Get Away: Christmas in Williamsburg

If Santa, trains and twinkling lights are your jam, Colonial Williamsburg is a veritable wonderland this time of year.

Segue to present-day Christmas at nearby Williamsburg Winery, which is open daily for tours and tastings of its wines, including its flagship red blend, Adagio, plus whites and dessert wines that make good gifts at holiday soirées. The winery is part of Wessex Hundred, a 300-acre farm that overlooks the James River and includes Gabriel Archer Tavern and Wedmore Place—an inn that boasts an elegant French restaurant, Café Provençal.

Yankee Candle Park. Photo by Michael Ventura.

Fans of Elf—and all that glittered in the movie’s decked-out department store—might feel like they’ve entered a holiday film scene at Yankee Candle Village. The 45,000-square-foot store offers interactive games and activities, a giant gumball machine, a Santa’s workshop-themed Toy Shop, plus more than 40,000 ornaments to choose from. You can get crafty by making a wax mold of your hand (the peace sign and thumbs-up are popular choices) or dipping a critter-shaped candle, in addition to watching an elaborate train set chug through the upper reaches of the store, visiting with Santa, and taking a selfie with a 6-foot-tall nutcracker.

Busch Gardens Christmas Town. Photo by Michael Ventura.

On an even grander scale, Busch Gardens Christmas Town (Nov. 17 to Jan. 5) features more than 10 million lights—the largest holiday lights display in North America. A highlight of the amusement park’s offerings is a “fireside feast” at Castle O’Sullivan with Santa and Mrs. Claus (the food is cafeteria quality, but the experience has a cozy Christmas-with-the-Clauses vibe). Stroll Busch Gardens’ traditional German-themed Mistletoe Marketplace for artsy gifts made by local craftspeople, enjoy the rides (about 25 are open during Christmas Town, including the InvadR and Verbolten roller coasters), and stay warm with a mug of the park’s tasty peppermint fudge hot chocolate.

Whether you spend time with Father Christmas in Williamsburg or visit with Santa at Busch Gardens and Yankee Candle, there’s something about the spirit of Williamsburg’s holiday season. Smith, aka Father Christmas, recalls one day when he had a friend fill in for him. “The shift was supposed to end at 4:30. He stayed until 7,” Smith says. The man told Smith how he loved the job and how much joy it brings to both the kids and the man who is Santa (or Father Christmas). “Being Santa is not about the beard,” Smith says. “It’s about spreading love and acceptance for everyone.” In this historic town that pays homage to our country’s founding principles, that’s a message to ponder for Christmases past, present and future.

Categories: Travel