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Colonial Williamsburg's 74th Grand Illumination Continues Fifes and Drums 50th Anniversary Celebration


Illuminations and Firing of Christmas Guns Traditions of a Colonial Williamsburg Christmas

WILLIAMSBURG, Va.—The Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums continues the celebration of their 50th anniversary with special performances during Grand Illumination, Sunday, Dec. 7.


Founded in 1958, the Fifes and Drums performs in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area nearly 500 times during the year in daily programs from mid-February through December and during special programs observing major holidays. Grand Illumination, the signature event of Colonial Williamsburg’s holiday season, features fireworks, music and candlelit buildings.


The celebration begins in the late afternoon with a variety of entertainment, starting at 4:45 p.m. on multiple outdoor stages throughout the Historic Area. The Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums provides 18th-century music appropriate to the season. Other costumed performers present holiday entertainment found in Williamsburg two centuries ago.


At 5:45 p.m. the Fifes and Drums signals the beginning of Grand Illumination, from all four stages. At 6:15 p.m., candles are lit in public buildings, shops and homes, and fireworks are launched at three Historic Area locations: the Governor’s Palace, Magazine and Capitol. After the fireworks, entertainment resumes on the outdoor stages and continues until 7:30 p.m.


Illuminations—firing guns into the air and lighting fireworks—were commonly used during the 18th century to celebrate major events such as great military victories, the birthday of the monarch or the arrival of a new colonial governor. Written accounts of illuminations in Williamsburg, the 18th-century capital of Virginia before the American Revolution, include descriptions of “candles in the cupolas of public buildings and windows of gentlemen’s houses.”


During December, guests can enjoy illuminations of individual buildings within the Historic Area featuring musket fire and fifes and drums throughout December. Flickering cressets mark each destination during narrated tours. Colonial Williamsburg’s own Fifes and Drums participate in these events.


On Dec. 24, guests can experience an 18th-century tradition, the firing of the Christmas guns. Fifes and Drums follow the program at several locations on Colonial Williamsburg’s main thoroughfare, Duke of Gloucester Street, as well as on Palace Green.


Established in 1926, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia. Williamsburg is located 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For additional information and reservations or to request a free copy of Colonial Williamsburg’s 2008 Holiday Planner highlighting unique holiday programs, concerts and special dining events, call toll-free 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at


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