Christmas at Colonial Williamsburg

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What was life like before Florida was a state and Nintendo was a staple? Take a trip back to America in the 1760s and find out.

America still belongs to England, and here in the Virginia capital of Williamsburg, the governor's palace glows with Christmas candles. The scent of gingerbread fills the air. Fireplaces crackle, warming snug homes of the city's butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. Friends gather to sing carols, play Loo (that's a card game) and dance reels to music made on lutes, harpsichords, fifes and fiddles.

There is no United States, no electricity, no airplanes. It will be more than 200 years before anyone hears about Rudolph, Elmo and Game Boy. Wouldn't it be fun to slip back a couple of centuries and celebrate the holidays just as we might have in the time of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington?

For families with children, special dates are the weekends of Dec. 9–10, 16–17 and 30–31 when Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Area goes into holiday-for-kids mode. See puppet shows. Learn to dance the minuet. Banter with costumed interpreters who don't realize it's 2006. They'll tell you what life is like here and now in the 1700s, but don't mention TV or cars because they won't know what you're talking about.

Christmas as it was

An old-fashioned Christmas here means choirs, fife-and-drum concerts and holiday decorations made from dried seed pods, berries and bits of ribbon. It will be years before aluminum is invented and years more before plastic comes along. See "An Evening of Dance at the Palace," where lords and ladies in elegant satins and brocades perform intricate gavottes. Listen for the joyous firing of guns and cannons, which accompanied special events in colonial times.

All programs are included in a Colonial Williamsburg admissions ticket. "A Kids Holiday Memories" package is $15 additional per child. Included is a special guide, classes in making decorations, colonial games, and programs that show and tell how early Virginians celebrated Christmas. You can even rent costumes if you like and dress like colonials yourselves.

Colonial Williamsburg is a living, working community restored from the cobblestones up to be just as it was under King George III. All day every day, community events go on while visitors watch and even participate. You might stumble into a trial, a political speech, a wedding or a parade. Go to school and write your ABCs on a slate. The restaurants are real, serving things we still love today such as sweet potato muffins, cabbage slaw, roasted chicken and crab cakes.

Celebrate Christmas at Colonial Williamsburg to feel snowflakes on your cheeks, hear heavenly choirs sing long-forgotten carols and taste sweetmeats that colonial children were given only in this special season. History lessons have never been truer, nor more fun.

Janet Groene is a Florida-based travel writer whose newest book is Personal Paradise: Florida (Open Road, January 2007), openroadguides.com. Send travel comments and questions to janetgroene@yahoo.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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