Monday, September 25, 2023

Grand Illumination: Williamsburg gets fired up for the holidays

Fireworks get lit in Williamsburg
Fireworks by Grucci put on a free show for the Grand Illumination in 2015. (Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg)

It’s not just about the fireworks.

Colonial Williamsburg will kick off the holidays Sunday, with the annual Grand Illumination.

The daylong lineup of events ranges from live jazz and ice skating to a torchlit procession up Duke of Gloucester Street, according to a Colonial Williamsburg release.

The fireworks start at 7 p.m. The free display can be viewed from four locations: The Palace Green, Market Square, The Capitol Green on the south side of the Capitol, and the northeast lawn of the Capitol, across from the Gaol.

Afterward, the Fifes & Drums will lead a torchlit procession up Duke of Gloucester Street from the Palace Green to Botetourt Street.

The Grand Illumination dates back to 1934, two years after the living history museum opened, when windows in restored and reconstructed buildings were lined with candles. The celebration expanded over the years, making way for fireworks.

Here’s what else is in store:

Activities, Seasonal and Otherwise

There will be ice skating at Liberty’s Ice Pavilion on Duke of Gloucester Street, near Merchant’s Square, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission costs $12 for skaters aged 13 and up and $10 for children aged 3-12. Skates can be rented for $4.25.

Santa Claus will be at the William & Mary Bookstore in Merchants Square from 12 to 3 p.m.

The Virginia Theatre Machine will give free performances of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in Merchants Square at 12:30, 2 and 3:30 p.m.

At 1 p.m., there will be a colonial auction on the Market Square stage.

Father Christmas will be in Merchants Square and Liberty’s Ice Pavilion from 7 to 9 p.m.


Chowning’s Tavern will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Reservations are not necessary. King’s Arms Tavern and Shields Tavern will be open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. as well as for dinner. Christiana Campbell’s Tavern will just serve dinner. Dinner seatings begin at 4:15 p.m.

To make an online reservation go to, or Or call 855-296-6627.

Starting  at 4 p.m., food trucks will sell hot sandwiches, barbecue and tacos on Nicholson Street between Queen and North England streets and on Blair Street.

Hot cider, hot cocoa and cookies will be at various locations, including the Roscow Cole House, Levingston Kitchen, the Lumber House Ticket Office, the Gunsmith, Shields Tavern garden pavilion and Chowning’s Tavern garden.

The Raleigh Tavern Bakery, Dubois Grocer, Chowning’s cider stand and the McKenzie Apothecary will be open until 9 p.m.

Culture, Entertainment and History

Historic area locations open at 9 a.m. Admission to Colonial Williamsburg is required.

Christmas decoration walking tours leave from the Lumber House ticket office at 9:15 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tickets cost $15.

The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Exhibits include “The World Made Small,” “A Carolina Room Christmas” and “German Toys in America.”

The Hennage Auditorium in the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg will present “Jazz for the Holidays,” with the Harris Simon Trio playing holiday favorites at 12:15, 2:15 and 4:15 p.m. Tickets are $10, on top of the price of museum admission.

Author David Baldacci will sign copies of his newest release “No Man’s Land” at 2 p.m. at the William & Mary Bookstore in Merchants Square.

Bassett Hall, the home of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for visitors with Colonial Williamsburg admission.

The Kimball Theatre in Merchants Square will present “A Grand Medley of Entertainments,” an 18th century-style variety show, at 8 p.m. Adult tickets cost $18. Admission is $9 for children aged 6-12.

Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley is a former Miami Herald business reporter, a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and an attorney. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post,, and Talking Points Memo. Her recent book, Just Another Southern Town: Mary Church Terrell and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Nation’s Capital, was shortlisted for the 2017 Mark Lynton History Prize. Her first book, The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy, won the 2005 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.

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