williamsburg’s holiday season with a traditional 18th-century celebration that brightens the night sky. Thousands of people converge on Colonial Williamsburg’s streets to celebrate the Grand Illumination--a 72-year yuletide tradition that began in 1935--with an afternoon and evening of holiday merriment and colonial-style fireworks.

A variety of entertainment begins at 4:45 p.m. on multiple 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 local choirs sing Christmas carols.

The Fifes and Drums signal the beginning of the Grand Illumination at 5:45 p.m. At 6:15 p.m., candles are lit in public buildings, shops and homes, and fireworks are launched at three locations. Following the fireworks, entertainment resumes on the outdoor stages and continues until 7:30 p.m.

Illuminations were commonly used during the 18th century to celebrate major events such as great military victories, the birthday of the monarch, arrival of a new colonial governor and the like – by firing guns and lighting fireworks. Written accounts of illuminations in Williamsburg before the American Revolution include descriptions of “candles in the cupolas of public buildings and the windows of gentlemen’s houses.”

Colonial Williamsburg adapted the traditional practice to celebrate the advent season that, in the Christian tradition, celebrates the birth of the King of Kings.

The 2006 Grand Illumination schedule:

  • 8:30 a.m. Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center opens.
  • 8:50 a.m. Colonial Williamsburg buses begin operating between the Visitor Center
    and the Historic Area.
  • 9 a.m. Exhibition buildings, trade shops and museums open.
  • Noon. Francis Street closed from York Street to Henry Street.
  • 4:30 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 from 4 to 5:45 p.m. Regular service resumes at 8:30 p.m. and runs until 10 p.m.
  • 4:45 p.m. Entertainment begins on outdoor stages at Palace Green, Market Square, Goal and Capitol building.
  • 5:45 p.m. Colonial Williamsburg’s Fifes and Drums play Grand Tattoo, signaling the beginning of Colonial Williamsburg’s holiday season. Colonial Williamsburg’s buses temporarily cease operations.
  • 6:15 p.m. Candles are lit in public buildings, shops and homes. Fireworks are launched at three locations: the Governor’s Palace, Market Square, and the north and south sides of the Capitol building.
  • 8:30 p.m. Colonial Williamsburg’s buses resume operations.

    Williamsburg City Police will close Francis Street from York Street to North Henry Street and South England Street from Francis Street to Newport Avenue at noon for Grand Illumination. The streets will be closed to all automobiles except for guests going to King’s Arms, Shields, Chowning’s, the Williamsburg Inn and the Williamsburg Lodge. The city does this to provide adequate parking for tour buses bringing guests to Grand Illumination. Special areas are provided where guests with disabilities may park and view the fireworks.

    For more information, call 1-800-HISTORY.

    Media Contact:
    Penna Rogers
    (757) 220-7121



  • Footer