Friday, July 12, 2024

Here’s what you need to know before you go to Grand Illumination

The skies above Colonial Williamsburg will light up for the annual Grand Illumination. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)
The skies above Colonial Williamsburg will light up for the annual Grand Illumination. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)

Colonial Williamsburg is once again launching the Christmas season with fireworks and carols, and tourists and locals alike will want to know how to beat the crowd.

Grand Illumination was introduced in the 1930s in accordance with 18th century traditions of lighting fireworks to mark important occasions. According to a Colonial Williamsburg news release the annual celebration will light up the sky on Dec. 2.

In addition to fireworks and musical performances, Grand Illumination guests can try free hot chocolate, dig in to Christmas dinner, knock out some Christmas shopping and enjoy historic holiday programming at sites across Colonial Williamsburg.

“Grand Illumination brings together different layers of Williamsburg’s unique history, wrapped up in a fun-filled package of holiday festivity,” said Bill Schermerhorn, Colonial Williamsburg creative director of signature events. “It is an experience unique in the world, where the Historic Area’s darkened streets and sidewalks are filled with joyful song and dotted with the warming orange light of burning cressets, illuminating the ornate handmade fresh wreaths and garlands hung on homes, shops and taverns along Duke of Gloucester Street.”

The town crier will begin the Christmas season at the Colonial Courthouse at 4 p.m. After the announcement, here’s what to expect at Grand Illumination:


The colorful fireworks give Grand Illumination its name and can be seen from many vantage points around town. They will be set off simultaneously at 7 p.m. from three locations: The Governor’s Palace, Magazine and Capitol. While the fireworks are free, tickets for premium seating on the Palace Green are $25, and can be purchased on Colonial Williamsburg’s website. Premium seating is offered on a first come, first-served basis and opens at 3 p.m.

A torch-lit procession of the Fifes and Drums on Duke of Gloucester Street will follow the fireworks.

Musical performances

  • Fifes and Drums: In addition to their performance after the fireworks, Fifes and Drums will also perform three simultaneous concerts of holiday regimental music at 6:40 p.m. They will perform at Capitol circle, on the Palace Green and outside the Courthouse.
  • The swing holiday sounds of the restoration period of the 1930s will be provided by the Truetone Honeys and 504 Supreme at 4 p.m. on the Palace Green.
  • Guests can stick around for the Williamsburg Christmas tale “Goodwin and the Ghost” at 5 p.m. before a ceremony at the George Wythe House at 5:20 p.m.
  • The Westminster Rangers will offer seasonal handbell selections at 4:15 and 5:15 p.m. at Market Square, and at 6 William & Mary Botetourt Chamber Singers will perform holiday favorites.
  • The Jubilee Performers will bring the sounds of African-American holiday songs to the Ludwell-Paradise house on Duke of Gloucester Street at 4 and 5:15.
  • William & Mary’s Gentlemen of the College will perform a cappella outside of the Raleigh Tavern at 4, 5:30 and 6:15 p.m.
  • The Raleigh Tavern will be illuminated at 5 p.m. as Colonial Williamsburg’s Fifes and Drums performs.
  • The William & Mary Appalachian Music Ensemble will offer up the sounds of southern Appalachian at 4, 5 and 6 p.m. at the Capitol’s North Lawn.


  • Sites throughout the Historic Area will be open to ticketed guests between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg will be open from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Liberty’s Ice Pavilion will be open between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.
  • Christmas Decorations Walking Tour, at 9:15 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Ticket required.
  • A Christmas Remembered at 3 p.m. at the Charlton Stage is open to guests with Colonial Williamsburg admission.
  • The Spirit of the Season at the Raleigh Tavern will be at 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3 and 3:30 p.m. The event is included with Colonial Williamsburg admission but a reservation ticket is required.
  • A Chisman Creek Christmas at the Hennage Auditorium at 12:30, 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. Special ticket required.
  • At noon a public auction of “rare and one-of-a-kind period-inspired items,” according to the news release, will take place between the Roscow Cole House and the Courthouse.
  • The Market House will close at 3 p.m. and Tarpley’s and the William Pitt Store will remain open later.


  • Free tasting of Hot Cocoa: Mars Wrigley Confectionery with be presenting free samples of its American Heritage Hot Cocoa at locations around Colonial Williamsburg, including the Market House, Tarpley’s, the Craft House in Merchants Square and Revolutions in the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center.
  • Hungry guests can grab brunch, lunch or dinner in many of the taverns, including:
  1. Williamsburg Inn Grand Illumination Brunch Buffet in the Regency Dining Room, noon-2:30 p.m.
  2. Chowning’s Grand Illumination Garden Grill, noon- 8 p.m.
  3. Grand Illumination Dinner at Chowning’s, Christiana Campbell’s, King’s Arms and Shields taverns from 4:15-10 p.m.
  4. Food trucks will open at 2 p.m. on Nicholson Street.

Parking and traffic

Parking is available at the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center, according to the news release, and handicapped parking can be found in the Capitol/Tavern parking lot.

Several downtown streets will be closed, according to the Williamsburg Police Department. Traffic impacts are as follows:

Streets closing at 8 p.m.:

  • Duke of Gloucester Street
  • Blair Street
  • Botetourt Street
  • Queen Street
  • Colonial Street
  • Nicholson Street from Palace Green east to North England Street
  • Prince George from Nassau Street east to Palace Green
  • Palace Street from Duke of Gloucester north to Nicholson Street
  • Scotland Street from Palace Green east to North England
  • Nicholson Street from Palace Green east to North England
  • Nicholson from North England east to Waller
  • North England from Nicholson north to Tobacco Road

Streets closing at noon:

  • Francis Street from the intersection of Page and York streets west to Henry Street
  • Waller Street
  • South England Street from the intersection with Francis Street south to Newport Avenue
  • Nassau Street from Prince George Street south to Newport Avenue
  • Court Street

Other traffic impacts:

  • Scotland Street from North England to Palace Green will close to pedestrian traffic at 5:15 p.m.
  • Tobacco Road from North England Street to the Colonial Parkway will close around 6:55 p.m.
  • Route 132 Y from the Colonial Parkway west to Route 132 will close around 7 p.m, to ease the exits of vehicles leaving the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center.

Related Articles