By Christian Carollo / Say Hello to America
Christmas is a festive season filled with celebration, merriment, decorations, and gift-giving.
Today this spirit of Christmas dominates our culture for months before the actual day of celebration, but there was a time when you could be fined for even attempting to be festive. This was true of 18th-century New England, where Christmas celebrations were frowned upon and evergreen decorations were associated with pagan custom.
Virginia, however, had a much different story than the colonies in the North. Here, the view was that Christmas was not a holiday, but a twelve-day season to be celebrated with church services, drinking, dancing, eating, and some evergreens.
As I strolled up and down Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg, it was the evergreen wreaths decorating the doorways of every building throughout that first caught my attention. Their intricate beauty, use of unique materials, and bright colors spurred a desire to take the Christmas Decorations Walking Tour, so I could learn more about what has become a Williamsburg Christmas tradition.
As we admired the buildings decked in their holiday splendor, we learned that the famous Christmas wreath tradition didn’t originate in Williamsburg, nor did it actually begin during colonial times. The current custom — known as Colonial Revival — was inspired by Italian sculptor Luca della Robbia in the 1930s. Renowned for crowning his sculptures with wreaths, the idea was stolen and quickly swept the nation. Shortly thereafter, a contest was launched to “convince” residents of Colonial Williamsburg to conform to this new way of decorating. A few rules were instituted — wreaths were to have a theme that matched the house, and residents must keep them looking presentable — and the Williamsburg Christmas tradition was born!
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