Illuminations—firing guns into the air and lighting fireworks—were commonly used during the 18th century to celebrate major events such as great military victories, the birthday of the monarch or the arrival of a new colonial governor. To usher in the season, Colonial Williamsburg carries on this tradition on Dec. 2, 2012, with Grand Illumination. Guests can be part of Colonial Williamsburg’s holiday season that features fireworks, music and candlelit buildings. The celebration begins in the late afternoon with a variety of entertainment, starting at 5:15 p.m. on multiple outdoor stages throughout the Historic Area. The Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums provide 18th-century music appropriate to the season. Other performers present holiday entertainment.
At 7 p.m., candles are lit in public buildings, shops and homes, and fireworks are launched at three Historic Area locations: the Governor’s Palace, Magazine and Capitol. After the fireworks, the Fifes and Drums march down the Duke of Gloucester Street with guests following along. During December, guests can enjoy illuminations of individual buildings within the Historic Area, featuring musket fire and fifes and drums. Flickering cressets mark each destination during the narrated illumination. Colonial Williamsburg’s own Fifes and Drums participate in these events.
On Dec. 24, guests can experience an 18th-century tradition, the Firing of the Christmas Guns. The Fifes and Drums march down the Duke of Gloucester Street as the militia fire muskets in celebration of the holidays. The tradition of Grand Illumination originated in 1934 with a “White Lighting.” The first “authentic” re-creation of an 18th-century Christmas in Williamsburg featured single candles in the windows of the Historic Area’s restored and reconstructed buildings, as well as garlands and greens on the outside of the buildings.