The holiday decorations of Colonial Williamsburg have always been popular with visitors. There are special walking tours to view the wreathes, and the gift shops offer books and videos to help recreate the "Williamsburg look" back home. An annual contest judges the most creative displays, with separate divisions for professional decorators/artists and amateurs, and winners proudly display their blue ribbons pinned beside their doors.
Materials are restricted to things that would have been found in 18th c. Virginia, which eliminates electric lights, anything plastic or super-sparkly, Santa Claus and Christmas trees. As these examples show, however, there's still plenty of objects that meet the criteria. Tucked among the greenery, pinecones, and dried wildflowers are 18th c. style playing cards, a fiddle, clay pipes, flags, gentlemen's cocked hats and straw hats for ladies, fifes, and drums. (The modern plastic tankards beside the door, right, were temporarily left by visitors who weren't permitted to bring beverages inside the shop.)
While the decorations are indeed lovely, they're not accurate for 18th c. America. No colonial housewife would dream of sticking perfectly good (and expensive!) apples, oranges, and pineapples on her front door for the birds and squirrels to eat. Traditional decorations would have been a bit of greenery, and little else.
But when Colonial Williamsburg was still finding its focus in the 1930s, residents in the historic area were encouraged to decorate their houses with della Robbia-inspired wreathes of fruit instead of modern gaudy colored lights and reindeer. Visitors enjoyed the wreathes so much that they became a new tradition; they are historically inspired, just not inspired by the 1700s.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.