Grand Illumination Williamsburg

Williamsburg’s “White Lighting” is not what you might expect, it is neither the debauch of whiskey nor the racing of motorized carts, Williamsburg’s White Lighting is the faithful display of illuminating candles in the windows of finely-formed Williamsburg homes.  This Williamsburg lighting tradition began in the rebirth of Georgian ways during the 1930s when John D. Rockefeller’s care and capital rescued Williamsburg from ignominy and ruin. Grand

Illumination Williamsburg.

The Grand Illumination, Williamsburg

Governor’s Palace, Williamsburg. credit: Monica Mason

Among the many designers and artisans who crafted Colonial Williamsburg from old Williamsburg was landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff who lit, in Georgian tradition, Advent candles in the windows of four recently restored homes (circa 1934).  That event, fitting to Williamsburg’s quiet dignity, was continued the following Advent season, and has been expanded in silent beauty, year-to-year.

1957, the 350th anniversary of nearby Jamestown, a modest firework punctuated the White Lighting and created a wholly new event, fitting the rising status of Colonial Williamsburg, “The Grand Illumination”, a festival of light in the season that has lightened the world, Christmas. Grand Illumination Williamsburg.


The Grand Illumination, Williamsburg

George Wythe House outbuilding. credit: M. Curtis

This year, following the recent Covid silence, The Grand Illumination is especially welcome, a rebirth more refreshing, more appreciated than in many another year.  When visiting the Illumination, best to arrive early that you might meet with Thomas Jefferson, George & Martha Washington, the Marquis and others who frequent the Duke of Gloucester Street.*  Too, you might enjoy a carriage tour of the picturesque town, or perhaps a sampling of old Virginia treats at the many taverns.  Most enjoy the fine crafted, unique and interesting Christmas gifts found in the many period stores.

Lighting of outdoor cressets begins at dusk.  From the cressets, a delicious aroma of pine and an enchanting firelight that guides visitors along the way of celebration.  As if by divine command, candles upon a moment alight each home’s window.  As you will expect, there is music, caroling, a military parade, lighting of the yule log, a flame into which students of William & Mary toss holly springs, quaint representations of the past year’s troubles.  And then, the fireworks display which each year puts me in mind of 4 July 1777, first anniversary of our Declaration of Independence from the mother country, England.


The Grand Illumination, Williamsburg

Robert Carter House, Williamsburg. credit: M. Curtis

2021 Grand Illumination  Williamsburg

December 3-5, 10-12, and 17-19.
5:00 PM. the lighting of candles;
5:15 PM, entertainments at the Palace Green, the Goal, the Capitol, and at Market Square where the yule log is lit;
6:40 PM, the Fife and Drum Corps plays Grand Tattoo;
7:00 PM, the fireworks.
And afterwards, the Williamsburg ghost tour for the stout of heart.


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* The Grand Illumination Williamsburg period of reenactment, 1774 through1781.

Featured image: The Grand Illumination Williamsburg. credit: Steve Heap


Grand Illumination, Williamsburg Firework

The Grand Illumination Firework over the Capitol Building, Williamsburg. credit: Christopher W Becke


To all: Tidings of good cheer from The Beautiful Home to you.


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