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A Colonial Williamsburg Style Christmas

It’s not too early to begin thinking about decorating for Christmas, and one of the ever popular decorating themes is known as the Colonial Williamsburg style. Abundant with fruit, vegetables, foliage, herbs and dried flowers, the charm of Williamsburg wreaths, swags, and centerpieces has delighted generations of Americans.

Traditional Williamsburg Arrangement

The Truth About the Colonial Williamsburg Style

Ironically, what has come to be known as the Colonial Williamsburg style of holiday decorating never actually existed in colonial times. No one in eighteenth century America would have been caught dead with real fruit tacked to the front door, left to rot or be eaten by squirrels, when food was so scarce. They certainly would not have used such exotic and precious commodities as the pineapples, pomegranates, and citrus fruits we see displayed today.

The True Early Style

In those days, Christmas decorations were more spartan, making use of natural materials at hand, such as magnolia leaves, holly berries, milkweed pods, sumac berries, cotton bolls, rosemary, laurel, boxwood and pine. Common was the practice of “sticking the church” with green boughs on Christmas Eve. Garlands of indigenous evergreens were hung from the church roof, the walls, the pillars and the galleries. Sometimes even the pews and the pulpit were included. Private homes were much more modestly adorned.

Colonial Revival & the Rise of the Colonial Williamsburg Style

The practice of affixing fruits, dried flowers herbs, and other plant life to basic Christmas forms such as wreaths and garlands began in the earlier years of the 20th century, at a time when Christmas was growing in significance and the Colonial Revival style was a leading decorating trend. The holiday fashion appears to have been suggested by the terra cotta carvings of the noted fifteenth century Italian sculptor Luca della Robbia and his heirs, whose family name has become synonymous with fruit and foliage swags. Even then, only wealthier American citizens decorated in such a style.

First Appearance of Colonial Williamsburg Style

Colonial Williamsburg first officially dressed up for Christmas in 1936, and by 1939 the “della Robbia” style wreaths, which were then created by some more of the talented local ladies, had caught on in popularity. Thus, the Williamsburg Christmas look was launched. Annual decorating contests ensued, and the public became so enamored that, in 1969, the Williamsburg “Christmas Decorations Tour” was inaugurated.

Where to get Colonial Williamsburg Style Arrangements Today

Today, your professional florist can create a centerpiece for you in the traditional Williamsburg mode. Familiar elements such as:

  • Bboxwood
  • Magnolia leaves
  • Holly
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Pine cones
  • Roses
  • Deep-toned chrysanthemums
  • Pheasant feathers
  • The requisite pineapple – a long-standing symbol of hospitality

All of the above may be combined to produce the arrangement. Fresh fruit is secured on wood florist’s picks, (tip: piercing the fruit through the blossom end rather than through the skin helps keep it fresh longer). Alternatively, realistic artificial fruit may be used. A Revere-style silver bowl would be a period-appropriate container.

Customarily, the centerpiece would be rounded, compact and symmetrical – almost regimentally so. Quite a departure from today’s relaxed standards, to be sure, but classically beautiful in it’s own right.

Intrigued by this festive theme? Call or visit your local florist soon and have a glance back at history with your own Williamsburg style Christmas centerpiece.

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