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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
1,299
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
1,299
Program No. 22934 RJ
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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!
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 10 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.
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 Colonial and Early America
by World Book
We Were Marching on Christmas Day
by Kevin Rawlings
Colonial Williamsburg Decorates for Christmas: Step-by-Step Illustrated Instructions
by Colonial Williamsburg
Christmas in Williamsburg
by K. M. Kostyal
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
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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
Best Western Williamsburg Historic District

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 up-to-date schedule that reflects any last-minute changes, other important information, and details on 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: In our private dining area at the hotel, enjoy a supper with choice of two entrées, a variety of side dishes changing each evening, dessert, and coffee, tea, water; 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, Tavern Lunch, 18th Century Concerts
Williamsburg
B,L,D
Courtyard Williamsburg Busch Gardens Area

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach. Walking about 2 miles on cobblestone, pebble, and brick paths; on our feet approximately 2 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, 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 then hop aboard a motorcoach and ride to Colonial Williamsburg, 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 colonial tavern 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 walk 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. Next, 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 return to the hotel via motorcoach. 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,

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, Art Museums, Dress, Dance, and Song
Williamsburg
B,L,D
Courtyard Williamsburg Busch Gardens Area

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach. Walking about 2 miles total throughout the day during group activities; limited opportunities to rest. Some building entrances require climbing 3-5 steps.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: We’ll take the motorcoach for a 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 like 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 lunch at a popular local restaurant.

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: After lunch, we’ll have some extended time to continue to explore the Restored Area. You can investigate at your own pace more of those favorite shops and public buildings, admire the beautiful decorations, or enjoy some of the street performers. Following our independent time, we will return to the hotel via motorcoach. In our hotel classroom, we will learn how to dress ourselves for the festivities during the 12 Days of Christmas and the cold winter months. We’ll engage in a conversation with a wardrobe mistress of the past, personified by a talented and knowledgeable costumed interpreter. You will quickly feel that you are 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 will 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 colonial dances with the lively assistance of a talented dance mistress at the hotel. 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: 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
Plantations, Free Afternoon and Evening
Williamsburg
B,L
Courtyard Williamsburg Busch Gardens Area

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach. 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.

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: Free Time. Take this opportunity for personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most. The Grand Illumination festivities will be underway this afternoon and evening. Please also refer to the list of Free Time Opportunities. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Your Colonial Williamsburg pass will still be valid today. You might also like to explore the Historic Triangle of Jamestown, Williamsburg, 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, street theater performances, or fireworks that are part of Grand Illumination this evening or just relax at the hotel. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

DAY
5
Antebellum Homes, Decorations Workshop, Colonial Visitor
Williamsburg
B,L,D
Courtyard Williamsburg Busch Gardens Area

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: Having now seen and learned about holiday decorations in a variety of settings, we will have an opportunity to create our own colonial craft. Our motorcoach will take us 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 before we return by motorcoach to the hotel to prepare for our farewell dinner.

Dinner: At a colonial style tavern, we’ll enjoy a 3-course farewell dinner with soup or salad, entrée, dessert, and beverages including coffee, tea, and wine. We’ll dine in 18th century fashion in this authentically reconstructed inn serving traditional Southern fare. The building, built in 1962, incorporates architectural salvage over 200 years old, including paneling from Carter's Grove Plantation. Transportation to/from the tavern will be by motorcoach.

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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