12/06/2008

The Grand Illumination

Fireworks in Colonial WilliamsburgImage by themarkpike via FlickrTomorrow Colonial Williamsburg will hold it's annual holiday festival, The Grand Illumination. This tradition, now part of our modern "Christmas Season" routine, originally served as a celebration of major events in 18th Century towns and cities.

The festival in Williamsburg features colonial buildings illuminated by candles and candle lanterns, music, and parties. The last time I was in CW, almost 15 years ago, I attended the Grand Illumination with my living history cohorts Joyce and Chuck Walker.

We arrived a couple days early to take in the town and do a bit of research. But the main focus of the weekend was the big event. Being co-founders of one of two civilian living history groups on the East Coast we took along our formal colonial attire and dressed for the event.

The Grand Illumination is a huge tourist draw and the crowds were thick. We walked to the historic district from our nearby hotel rather than attempt to find parking nearby meaning that we had to negotiate the throngs surrounding the main events on the Green.

As we bumped and shuffled out way along people began to notice our period attire and make way. One woman pulled her husband out of the way calling to him, "Let them through! They work here. Get out of the way!"

Joyce, being much too honest, replied "Oh, we don't work here." at which point I jabbed her in the ribs with my elbow and proceeded to drag her along through the parting crowd.

As I think back to my many visits to Colonial Williamsburg, I find that a bit of melancholy has sat in today. While it is 40 degrees in Tucson this morning, I know that the temperature by afternoon will be back into the 70's. There are no colorful leaves falling and the smell of oak being burned in fireplaces is woefully absent.

Walking the streets of Williamsburg in the late Autumn or Winter is an experience like few others. As the tourists depart the town quiets and it is easy at times to get lost in a feeling of another time and place. If you're lucky enough to have the proper clothing there is no experience quite like getting dressed and wandering the cold streets wrapped in a woolen cloak then ducking into one of the buildings to warm yourself by the fire and chat with an artisan about their craft.

Yes, today I do miss that history a bit as I will be heading to Phoenix and its "big city" concrete and metal constructs. Of course, I get to investigate an historic hotel tonight there, but somehow "historic" in the context of a building constructed in the 1920's just doesn't have quite the same appeal.

Maybe I can talk Michael into letting me order some Ginger Cakes from the Raleigh Tavern Bakery complete with a box shaped like the famed Raleigh Tavern. Yes, that and a nice fire in my fireplace might do the trick!

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