Sure, the grocery store might have what you need for the holiday dinner, but what fun is that? Get out of town or at least support the local shops for some great Virginia-made products.
Is ham on your list? There’s no place to go but Smithfield for the real deal. Right on Main Street you’ll find Taste of Smithfield, a restaurant and store. Sample the wares, enjoy a nice lunch and bring home the bacon. Yep, they have that, too.
Woodson's Mill white cornmeal
Flours are a necessity for baking and you can purchase it freshly ground from local millers like Jim Young at Wade’s Mill in Raphine or Steve Roberts at Woodson’s Mill in Roseland. Gift sets are available from each mill as well.
Virginia peanuts are renowned and you can get them from a few places. They’re perfect for gift-giving and pre-dinner munching.
Virginia is experiencing an explosive re-birth of its oyster industry and has been dubbed the Oyster Capital of the East Coast thanks to being the largest farm-raised oyster producing state in the country. Lovers of the succulent delicacy can choose from seven salinity regions and get their take fresh from the water.
If you find yourself expanding the menu for more seafood than just oysters, let it be known that Wachapreague is the Flounder Capital of the World.
Foggy Ridge Cider apples
On to the beverages!
Apple cider is a favorite holiday treat and Virginia has a burgeoning cider industry – both hard and not.
In the Blue Ridge Highlands you can visit Foggy Ridge Cider, the 2012 Cooking Light Taste Test Award Winner. Growing American heirloom apples as well as French and English cider apples, the cidermaker, Diane Flynt, manipulates the harvest as little as possible to create three ciders and a cider + apple brandy blend.
It might not be exactly what you’re thinking it will be. In fact, it’s probably better. Take time to tour Virginia’s historic homes this season and you’ll walk into various centuries of decor and celebration.
Renowned Historic Homes
Endview Plantation, c. 1769, will be decorated for the 1861 holidays this month. Learn about this home’s Civil War history when you tour daily between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Newport News. $6 per adult; $4 per child aged 7-18.
Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg dates from 1798 with construction of the Federal-style mansion following establishment in 1804. Experience Christmas at Oatlands all month long with grand decorations, but don’t miss the special candlelight tours available from 5 to 7 p.m. December 16, 21-23 and 26. $12 per adult; $8 per child aged 6-16.
The finest Federal home on the Eastern Shore is Ker Place in Onancock, built between 1799 and 1803. Ker Place is now the home of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society, but its previous occupiers consisted of only two families (1801-1960). Join in for a Holiday Open House this Saturday, December 8 from 2 to 6 p.m. and enjoy entertainment, games, homemade sweets, carols and a visit with Santa Claus. Free.
An 1893 Victorian Christmas awaits you this Sunday, December 8. Make time for an Old-Fashioned Christmas at Maymont (noon to 5 p.m.) where the formal rooms are decorated in grand style with ladies and gentlemen to welcome you. Horse-drawn carriage rides, food, drink, music and even St. Nick make this one merry occasion in Richmond. $5 per adult; $3 per child up to age 12. Carriage rides additional $5 and $3, respectively.
A variety of eras are represented at Agecroft Hall in Richmond this Sunday from 12:30 to 5 p.m. Move from 1640s England to 1850s London and of course, 1940s Richmond as you encounter interpreters like Charles Dickens reading his A Christmas Carol. $8 per adult; $5 per child 6-18.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon will be open for candlelight tours this weekend and next, December 8-9, 15-16 from 5 until 8:30 p.m. Mount Vernon has a storied history. The mansion actually began as a modest farmhouse in the 1740′s and was twice re-built and expanded from the foundation up. Today’s Mount Vernon reflects its 1799 appearance. Candlelight tours include fireside caroling with hot cider and ginger cookies, as well as a walk through the first and second floors of the authentically decorated mansion. $20 per adult; $14 per child
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello dates to 1769 (when construction began) and is open for an intimate evening tour and reception to show you how that presidential family celebrated the season. Enjoy period culinary delights and take home a recipe, too, after you tour the home and the rarely-seen dome room. December 14 and 16 from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. $75 per person. Monticello is the only home in the United States recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site.
James Monroe’s home, Ash Lawn-Highland, is decorated all month long with fresh boxwood, fruits and holly to bring a special holiday emphasis to the early 19th century dwelling of the fifth President of the United States. The home Monroe called his “cabin castle” became his primary residence in 1799 though the home conveyed with his land purchase in 1793. Visit daily (closed Christmas Day) between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. $12 per adult; $6 per child aged 6 to 11.
Did you know Monticello wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s only home? Visit his retreat, Poplar Forest (built between 1806 and 1821) for a free tour this Sunday between noon and 4 p.m. Bring a non-perishable food donation and enjoy period decorations, music and living history interpretations, children’s activities and fun storytelling.
The Father of the Constitution and fourth President of the United States, James Madison, grew up in and made his adult home Montpelier. His father, James Madison, Sr., completed the original portion of today’s mansion in 1764. In 1797 the second portion of the mansion was began by the younger Madison – an “townhouse” style addition to the abode his father still resided in. Upon his father’s death in 1801, Madison inherited the other half and worked to unify the structure. Tour Montpelier by candlelight this weekend, December 7-9, from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Be greeted by Dolley Madison for a tour and enjoy carolers on the front lawn. Period-dressed waltzers will delight guests in the Salon while refreshments and wine await you in the duPont Gallery. $30 at the door
Tour Several Historic Homes at One Price
Homes dating from 1796 to 1888 are on tour in Fincastle this Saturday between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Additionally, a marketplace of 30 local and regional artists can alleviate some of your shopping stress. $15 per person.
So your family is coming to enjoy one of the season’s holidays with you. What’s your game plan?
First, start with LOVE. They’re visiting because they love you, they want to make memories with you, and they know the value of togetherness. After that, we’re here to help!
10 WAYS TO LOVE A FAMILY HOLIDAY
1. Chill Out – Virginia’s mountain resorts have something fun for every member of the family – EVERY member. Little kids can learn to ski or play it safe on the snow tubes while the big kids work the slopes. Fireside dining, spas and even indoor waterparks will entertain those who’d rather not get their adrenaline pumping in the chill of December.
2. Shine On – The lights that radiate along skylines and neighborhoods are a draw for families. Get everyone situated with hot cocoa and then go for a ride to see the night aglow. Sites like Elks National Home in Bedford create festive displays to drive through, not to mention the famed 100 Miles of Lights that encompasses the coastal cities, Virginia Beach Boardwalk and Richmond. To truly go over the top, splurge on a trip to Busch Gardens for Christmas Town!
3. Presidential Escapades – Since you’re in the state dubbed “Mother of Presidents,” why not take in a little history? The homes of Jefferson, Madison, Washington and Wilson are decorated and awaiting guests – your guests.
5. Tree Hunt – If you need a tree and haven’t already completed the set-up and decorating, make a new family memory by hunting for the perfect one together. Some Virginia tree farms offer a wagon ride to their tree thicket and have a gift shop with fresh wreaths and more.
9. Say Cheese – Pick a beautiful backdrop for a family photo and then go have fun with silly faces and fun Christmas sweaters. Our favorites are covered bridges, any of the lookouts along the Blue Ridge Parkway and of course, our LOVEworks were made for opportunities like yours. Not only will it be an excellent adventure, but you’ll have proof of the fun, too.
10. Skate Away – Choose your venue – indoors or out? Do you prefer blades or wheels? Virginia has great ice skating opportunities and quite a few roller skating rinks, too. Either sport is a great pastime for adults and a fun new sport for the next generation. If you’d rather just see a giant skate, we have that, too.
We wish you a love-filled season as you celebrate your Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa with those closest to you.
Twinkles and animated lights bring out the kid in all of us, so take time to make a memory with your children and loved ones. Virginia’s illuminations will indeed be a hit with young and old alike.
Downtown Norfolk Skyline
The festivities begin this Saturday, November 17 with the illumination of the downtown Norfolk and Olde Towne Portsmouth skylines followed by Hampton Roads’ most cherished event, the Grand Illumination Parade. Festive floats, marching bands, giant balloons, dancers and Santa himself will delight spectators as they parade through downtown Norfolk.
Newport News’ Hollydazzle is a one of a kind show that combines synchronized fireworks, theatrical lighting, ground-based pyrotechnics and special effects all choreographed to festive music, making it one of the top shows of the year. Light it up on November 30!
December 1 is the date to see the historic Foster Falls village at New River State Park sparkle with more than 100,000 colorful lights. Enjoy free horse-drawn wagon rides and antique tractor hayrides. Warm up later with complimentary hot chocolate, coffee and pastries. A fee or a donation is required for this event. If you donate canned food, please be sure its expiration date hasn’t passed.
This year’s Bull Run Festival of Lights in Centreville opens November 21 and runs through January 6. The festival is held each year to celebrate the winter season, bringing you a little warmth and cheer from the comfort of your car.
Dominion GardenFest of Lights
In Richmond, Dominion GardenFest Of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is a a tradition featuring half-a-million lights, botanical decorations, trains, family activities and more. You won’t want to miss the 19-foot tall decorated tree, model trains and fairy houses or the fire pit for toasting s’mores. It all kicks off November 23 and runs through January 7.
Something about sharing a meal together makes family memories so much sweeter. Granted, not all of us are handy in a kitchen, but with a little know-how from Virginia’s culinary experts, we can certainly be better. Take note of these special cooking classes and seminars to make your Thanksgiving, Christmas and the holidays beyond a bit more meaningful.
Shenandoah Seasonings Cooking Demos at Skyland Resort
A novice chef might wish to stand back and observe the professionals. If that’s you, visit Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park any Tuesday or Friday afternoon through November 23 for a cooking demo with the Executive Chef and Sous Chef. Demos begin at 3 p.m. and cost $10 per person.
Once you’re past Thanksgiving, someone has to do something with the leftovers. Sure, you could package them up and send them off with the family, or you could make something delicious for yourself. Join Georgie Young at Wade’s Mill in Raphine for a class to show you just that. November 16, $30 for the class and lunch.
Thinking ahead to Christmas dinners with family and friends? Consider a class with Executive Chef William Walden at Goodstone Inn in Middleburg. He’ll teach you some of Goodstone’s best dishes and then you’ll enjoy a holiday lunch with a glass of wine. November 17 at noon, $75 per person.
Ready to craft a great holiday feast? Cheers! From our family to yours.