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Jamestown Settlement, Yorktown Victory Center Recall Holidays of Centuries Past

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center history museums will offer a glimpse of 17th- and 18th-century holiday seasons during “A Colonial Christmas,” December 20, 2008, through January 4, 2009. The two museums, administered by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, tell the story of our nation’s beginnings through gallery exhibits and historical interpretation in re-created outdoor settings.

  Greens by fort gate1.jpg
A Jamestown Settlement historical
interpreter assembles holiday greens

At Jamestown Settlement, a short holiday film and special interpretive programs compare and contrast English Christmas customs of the period with how the season may have been observed in the difficult early years of America’s first permanent English colony. In England, the holiday season – extending from December 25 to January 6 – was a time of merriment and feasting. Little is known about Christmases at Jamestown, but it is likely there were few celebrations other than church services to mark the holiday.

Guided tours of Jamestown Settlement’s re-created outdoor interpretive areas, beginning each day at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m., will engage visitors in ongoing interpretive holiday presentations. In the Powhatan Indian village, visitors will learn of hospitality shown by Powhatan Indians when a trading party led by Captain John Smith in 1608-09 was forced to seek shelter from a winter storm in a Kecoughtan village. Aboard the Susan Constant, a recreation of the largest of the three English ships that sailed to Virginia in 1607, historical interpreters will discuss the first Christmas shared by colonists after they departed London on Dec. 20, 1606. At the riverfront discovery area, visitors will learn about the cultures that converged in early 17th-century Virginia and can take part in a trade demonstration.

At 11 a.m., 1 and 3:30 p.m. daily in the colonial fort, visitors will encounter the festive 17th-century traditions of an English Christmas that may have existed only as a memory, considering the English colonists’ struggle to survive. Historical interpreters will adorn the re-created church and fort buildings with greenery and demonstrate fancy cooking. Fort interpreters also will share the English tradition of the Lord of Misrule, “grand captain of all mischief,” who with his followers progressed through town during the Christmas holiday.

Like Jamestown colonists, soldiers of the American Revolution had little opportunity for Christmas merriment. At the Yorktown Victory Center, visitors can learn about winter camp life and hear accounts of Christmas during the war in the Continental Army encampment, as well as learn how the quartermaster received supplies. Visitor participatory artillery demonstrations will be held at 11:05 a.m. and 3:05 p.m. each day. At the re-created 1780s farm, visitors can experience the hardships of a small farmer during the winter as well as watch interpreters make dishes from “Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery” and other sources of the time. Farm interpreters also will emonstrate a variety of seasonal activities, including decorating with greenery and dipping candles.

A visit to Jamestown Settlement begins with the docudrama film, “1607: A Nation Takes Root,” that presents an overview of the first two decades of the Virginia colony. Expansive gallery exhibits tell the Jamestown story in the context of the Powhatan Indian, English and African cultures that converged in the 1600s. More than 500 artifacts from 17th-century Europe and Africa and Virginia archaeological items are exhibited.

Gallery exhibits at the Yorktown Victory Center relate the experiences of ordinary men and women who lived during the Revolutionary era. The Declaration of Independence Gallery explores the document that articulated radical ideas inspiring decisive action, and the Witnesses to Revolution Gallery presents the stories of 10 people whose lives were profoundly affected by the Revolution. Exhibits also examine how people from many different cultures shaped a new society and the deve lopment of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Jamestown Settlement and the Yorktown Victory Center are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily year-round; closed Christmas and New Year’s days. A combination ticket to both museums is $19.25 for adults and $9.25 for youth ages 6-12. Admission to Jamestown Settlement is $13.50 for adults and $6.25 for youth ages 6-12, and in 2009, $14.00 adults, $6.50 youth ages 6-12. Admission to the Yorktown Victory Center is $9.25 for adults and $5.00 for youth ages 6-12. An annual pass to both museums is $35 for adults and $17.50 for youth. Parking is free.

Gift shops at Jamestown Settlement and the Yorktown Victory Center feature a selection of books, prints, museum reproductions, educational toys, games and souvenirs. Admission is not required to visit the museum gift shops, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; closed Christmas and New Year’s days.

Jamestown Settlement is located on Route 31 southwest of Williamsburg. The Yorktown Victory Center is on Route 1020 in Yorktown. The museums are separated by a 25-minute drive along the Colonial Parkway. For more information, call (888) 593-4682 toll-free or (757) 253-4838, or visit hif.ciniva.net.