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Grand Illumination

 After the race we headed back to where we were staying for a late breakfast. A took a nap and J and K went into the Jacuzzi. After getting cleaned up, we headed to our favorite Mexican restaurant in Williamsburg and then made our way to Colonial Williamsburg for the Grand Illumination.

In the 18th century an illumination was used to celebrate a military victory, the birthday of the Monarch or the arrival of a new colonial governor and was celebrated by gun fire and fireworks. But today, the Grand Illumination marks the beginning of the Christmas Season and the birth of the King of Kings.

This was the first year we had come to Williamsburg for the Grand Illumination. I had heard it was beautiful, so I was happy that we were able to come down at the time of Grand Illumination. As we drove down the road next to Colonial Williamsburg, we noticed that there were cars EVERYWHERE. People were walking from a far distance to make their way into Colonial Williamsburg. Cars had driven over the curb and were parked anywhere there was open grass to park. My hubby decided to drop us off at one of the entrances and then go look for a place to park. Once I got the boys completely bundled (it was, after all, COLD), we headed to the Governor’s Palace.

The Grand Illumination occurs at four different places throughout Colonial Williamsburg; The Capital Building, The Market Square, The Magazine, and the Governor’s Place. At each place, a stage was set up and various entertainment was occurring. There were Colonial actors putting on Colonial period entertainment. After that, a local choir sang Christmas songs and conducted a sing along. Shortly after we arrived, it became dark. The area had large basket-like torches burning to keep the crowds warm, and to light the area. There were thousands of people just by the Governor’s Palace alone.

We were standing to the right of the Palace, close to the stage. The boys were getting restless. One was complaining that he was cold; the other was complaining that he could not see the stage; and A just yelled to get down and run (there was no way that was happening in the dark, with the large crowd we were in). The choir finished up and the fife and drum band came to the stage. Silence. Silence among all my children. It is like the fife and drum corps has a magical power over them. Suddenly they were all well behaved and captivated by the sounds coming from the stage. The entire fife and drum corps was present that evening, but split between the four different stages around the town. The senior members, along with the leader were performing on our stage. They performed for about a half an hour and then the fireworks began.

Over the years, I have seen many fireworks displays. I have seen them in parks growing up, special fireworks celebrations, and even 4th of July fireworks in our Nation’s Capital, but none compared to this fireworks display. And, to be honest, I am not sure why. Maybe it was the fact that they were taking place in such a historical location. Maybe it was because, as they shot off into the air, they illuminated the 18th century Palace behind them. Or maybe it was just because it was the Grand Illumination. But, whatever it was, this was the most memorable fireworks I have ever been to. The fireworks displays throughout Colonial Williamsburg were all the same and all timed together. As we watched the fireworks in front of us light up the sky, we turned around to see the exact same ones lighting up the sky behind us. There were fireworks that sounded and looked like gun fire. There were fireworks that mimicked cannon fire. The photographs throughout this post do not do justice to the beauty of the night.

The fireworks lasted for about 20 min. Once they were done, the crowd slowly began to thin out. Entertainment began on the stage again, so we decided to stay. The first band was the Richmond Pipe and Drum band; a Scottish bagpipe and drum corps. They were wonderful and the boys were entranced. After they were done, more of the Colonial Williamsburg fife and drum corps played various period instruments. We stayed until they finished and then headed back to where we were staying.

The night was a beautiful night. I would recommend anyone try to see it if they can, if you do not mind the cold and the crowds. It was a memorable experience!


  1. How very cool! I've been to Mount Vernon during the Christmas Season but never Williamsburg.


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