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22934
Virginia

Colonial Christmas at Williamsburg & the James River Plantations

Sing Colonial carols, design historical decorations and enjoy a holiday dinner with period personalities on this time-travel deep-dive into the history of Christmas in America.
Rating (5)
Program No. 22934RJ
Length
6 days
Starts at
1,599
Virginia

Colonial Christmas at Williamsburg & the James River Plantations

Sing Colonial carols, design historical decorations and enjoy a holiday dinner with period personalities on this time-travel deep-dive into the history of Christmas in America.
Length
6 days
Starts at
1,599
Program No. 22934 RJ
Prefer to enroll or inquire by phone? 800-454-5768
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DATES & starting prices
PRICES
Dec 9 - Dec 14, 2021
Starting at
1,599
Dec 13 - Dec 18, 2021
Starting at
1,599
Dec 5 - Dec 10, 2022
Starting at
1,699
Dec 8 - Dec 13, 2022
Starting at
1,699
Dec 12 - Dec 17, 2022
Starting at
1,699
DATES & starting prices
PRICES
Dec 9 - Dec 14, 2021
Starting at
2,099
Dec 13 - Dec 18, 2021
Starting at
2,099
Dec 5 - Dec 10, 2022
Starting at
2,299
Dec 8 - Dec 13, 2022
Starting at
2,299
Dec 12 - Dec 17, 2022
Starting at
2,299

At a Glance

Travel back in time to Colonial Williamsburg as reenactors make history come to life for Christmas. Explore the historical and cultural significance of Christmas in the 18th and 19th centuries and find out how music, traditions, festivities and food have evolved from early America to what we know and love at Christmastime today. Observe and then make historical decorations, sing music of the era with costumed singers and learn about religious customs of both free and enslaved people. And at the end of your week of celebration, sit down with period personalities for a festive meal in a colonial tavern!
Activity Level
Keep the Pace
Considerable amounts of walking and long periods of standing.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 13 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you’ll…

  • Enjoy a private organ concert in the College of William & Mary’s historic chapel, sing along with well-known musicians and meet African American and colonial interpreters.
  • From Colonial Williamsburg to the James River plantations, visit seasonally decorated homes spanning four centuries of history.
  • Create your own Colonial decoration using traditional techniques, prepare a Colonial treat and savor both a lunch and a festive farewell dinner in Colonial taverns.
Featured Expert
All Experts
Profile Image
Dean Shostak
In 1991, Dean Shostak became involved in the revival of the rare and beautiful glass armonica, invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. Today, he is one of eight glass armonica players in the world, and the only musician since the 18th century to use a flywheel and foot treadle as Franklin originally designed. Dean began his musical career in Colonial Williamsburg at the age of 14, and after graduating from the University of Virginia, began to study 18th-century instruments such as the pocket violin and the hurdy-gurdy. He has now incorporated spectacular new and antique glass instruments into his show, including the glass violin and crystal handbells. Dean has emerged as a nationally acclaimed touring artist, and his music has been featured on numerous television and radio programs including Voice of America, The Weather Channel, The Discovery Channel, NPR's All Things Considered and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image of Dean Shostak
Dean Shostak View biography
In 1991, Dean Shostak became involved in the revival of the rare and beautiful glass armonica, invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. Today, he is one of eight glass armonica players in the world, and the only musician since the 18th century to use a flywheel and foot treadle as Franklin originally designed. Dean began his musical career in Colonial Williamsburg at the age of 14, and after graduating from the University of Virginia, began to study 18th-century instruments such as the pocket violin and the hurdy-gurdy. He has now incorporated spectacular new and antique glass instruments into his show, including the glass violin and crystal handbells. Dean has emerged as a nationally acclaimed touring artist, and his music has been featured on numerous television and radio programs including Voice of America, The Weather Channel, The Discovery Channel, NPR's All Things Considered and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
Profile Image of Stephen Christoff
Stephen Christoff View biography
Stephen Christoff has been a musical fixture at Colonial Williamsburg for more than 15 years. Since 2006, he has performed his one-man show called "Seller of Songs" at the Hennage Theater in Colonial Williamsburg to sell-out audiences and rave reviews. In 2007, Stephen was a member of a collaborative performance team that played over 100 performances of "American Musicworks," a signature show designed for the Dewitt Wallace Galleries folk art exhibition, and also performed for the Jamestown 2007, Godspeed Sail and Landing Party Festival. He has headlined at locations including Mount Vernon, Chestertown Tea Party Festival, Virginia's Yorktown Celebration Festival, The National Portrait Gallery, The Library of Congress, The Black Swamp Arts Festival and Disney's Epcot Center.
Profile Image of Tom Marshall
Tom Marshall View biography
An instructor in the Music Department at the College of William and Mary for more than 20 years, Tom Marshall has been performing private concerts for Road Scholar participants at the historic Wren Chapel for many years. He has served for two decades as a harpsichordist for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation where he has performed numerous works of the concerto grosso style in original orchestrations, on original instruments. He is featured on many of the historical recordings issued by the foundation. A long-time member of the American Guild of Organists, he has served as organist for the Williamsburg United Methodist Church since 1977. Tom performs frequently with the Virginia Symphony, numerous baroque chamber ensembles, and organ and harpsichord recitals throughout the United States and Europe. He has made seven study tours in Europe to examine and play many surviving keyboard instruments from the 15th to the 19th century.
Profile Image of Carson Hudson
Carson Hudson View biography
Carson Hudson is an Emmy Award-winning screenwriter who has dedicated his career to bringing the music, lore and history of America to life. After in-depth research of entertainment forms from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, he began learning traditional performance practices and sideshow secrets. Since then, he has researched, written, performed and directed more than a score of productions and programs for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. This work earned him an Emmy and several Telly Awards in screenwriting. In spite of this, Carson still manages to find time to deliver engaging lectures on Revolutionary and Civil War military history for Road Scholar programs.
Profile Image of Anne Conkling
Anne Conkling View biography
A native of Pennsylvania with family roots deep in that state, Anne Conkling attended American University before finally settling in Williamsburg, Va. She has a passion for anything historical, particularly from the period 1500-1875. Her interests include colonial Virginia, the role of the Anglican Church in colonization, royal charters, political life cycles, and the roles of women of all races. Anne has written for various newspapers and publications, is a historical interpreter at Bruton Parish Church, and a teacher of historical interpreters at Jamestown Island.
Profile Image of Ann Parker
Ann Parker View biography
Ann graduated from Duke University with a B.A. in Religion. She is a retired Education Specialist with School and Group Services for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, serving in that capacity for over 20 years. In addition to her expertise in 18th century political, social, and economic history, Ann chose to specialize in Colonial Foodways and Family Life. For ten years, she was a Coordinator and Program Developer for Colonial Williamsburg and has been an instructor and group leader for Road Scholar programs since 2006.
Profile Image of Bunny Rich
Bunny Rich View biography
Bunny Rich has worked for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for 34 years. Among her many interests, she has concentrated on Colonial family life, cooking and clothing, often interpreting at the Powell House. Bunny also has served as a leader for VIP guests ranging from Bill Clinton to David Brinkley. A native of York County, Bunny can trace her roots on the Virginia Peninsula back to the 1630s.
Profile Image of Lee Rose
Lee Ann Rose View biography
Lee Ann Rose has found a way to use her theatre degree and her love of history into a career that has spanned 20 years at Colonial Williamsburg and now has allowed her to step out creating her own company called, Shades of Our Past. At her time at Colonial Williamsburg, she has played Martha Washington and coached other character interpreters and Nation Builders. When she is not performing, she is working on a book about Martha Washington's children.
Profile Image of Mary Griffith
Mary Griffith View biography
Mary Griffith, a chocolatier, has an MBA from Old Dominion University and started Virginia's Finest Chocolate while an undergraduate student at Christopher Newport University. Taking the Small Business Institute class, she created the business plan for Virginia's Finest Chocolate and carried it out. For more than 25 years, Mary has enjoyed sharing her love for all things chocolate with her handmade products and educational programs. Her products carry Virginia's Finest Trademark as awarded by the Virginia Department of Agriculture.
Profile Image of Kate Tilley
Kate Tilley View biography
A Pennsylvania native, Kate Tilley received a bachelor’s in theatre from DeSales University with concentrations in acting and costuming. In 2009, she turned her costuming attention to historical clothing in the colonial time period and began an internship with the tailors at Colonial Williamsburg. As a historic clothing technician at the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Kate served as a mentor for new staff in the historical clothing services department, team leader for day-to-day activities at the Jamestown Settlement Costume Shop.
Profile Image of Christi Pancoast
Christi Pancoast View biography
Originally from Ohio, Christi has been a teacher in Richmond, Virginia for over two decades. She is a self-proclaimed travel junkie, lifelong learner and people enthusiast. In her free time, she enjoys Zumba, yoga and being with her friends.
Profile Image of Mary Alie
Mary had a 34-year career in education as a classroom teacher, assistant principal and principal. Since retiring in 2001, Mary has worked as a schools and groups Interpreter for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. She has also served as an instructor for the Colonial Williamsburg’s Teacher Institute. Mary also serves as a costumed interpreter in Colonial Williamsburg’s original and restored homes and public buildings, such as the Governor’s Palace and the Colonial Capitol.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Christmas in Williamsburg
by K. M. Kostyal
We Were Marching on Christmas Day
by Kevin Rawlings
Colonial Williamsburg Decorates for Christmas: Step-by-Step Illustrated Instructions
by Colonial Williamsburg
A Very Virginia Christmas
by Wilford Kale
The Artful Tree: Ornaments to Make Inspired by the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum
by Jan Gilliam and Christina Westenberger
Christmas in Colonial and Early America
by World Book
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6 days
5 nights
13 meals
5 B 4 L 4 D
DAY
1
Registration, Orientation, Dinner, Williamsburg History
Williamsburg
D
Williamsburg Lodge

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 4:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Program Registration. After you have your room assignment, come to the Road Scholar table to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing your name-tag, up-to-date schedule that reflects any last-minute changes, other important information, and to learn when and where the Orientation session will take place. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in. Orientation. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. All classes and performances will take place at the hotel unless otherwise specified. We’ll select some meals in advance. Unless noted otherwise, transportation will be primarily by motorcoach, necessitating going up/down a few steps. Periods in the daily schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful, rewarding, and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: At the hotel, we will have a plated and served meal with coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: A local expert will join us for a presentation introducing Williamsburg, Colonial Williamsburg, and the history of Virginia's second capital. We’ll learn about the town’s history from its beginnings when the colonial capital moved from Jamestown to Middle Plantation. Following its growth through the 18th century to its height during the Revolution, we’ll then trace its decline with the removal of the capital to Richmond, leaving little more than the College and the hospital for the insane. Finally, we’ll gain an appreciation for its phoenix-like rise in the early 20th century thanks to vision of a local minister and the generosity of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., resulting in today’s treasure of colonial American interpretation. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

DAY
2
Colonial Williamsburg, Christmas Ball, Music, Bruton Parish
Williamsburg
B,L,D
Williamsburg Lodge

Activity note: Walking about 3 miles total on cobblestone, pebble, and brick paths; on our feet cumulatively approximately 3.5 hours; few opportunities to sit and rest.

Breakfast: In our private dining area, start the day with a breakfast buffet offering choices such as eggs, breakfast meats, cereals, sides, breads, seasonal fruit, milk, juices, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: With a local expert in our hotel classroom, we’ll take a more personal look at Yuletide across time by considering the words of people living in Williamsburg during three centuries. We’ll also have an opportunity to share our own family traditions, inherited or newly begun. This look at holiday observances will help tie the old to the new, bringing a deeper and richer meaning to our own holiday observances. Next we’ll join a talented chocolatier in our hotel classroom to learn about the history of this popular treat during colonial times. By the middle of the 18th century, hot chocolate, flavored with a variety of spices, had become a favorite drink in both Europe and America. Our instructor will provide us with some background about how this New World concoction originated and found its way into the courts of the Continent. You will have the opportunity to assist in the preparation of a chocolate treat, which of course, you will also be able to sample! We’ll next walk to Colonial Williamsburg from the hotel, then walk the length of historic Duke of Gloucester Street in the company of a local expert. We’ll focus on the homes, shops, and public buildings while, at the same time, investigating the remarkable decorations that adorn those buildings. Our expert will describe historical local events and the roles of average townspeople while also teaching us about the materials and techniques used to create the wreaths and sprays.

Lunch: At a local restaurant in the modern Merchants Square area, we’ll have a plated and served meal with choice of entrée, dessert, coffee, tea, water; other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: Continuing our town exploration, we’ll walk to Bruton Parish Church in the Restored Area for a private visit led by a local historian and church member. Bruton traces its roots to an unnamed parish of 1633, with the current name adopted in 1674, upon the consolidation of several older parishes. The present church was completed in 1715, although it has undergone many alterations, including a reversion to its colonial glory during the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. Our expert will outline the history of the church itself, along with the building's architecture and how it changed over the centuries. At the conclusion of our field trip, we’ll walk back to the hotel. In our hotel classroom, we will again be joined by the church historian who will detail the importance of religion in the Colonial period. Her discussion will include the religious history of the time and various customs and celebrations of the gentry, the “middling class,” and enslaved populations. .To end the afternoon we will learn how to dress ourselves for the festivities during the 12 Days of Christmas. We’ll engage in a conversation with a wardrobe mistress of the past, personified by a knowledgeable costumed interpreter. You will quickly feel transported to another time as you learn how the attendees stayed warm and fashionable whether they were dancing in the Palace Ballroom or their neighbor’s parlor. There will be reproduction colonial garments available for hands on examination, plus portraits showing the fashionable silhouette of the time period. Once we know how to properly dress, of course, we'll want to know how to properly dance! Just like the people of colonial times, we’ll try out some colonial dance steps to music from the period. We will learn the steps of the minuet and other dances with the lively assistance of a talented dance mistress. At the end of the session, you will be fully prepared to dance the holiday night away in your very best ballroom finery.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: We will follow dinner with a private performance where we will enjoy the talents of a costumed musician as he plays and explains instruments, both familiar and unusual, of the 18th Century, and hear Christmas music popular in colonial celebrations. Be prepared to join in on a familiar song or two before the performance ends!

DAY
3
Rockefeller Home, Tavern Lunch, Concert, Tales and Songs
Williamsburg
B,L,D
Williamsburg Lodge

Activity note: Walking about 2 miles total on cobblestone, pebble, and brick paths; on our feet cumulatively approximately 2.5 hours; few opportunities to sit and rest. Some buildings require climbing 3-5 steps to enter.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: We'll start our day with a walk to the Restored Area for our field trip to the beautifully restored home used by the Rockefellers on their visits to Williamsburg after they became involved in its restoration. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller called Bassett Hall her "Dream of Dreams" and it is lovingly preserved and decorated for the holidays based on her vision. Led by a docent, we’ll experience some of the holiday atmosphere to which an esteemed family such as the Rockefellers was privy. We’ll then have some time to spend as you like before lunch. You might want to build on the overview of the Historic Area we enjoyed yesterday, interact with interpreters in colonial dress, visit some of the public buildings, and perhaps sample a gingerbread cookie and hot cider along the way We’ll regroup for a tavern lunch.

Lunch: At Shields Tavern (1745), we’ll enjoy plated meals with salad, entrée, dessert, soft drinks; other beverages available for purchase. In the colonial era, public houses were gathering places for residents and travelers. Though this building has been reconstructed, the atmosphere — though not the contemporary menu — is similar to what patrons such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry would have known. Strolling musicians and personalities from the past enhance the experience.

Afternoon: Continuing our town exploration, we will proceed to the historic Wren Building on the campus of the College of William and Mary to attend a concert of colonial and Christmas music performed on the chapel’s 18th century pipe organ, one of the four oldest pipe organs in the U.S. We’ll have a unique opportunity to learn about the instrument from our organist, a talented musician from the staff of the Music Department of the College. Following our concert, we will have some additional time for independent exploration before walking back to the hotel in time for dinner.

Dinner: At the hotel

Evening: In our hotel classroom, we’ll delight in the wonderful tales and music of a talented entertainer as she takes us on a journey across the years through the eyes of African-Americans, slave and free, as they celebrate Yuletide in Virginia. This engaging performance provides the perspective of the slave and free black families who combined their ancient African traditions with the customs of their masters.

DAY
4
Antebellum Homes, Free Afternoon and Evening
Williamsburg
B,L
Williamsburg Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach. The 2 historical houses visited today have limited access for those with mobility concerns. The first floors of both houses can be reached with lifts; the other floors are accessible by 15-20 stairs with a landing. Overall, the walking is not extensive.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: We’ll first board our motorcoach for a field trip to Endview Plantation, built in 1769 but more recently restored to its original appearance during the Civil War years. This small farmhouse stands in sharp contrast to the typical picture of an American plantation, though its owner was one of the wealthiest farmers in the county. Moving on, we’ll reach the 1850's Lee Hall Mansion, with its unusual Italianate architecture, and experience a more ostentatious antebellum home. An experienced docent will show us the ladies’ and men’s parlors, along with the private family rooms upstairs. Both Endview and Lee Hall Mansion will be decorated for the holidays in mid-19th century style. Our motor coach will then return us to the hotel. In the midst of the terrible Civil War, families continued to honor their traditions as best they could. At the same time, soldiers in the field made some attempt to remember the season even as they wrote home of loneliness and hardship. We’ll learn from a Civil War historian about efforts made to maintain some measure of holiday normalcy despite shortages and missing family members. We’ll also examine the similarities of mid-19th century customs with those of today.

Lunch: At the hotel

Afternoon: Free Time. Take this opportunity for personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most. There will be numerous sites in the Restored Area featuring singers, musicians, and other street entertainers. Please also refer to the list of Free Time Opportunities. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Your Colonial Williamsburg pass will be valid today. You might also like to explore the other points of the Historic Triangle at Jamestown and Yorktown.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Merchant’s Square, within walking distance just beyond the Restored Area, has a number of excellent restaurants with varied cuisine. Additional fine dining is available within easy driving distance.

Evening: At leisure. You may wish to attend one of the numerous concerts or street theater performances this evening or just relax at the hotel. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

DAY
5
Plantations, Decorations Workshop, Colonial Visitor
Williamsburg
B,L,D
Williamsburg Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach. Walking less than a mile total on brick and gravel paths, plus interior carpets and floors. Standing/ moving time inside each house approximately 1 hour, few places to rest. Limited access for those with mobility restrictions; several short flights of stairs involved at each location; at both homes, the grounds can be explored with little difficulty. Approximately 0.5 miles round trip on brick sidewalks to and from Art Museum; less than half hour walking time.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: We’ll begin our day with a field trip via motorcoach to Berkeley, the “most historic” of the great river plantations. This is the ancestral home of the Harrisons, who boast a signer of the Declaration of Independence and two presidents among their descendants. We’ll explore this 1726 Georgian mansion with a knowledgeable docent, then have some time to stroll along the extensive grounds on our own. Next, we’ll travel to Shirley, first of the James River plantations, dating to 1613. Here we’ll see original furnishings and portraits from the 18th century owners whose descendants, remarkably, still occupy the home. Both of the homes will be decorated for the holiday season and traditionally serve holiday snacks and cookies. We’ll have time at both sites for individual exploration.

Lunch: In an historic general store converted into a restaurant, we’ll have a plated meal featuring sandwiches, wraps, homemade chips, sweets, coffee, tea, water; other beverages available for purchase. We’ll return to the hotel via motorcoach.

Afternoon: Having now seen and learned about holiday decorations in a variety of settings, we will have an opportunity to create our own colonial craft. We will walk to the nearby DeWitt-Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. These two wonderful museums feature Colonial Williamsburg's extensive collection of 18th century furnishings and objects of daily living along with an incredible collection of American folk art. We will begin with a brief docent led overview of the museums, before moving on to our workshop. Our facilitator, a decorative arts expert with the Art Museums, will provide us with many tips and decorating anecdotes as she assists us in creating our “masterpiece.” A variety of materials, templates and tools will be provided for us to work with. The finished product will not only display your creative talents but will be easily packable to take home and add to your holiday décor. After the workshop you will have time for some independent exploration of the Museums and Restored Area before we gather at a colonial tavern for our farewell dinner.

Dinner: We will walk to a Colonial Williamsburg tavern where we’ll enjoy a 3-course farewell dinner with soup or salad, entrée, dessert, and beverages including coffee, tea, fountain drinks, and wine. We’ll dine in 18th century style as costumed musicians and interpreters stroll through our private dining area.

Evening: Returning to the hotel, we will then be honored with a visit from America's first First Lady, Martha Washington, as she reminisces about Yuletides past. She will describe colonial Christmas traditions in town and on the plantation including some stories about her famous husband at home and on the field of battle.

DAY
6
Colonial Foodways, Wassail, Program Concludes
Williamsburg
B

Activity note: Hotel check-out by 11:00 a.m.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: At the hotel, we’ll learn about the foods, tools, and techniques of colonial cooks as we participate in the concoction of a simple but delicious treat of the time under the instruction of a colonial foodways instructor. Not only will we get to assist with the preparation, we will enjoy a sample of this traditional holiday treat. We’ll then delight in the talents of a costumed historical interpreter who will entertain us with music and tales of the common folk. We’ll end our observance of traditional Christmas celebrations together with an appropriate “wassail” toast of hot mulled cider before sharing final farewells. This concludes our program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Please join our Facebook page and share photos of your program. Visit us at www.facebook.com/rsadventures. Best wishes for all your journeys!






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