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Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum: Christmas at Colonial Williamsburg

Christmas at Colonial Williamsburg – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – December 2003

Yes, Virginia, Colonial Williamsburg will hold its annual holiday exhibition at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum along with many other events to help celebrate the holiday season.

Aglow with festive lights and draped in pine garland, the historic Williamsburg Inn stands as a beautiful reminder of Colonial Williamsburg benefactor John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s vision of a home away from home for visiting guests. Recently renovated, the Inn is one of five Colonial Williamsburg Hotels available for a memorable holiday getaway.

The star attraction, beginning Nov. 28, is “Child’s Play: A Celebration of Antique Toys,” which will feature a delightful display of toys that have captured the imagination of children past and present. Four dollhouses will be on view, including the dollhouse owned by renowned illustrator Tasha Tudor. The exhibition will run through Jan. 4.

Guests may stroll the galleries at leisure on self-guided tours, enjoying many examples of 19th-century puzzles that allowed children to create pictures from tiles or mix up pieces to make comical figures. The Folk Art Museum’s two elegant dollhouses – the circa-1900 Long Island Dollhouse and the early 19th-century Morris-Canby-Rumford Dollhouse – each will provide a child’s eye view of Christmases past.

A late 19th-century dollhouse, recently given to Colonial Williamsburg by William and Nancy Marshall, features two stories as well as an attic. It is made of wood and covered with paper that simulates red brick and red roof tiles. This dollhouse, on display for the first time, comes from the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia. Tasha Tudor’s dollhouse, a 15-foot-long edifice made specially for her by retired craftsmen at the folk art museum, houses Tasha’s handmade dolls Emma and Capt. Thaddeus as well as furnishings, antique miniatures, and items made to her specifications – including handmade Nubian goats.

A festive 10-foot Christmas tree decorated with handmade ornaments is inspired by folk art seen throughout the museum. Over the years, volunteers and guests alike have contributed their creations to make this an unusual holiday experience.

A Ghost of Christmas Past… Living Today

Marking the 160th anniversary of renowned English author Charles Dickens’ first visit to America, the Williamsburg Inn at Colonial Williamsburg is honored to welcome back Gerald Charles Dickens, the author’s great-great-grandson, for the third consecutive year to perform his captivating one-man show, “A Christmas Carol.” Dickens’ devotees are invited to celebrate the season with Mr. Scrooge and his ghostly visitors during two spirited performances Wednesday, Dec. 11 and Thursday, Dec. 12.

The 36-year-old actor, who bears a striking resemblance to his ancestor, will use a variety of voices to portray the 26 different characters that appear in Charles Dickens’ [amazon_link id=”1440472904″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]1843 story of Christmas past, present, and future[/amazon_link]. Dressed in a frock coat, cravat, and embroidered waistcoat, Gerald Dickens leaps, laughs, and sobs as he actively interprets his ancestor’s timeless tale.

Dickens has toured the United States and performed “A Christmas Carol” for the past five Christmas seasons. He has appeared at numerous theaters, historic hotels, and Dickens festivals throughout the United States and Europe. Back home in England, Dickens also is a producer and director. He loves to perform his great, great-grandfather’s works and as an actor, said he feels privileged. “I had a good script writer,” he said of Charles Dickens. Gerald Dickens first began acting at the age of nine, but did not start performing his ancestor’s works until the 150th anniversary of the publication of A Christmas Carol, when a friend raising money for a historic restoration project asked him to re-create Dickens on stage. Dickens has appeared on the History Channel’s “History’s Lost and Found” discussing “A Christmas Carol.” He has been interviewed on NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s This Morning, ABC’s Good Morning America and PBS stations throughout the United States. The New York Times has described Gerald Dickens’ performance as “a once in a lifetime brush with literary history.”

Festival of Lights

A traditional 18th-century celebration lights up the night sky as the Grand Illumination, Colonial Williamsburg’s Christmas gift to the nation, begins the holiday season Sunday, Dec. 8. Revelers — tens of thousands – crowd the historic area to celebrate the 68-year-old yuletide tradition — begun in 1935. With an afternoon and evening of holiday merriment and 18th-century-style fireworks, the event is also called “groundworks” because the displays occur at ground level. Low altitude Illuminations were commonly used during the 18th century to celebrate major events – great military victories, the birthday of the monarch, arrival of a new colonial governor and the like — by firing guns and using fireworks. Written accounts of illuminations in Williamsburg before the American Revolution include descriptions of “candles in the cupolas of public buildings and the windows of gentlemen’s houses.” Colonial Williamsburg adapted the traditional practice to celebrate the advent of the season that, in the Christian tradition, celebrates the birth of the King of Kings.

A variety of entertainment begins at 4:45 p.m. on five outdoor stages. The Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums provide 18th-century music appropriate to the season while balladeers and musicians perform popular music of the time. Other costumed performers present entertainment found in Williamsburg two centuries ago and church choirs and other community organizations sing Christmas carols. The Fife and Drum Corps signals the beginning of the Grand Illumination at 6 p.m. At 6:15 p.m., candles are lit in public buildings, shops and homes, and fireworks are launched at four locations. Following the fireworks, entertainment resumes on the outdoor stages and continues until 7:30 p.m.

Other Events and Programs

Colonial Williamsburg offers something new just about each day of the season. Some are traditional, some are new. For example, The Williamsburg Institute at Colonial Williamsburg offers families a new Christmas program this year, “‘Tis the Season: Greetings from Christmases Past,” that promises to provide an in-depth, interactive experience for youngsters, parents, and grandparents. The program debuts Saturday, Dec. 14.

Just as modern-day families celebrate the holiday season with favorite traditions, family activities of the Christmas season in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries reflected customs of the day. “‘Tis the Season” provides the perfect opportunity for multiple generations of families to experience the excitement of the season as families prepared for Christmases past. Participants will encounter the sights and sounds of Christmases past through special activities at selected sites, enchanting Christmas exhibits at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, the wooden toys of Christmas at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, a magical play and a Christmas workshop designed to produce tangible memories for future family holiday celebrations.

Museum Information and Program Details

Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that operates the restored 18th-century capital of Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg is located 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information or reservations, call toll-free (800) HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

The Williamsburg Inn’s afternoon tea with Dickens is priced at $38 for adults, $18 for children. A four-course dinner with Dickens, priced at $98 for adults, $38 for children, will be held both days in the Regency Room.

Advance registration for “‘Tis the Season: Greetings from Christmases Past” is required and must be accompanied by a check for $100 per person or credit card information. Registration includes all presentations and tours, a workshop, a morning break, and afternoon tea.

Registration can be accomplished by mail, fax or online at Early registration is encouraged due to limited space. Adults must accompany children at all times with no more than two children per adult. Youngsters should be at least 6 years old.For additional registration information, contact the conference registrar by telephone at (757) 220-7182, by fax at (757) 565-8630, by email to or write to: Registrar, “‘Tis the Season,” Williamsburg Institute, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, P.O. Box 1776, Williamsburg, VA 23187-1776.

Photo credit for article on preceding pages: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va. For more images, visit

Book Review

[amazon_link id=”0316855219″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Tasha Tudor’s Dollhouse[/amazon_link] Text by: Harry Davis
Photographs by: Jay Paul
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 0-316-85521-9

Tasha Tudor, the beloved children’s book author and illustrator, is also the creator of an exquisite, breathtakingly detailed dollhouse. For the first time this magical miniature world, many decades in the making, is available to all Tasha’s many fans in a beautifully photographed book, Tasha Tudor’s Dollhouse: A Lifetime in Miniature, by Harry Davis.

In 1996 the magnificent dollhouse collection in Tasha Tudor’s home came to the attention of the curators at Colonial Williamsburg. Awed by the craftsmanship on display, they offered to build Tasha Tudor a new, larger dollhouse complete with goat barn and greenhouse. New the new dollhouse has been painstakingly photographed, along with some tiny treasures selected from its contents.

This one-quarter-scale version of Tasha’s early-19th-century-style Vermont home, Corgi Cottage, contains astonishing works of miniaturist art, from kitchen implements and musical instruments to tiny printed books and cakes and cookies that look good enough to eat. Captain Thaddeus Crane and his wife, Emma Birdwhistle, Tasha’s handmade dolls, guide us through their house, which features antique museum-quality furniture, a gilded birdcage, and even a working stove. Their tour culminates in a joyous Christmas celebration in the candlelit rooms and with a beautifully decorated tree. This enchanting, fully-realized world will captivate the child in anyone.

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