Everyone knows that if you’re seeking an authentic Colonial Christmas, you go to Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia. Those wreaths though! It’s a magical place, where you find yourself in the midst of the 18th century. Everyone is bundled in period garb, the food is presented in old New World fashion, and candles light the way as darkness falls. It’s a fascinatingly beautiful holiday destination.
CW, as I like to call it, is not the only colonial destination in Virginia, however. Actually, you can’t throw a rock and avoid hitting ground that doesn’t have some sort of importance to that time. Really, history is one of the most awesome aspects of Virginia. This land has seen documented historic events spanning from before the 1607 landing at Jamestowne to westward migration, the American Revolution, the American Civil War, Civil Rights, presidents, music, the birth of American viticulture, and so much more.
Take a trip through Colonial Virginia this Christmas with stops such as the ones outlined below. When you’re finished, explore the aforementioned touch points in history. You won’t be disappointed.
— COLONIAL HOMES AND PLANTATIONS —
Eleven generations have owned and operated Virginia’s most authentic plantation, Shirley Plantation, in Charles City. The plantation dates to 1613, and it has been operated since 1638, making it Virginia’s oldest and first plantation, and one of the first “economic engines” of the New World. The home is still a private residence, but it’s open for tours and decorated beautifully this time of year.
Patrick Henry, the great orator best known for his “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech, called Scotchtown in Beaverdam his home from 1771 to 1778. The home dates to about 1720 and is wonderfully decorated with greens and fruit for the season. The weekend after Christmas is the time to go!
As migration went westward, the Smithfield Plantation home of Colonel William Preston in Blacksburg was a critical political center past the Appalachian Mountains. Costumed docents will guide you through this 1774 home and share the history of the family with you, which is quite rich and reaching, including governors, senators, military leaders, and more. Visit daily through December except Wednesdays.
Smith’s Fort Plantation in Surry was built between 1751 and 1765, and was the home of Jacob Faulcon, a middle class merchant. The grounds are significant because of the original Smith’s Fort site of 1608, and the history of John Rolfe and Pocahontas. Not only is the home decorated for the holidays, but you’ll hear four centuries of history while touring it. Open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.
In Fredericksburg you’ll find Kenmore Plantation, a Georgian mansion built by George Washington’s sister, Betty, and her husband Fielding Lewis, in the 1770s. The home is graciously decorated and hosts a Twelfth Night event in early January, set to the time of January 1776. Reservations are required to enjoy the dramatic performance.
While you’re in the Fredericksburg area, also see …
Stratford Hall in Stratford was the birthplace of Robert E. Lee, Confederate General and President of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington from 1865 to 1870. Straford Hall was also the home of Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, the only brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence. The great house was built in the 1730s. Visit to enjoy this sprawling 1900-acre plantation on the banks of the Potomac River, the gift shop, and lunch at the Stratford Hall Dining Room.
Part of a Colonial Christmas Tour, Weston Plantation in Hopewell dates to 1789 and has been noted as a “classic example of Virginia Georgian architecture.” All three floors include period antiques, furnishings and reproductions, and are open for guided tours. The home’s history includes stories of indentured servants turning wealthy plantation owners, family bloodlines to Pocahontas, and being a place of refuge for slaves fleeing for freedom.
— COLONIAL PRESIDENTS —
Berkeley Plantation in Charles City is one of those “if walls could talk” sites. The grounds are the site of the first official Thanksgiving of 1619, two presidents’ bloodlines point to Berkeley (William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison, ninth and twenty-third presidents), and the somber trumpet call, “Taps,” was composed there is 1862. At this time of year, the home is decorated in evergreens from the grounds, and centerpieces are completed with the ever-welcoming pineapple, a symbol of hospitality.
Our fifth president, James Monroe, called James Monroe’s Highland in Charlottesville home. During the holiday season, it is beautifully decorated as it would have been in the 1800s. Tour times vary.
One of the most beautiful holiday tours you’ll take this season is the Evening Tour at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville. There are two weekends left, with three tour times each day. Buy Tickets
Also related to Thomas Jefferson are his boyhood home of Tuckahoe in Richmond, and his Poplar Forest retreat in Forest. Tuckahoe is available for tours by appointment while Poplar Forest offers two more candlelight tours this season and a special week-after-Christmas opening.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens is open 365 days a year, which means you can tour this grand, historic abode on Christmas Day, if you so desire. The last candlelight tour of the year will be offered December 21, and each guest will not only see Martha’s Great Cake, but will also receive her recipe to try at home. Buy Tickets
— COLONIAL TAVERNS FOR EATING AND SHOPPING —
Michie Tavern is a 1784 tavern still serving up southern fare all these years later. You’ll delight in the menu, the original tavern tour, and the gift shops this holiday season. In fact, cash in with special coupons.
Christiana Campbell’s Tavern
~ Hanover Tavern & Pub, Hanover
~ King’s Arms Tavern, Colonial Williamsburg
~ Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, Colonial Williamsburg
~ Shields Tavern, Colonial Williamsburg
~ Chowning’s Tavern, Colonial Williamsburg
The number of colonial sites in Virginia is so large they can’t all be included here. Check out the Colonial America directory of historic sites.