Colonial Thanksgiving

Friendly folks and delicious food welcome you to Williamsburg.
Mark G. Stith

Sunrise and fresh-baked bread warm up a cool, crisp day at Colonial Williamsburg. The alluring mix tempts the morning's first visitors to follow the costumed bakers to the Raleigh Tavern on Duke of Gloucester Street (shortened to "Dog" Street by locals). There you'll find baskets filled with goodness. You couldn't ask for a more appetizing start to celebrating Thanksgiving's bounty at Colonial Williamsburg.

Sobering current events at home and abroad renew and strengthen our ties with family, faith, fellowship, and national pride. Restore and rejuvenate those bonds by sitting down to lunch or dinner at one of the four dining taverns in the Historic Area.

All of them offer superb holiday fare, costumed servers, roving minstrels, authentic furnishings, and a pleasant atmosphere. Our favorite meal has to be the sumptuous offering for Thanksgiving dinner at King's Arms Tavern. Start with cream of Virginia peanut soup, so rich, flavorful, and filling that they could serve it as the main course. But then there would be no room for the roasted young turkey served with giblet gravy, cornbread dressing, Carolina candied yams, and cranberry chutney.

Dessert can't be any better than their warm mincemeat pie. But you might be talked into tasting their seven-layer chocolate cake. Last year, the restaurant added wines from French vineyards visited by Thomas Jefferson. Starting at $45 for the 1997 Villeneuve Châteauneuf-du-Pape, they're not inexpensive, but consider the company. This special Thanksgiving feast is rather pricey also ($42.50 adults, $19.95 ages 11 and under), but you'll get a meal and a memory that you'll savor.

Be sure to visit the shops, cottages, and other sites in the historic district. If you haven't been here in years (or ever), seeing Colonial Williamsburg this month makes good sense too.

Gone are the steamy summer lines waiting to get in all the shops, craft houses, and taverns. You'll also get the jump on the Christmas season crowds coming to shop in December. There seem to be just enough visitors to make it sociable. Don't be surprised if you're the only one in front of the warm fire at the cobbler's shop, usually one of the most popular places. That's another reason why Thanksgiving is such a great time to visit.

However, the crowds do turn out for such colonial stars as Thomas Jefferson--tall, red haired, handsome, and totally convincing. This morning (think 1774), he has hopped up on a small platform under an oak tree behind the Governor's Palace. He shakes a few hands, then introduces himself (as if that's necessary--he's as recognizable as Ben Franklin).

"My name is Thomas Jefferson," he says. "I am a burgess for Albemarle County." Then he gets into the hot topic of the day--our problems with mother England and the forced purchase of tea from the East India Company.

"Free people should not suffer taxation without…," he says, raising an eyebrow and waiting for the crowd to finish the familiar sentence.

"Representation!" comes the enthusiastic response. Their delighted expressions give a clue as to what this place is all about. Instead of being passive observers of history, visitors find themselves participating. Not just visitors, but guests. That's just what Colonial Williamsburg invites you to do.

Consider staying in one of the Colonial Houses within the historic district. Their location and authentic period reproduction furnishings make for a memorable stay. Although they're booked months in advance on holiday weekends, you might be able to get one on a weekday. Prices start at $185 double occupancy.

Check out their vacation packages too. For example, a two-night package at the Governor's Inn including Historic Triangle Pass admission to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, and Yorktown Victory Center is just $67 per person per night.

The cancellation policy is strict: They require 40 days notice during the holiday season from November 26 to December 31 (72 hours other times), or you lose a night's deposit.

For more information call (757) 253-2277 or 1-800-447-8679, or visit www.colonialwilliamsburg.com.

TIPS FOR FAMILIES

  • Take the bus. This is a large area, and walking it could wear out even the most physically fit.
  • Younger visitors might enjoy the experience more if they dressed the part. Costume rentals for boys and girls are available at booths on Market Square.
  • Guided tours are great for us grown-ups but make younger children fidgety. Choose the walk-in visits to hold their interest.
  • Everyone will love the Fifes and Drums march from the Palace Green to the Courthouse. (Check the schedule on the Web site during winter months.) The trill of the pennywhistles and rat-a-tat of the drums gives you goose bumps of patriotic pride.

THE BEST DEALS
The Freedom Pass at $49 adults and $24.50 ages 6-17, good for one year, makes a much better deal than the day pass, $39 adults and $19.50 ages 6-17. Unless you're historically hyperactive, it takes the better part of two days to see all of this. Colonial Williamsburg offers five different hotels, from the pricey but unforgettable Williamsburg Inn (starting at $415 double occupancy) to their budget-minded Governor's Inn ( $80 weekdays).

"Colonial Thanksgiving" is from the November 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.