Cover Story

Not Home for the Holidays

Taking the Christmas Spirit on the Road

by Rosemary Dietrick, Contributing Writer


Give your family the gift of travel during the holidays. After you’ve trimmed your tree, why not check out the decorations and festivities beyond your own front door?

The Christmas spirit reigns throughout the Old Dominion. Out in the heart of Appalachia, Virginians festoon the Natural Tunnel with multi-colored lights. Over at Abingdon’s Barter Theatre, Christmas themes take center stage.

Looking eastward to Williamsburg, the Colonials celebrate a Grand Illumi­nation; plantation owners deck the halls with greenery. The capital city of Rich­mond boasts a GardenFest of Lights; up north, candlelight glows at Mount Vernon. In Washington, D.C., the president lights the nation’s Christmas tree.

If you’re not cheering Santa on the boardwalk at Virginia Beach, you could be skiing or hiking the Blue Ridge and looking forward to a spa at the end of the day. At resorts, hotels, and country inns, enjoy gourmet cuisine and Virginia wines. Whether your getaway is around the corner or over the mountain, you’ll find a holiday home away from home in Virginia.

Central Virginia

In Richmond, visitors marvel at the GardenFest of Lights, where over a half million lights are arranged in botanical themes throughout the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. Holiday dining at the Robins Tea House and Garden Cafe. (Nov. 28, 2008 – Jan. 12, 2009. Call 804-262-9887;; $.)

Maymont’s Victorian Holidays celebrate Christmas past with house tours of Dooley mansion and moonlight carriage rides. (Nov. 20, 2008 – Jan. 6, 2009. Call 804-358-7166;; $.)

At the Landmark Theatre, enjoy performances of the Christmas classic, The Nutcracker, by the Richmond Ballet with live music by the Richmond Symphony. (Dec. 12-23. Call Ticketmaster: 804-262-8003;; $.)

Skiers and snowboarders head west to Wintergreen Resort in Nelson County, where Santa rides the slopes. A crackling fire awaits après-ski aficionados. Winter packages. (Call 800-926-3723;; $.)

Tidewater/Hampton Roads

In this region Santa is both sailor and surfer. The city of Hampton hosts the 20th annual Holly Days Lighted Boat Parade along its waterfront. (Dec. 6. Call 757-727-8311; At Virginia Beach’s Holiday Lights at the Beach you get to drive on the boardwalk as you view animated light displays of jumping dolphins, mermaids, and Christmas scenes. (Nov. 21, 2008 – Jan. 1, 2009. Call 800-822-3224;; $.)

At the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, visitors experience a new vision of the “Star of Wonder” in the museum’s Mystery of the Christmas Star in a digital planetarium theatre. (Dec. 6, 2008 – Dec. 31, 2008. Call 757-595-1900;; $.)

Virginia’s favorite tradition is Colonial Williamsburg’s Grand Illumination: Fife and Drum Corps begins the 18th-century celebration; candles are lit in public buildings and homes; and fireworks light up the night. (Dec. 7. Call 1-800-HISTORY;

Eastern Shore

Visit Chincoteague, the land of wild ponies and saltwater cowboys for an Old-fashioned Christmas Parade with marching bands and Santa (Dec. 6); browse galleries at Second Saturday Art Stroll (Dec. 18). Information: Call 757-336-6161;

Holiday festivities in the quaint, waterfront town of Onancock feature a Christmas Homes Tour (Dec. 13, $) and Christmas Parade (Dec. 21). Information: Call 757-787-3363;

Shenandoah Valley

Families enjoy special holiday fun at The Homestead Resort in the Allegheny Mountains: skiing; ice skating; swimming in an indoor heated pool; dining and dancing New Year’s Eve. (Dec. 22, 2008 – Jan. 1, 2009. Call 800-838-1766;; $.)

In Staunton, Gypsy Hill Park’s Holiday Celebration of Lights (Dec. 1, 2008 – Jan. 9, 2009) draws crowds every year; a traffic stopper is the ongoing ballgame in lights. Woodrow Wilson’s Birthday Open House celebrates the 28th president’s Dec. 28 birthdate with free tours and cake and punch at his former home. (Call Staunton Travel Information Center: 800-332-5219;

Winchester’s Museum of the Shenandoah Valley offers Glen Burnie in holiday finery and a night of music. Historic House Tours (Saturday, Dec. 6 through Dec. 14; from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., $. No tours Dec. 8; museum closed). Get in the holiday mood with Galleries at Night (Dec. 14; from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.). Dance to the classic big band sounds of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s performed by the Yesterday Swing Orchestra. (Call 540-662-1473;; $.)

Blue Ridge Highlands

Who needs Broadway? Over in the mountains, two legendary theatres present top-drawer entertainment. In Abingdon, catch a performance of Another Night Before Christmas, a comedy with music, at the Barter Theatre (Dec. 26-28 on Stage II) or Miracle on 34th Street (Dec. 21-28.) Information: Call 276-628-3991;; $.

In Marion, the Lincoln Theatre, one of three existing Art Deco Mayan Revival theatres in America, features the big-band style of the Guy Lombardo Orchestra with Al Pierson (Dec. 13). Bluegrass and Celtic Christmas music takes over with Song of the Mountains (Dec. 20). Information: Call 276-783-6093;; $.

Right next door you can stay overnight at the award-winning, recently restored General Francis Marion Hotel. The successful preservation of its “roaring twenties” decor has won kudos from National Geographic Traveler. (Call 877-783-4802;; $.)

Heart of Appalachia

In the true spirit of Christmas, The Carter Family Fold at Hiltons invites country music fans to a community concert (Dec. 20); admission free with donation of canned goods for the Second Harvest Food Bank. Features Christmas music, holiday cooking, and a hoedown. (Call 276-386-6054;

Even Natural Tunnel, hidden in the mountainous folds of southwest Virginia, gets gussied up for the holidays. Colored lights and carolers enhance chair-lift rides at night. Program begins Nov. 28 and 29; continues for all Fridays and Saturdays in December. (Call 276-940-2674;; $.)

Northern Virginia

The sound of bagpipes and the scent of heather fill the air as Scotsmen in colorful tartans march down the streets of Alexandria’s Old Town during the annual Scottish Walk Parade (Dec. 6). Information: Call 703-549-0111;

Christmas at Mount Vernon hosts visitors (Nov. 28, 2008 through Jan. 6, 2009) with festivities reflecting the Washingtons’ holiday hospitality: themed Christmas trees; 18th-century dances; a tour of the rarely seen third floor; Martha Washington’s retreat after the death of her husband; and a gingerbread replica of Mount Vernon created by former White House pastry chef, Ronald Mesnier. On the grounds, don’t miss the exotic Christmas camel. (Call 703-780-2000;; $.)

Gray Ghost Holiday Open House in Amissville invites wine lovers to enjoy food and wine while gathering around the “world’s largest cork Christmas tree.” The winery’s name honors the redoubtable Confederate Colonel John Mosby. (Dec. 6-7. Call 540-937-4869;; $.)

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., kicks off the holidays with the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on the Ellipse. Throughout the season are music concerts, displays of operating model trains, and 56 Christmas trees representing American states, territories and Washington, D.C. (Date: TBA — usually, the first Thursday in December.) Information: Call 202-789-7000;

Hear Santa sing at the NSO Pops: Happy Holidays! Let time-honored seasonal classics warm your heart for the holidays. A Kennedy Center tradition with Marvin Hamlisch conducting the National Symphony Orchestra. (Dec. 11-14. Call 800-444-1322;; $.)

Trip Tips

Lodging information available at Bed and Breakfast Association of Virginia ( Most wineries schedule a holiday Open House in November and December. A winery guide can be obtained from Virginia Wine. (Call 804-344-8200; e-mail: Visit

Virginia Tourism Corporation: Call 1-800-847-4882; visit


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