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A Williamsburg Christmas.

A Williamsburg Christmas

It starts with the mighty roar of a cannon.

Candles shine from the windows of the Wythe House, Raleigh Tavern, and other historic landmarks. Costumed musicians sing madrigals and carols. Throngs dance in the streets. A sweet smell of hot apple cider penetrates the 20-degree air. There is no doubt in anyone's mind--it's Christmas time in Williamsburg.

During one fortnight, people from nearly every state in the Union trek to this restored former capital of His Majesty's royal colony of Virginia. Last year 20,000 visitors packed the 173 acres of the historic area, famous for 18th-century public buildings, homes, and craft shops.

The mid-December celebration begins with what is known as the "Grand Illumination." At exactly 5:15 on the designated evening, a fife-and-drum corps leads a crowd from Market Square, east on Duke of Gloucestr Street, toward the old Capitol Building.

Suddenly, at 5:30, a cannon roars in Market Square. Immediately, candles come aglow from behind every window of the city as flames from tall cressets illuminate the weathered brick buildings and sidewalks. A recreation of 18th-century fireworks brings "oohs" and "aahs" from the crowd.

For the next two hours, the city is transformed into a colonial Never-Never Land. Even the most calloused onlooker, caught up in the holiday spirit, joins the thousands who surge into the streets.

Visitors and residents alike stare in awe at restored buildings decorated with simple materials available in the colony two centuries ago. Tinsel and foil are forsaken for imaginative arrangements of apples, lemons, limes, pineapples, pears, pomegranates, kumquats, and other produce and staples. A glazed loaf of bread, for example, is surrounded by holly and magnolia and hung on a front door; wreaths are made with dried flowers, pine cones, and even baked cookies. A garland of evergreen and apples provides a stately arch over a doorway. Evergreen trees are bedecked with handmade decorations. A scarlet bow against a clear blue sky adds a bright spalsh of color to a lamppost. Bruton Parish Church, with Christmas greens and poinsettias, is a perfect setting for a concert.

Inside the halls of the capitol, a trio of musicians plays familiar carols on ancient instruments. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of town, madrigal singers interpret the Christmas story through 18th-century music, their refrains mellowed by distance. The aromas of hot cider spiced with cinnamon, of wood chips soaked in special oils, and of pungent wood smoke combine to fill the crisp night air with a holiday fragrance.

Finally, everyone feels the spirit of the season that radiates through the town, giving each participant a treasured memory to carry in the heart throughout the coming year.

Perhaps that is why many of last year's visitors plan to parade again down Duke of Gloucester Street on December 14 and eagerly wait to hear that roar of the cannon from Market Square.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:McCollister, John
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Dec 1, 1986
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