Please wait...

Wreath-makers Workshop

Behind the scenes with the dedicated volunteers who bring the holidays to Colonial Williamsburg

November, 25, 2019 BY STAFF

In a warehouse a few miles from Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area, CW elves (as in volunteer decoration designers) are elbow-deep in peacock feathers, pinecones, oyster shells, and dried florals and fruits. While employees and their families who live in the private residences decorate their own doors, this small team of volunteers decorates more than 200 public buildings and unoccupied residences.

We got a sneak peek into this year’s holiday décor, and all we can say is we’re ready to deck the halls! …. er, D.O.G. street. Check out these detail shots sprinkled with a few tips and fun facts, then make plans to see them for yourself, and even take home some historic holiday décor for yourself below.


Our decoration team uses all-natural materials, including peppers and flowers harvested from our very own colonial gardens and dried for decorating use. They might not have decorated in this same way, but 18th-century colonists in the region would have recognized all of the materials used.


Each wreath, centerpiece, and sash is handmade. Over the years, the team has discovered ways to help protect the decorations from the elements. For example, they avoid adorning buildings that get a lot of direct sun with fresh fruit, saving those materials for shadier facades.

Stems are wrapped with floral tape to help prevent dried flowers from disintegrating in the elements.

Because there is so much to do, the designers focus on working with the dried elements first, then work with fresh greens and fruit in the final phase before decorations go up. In many cases, dried décor on brown wreath frames are made first like this, then added to a fresh green wreath. That way, as the greenery fades throughout the season, it can be switched out without dismantling the entire wreath.

Handmade decorated wreaths like this pictured on the left are already made and sitting on shelves in the decorating warehouse, waiting to be placed on fresh green wreaths, creating two-layer wreaths like the 2018 holiday wreath pictured on the left.


The first Historic Area Residents Doorway Decorations Contest took place in 1937 to encourage residents to abandon the modern decorations of Christmas for an old-fashioned look. Today, each resident is given a booklet that explains the decoration guidelines and awards are presented at a program on the Wednesday after Grand Illumination in the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

Residents are divided into two categories — amateurs (persons with no floral arranging experience) and professionals. Trade Shops were added as a separate category in 2017. This year, each volunteer can enter one of their designs into a separate category as well.

Decorations are judged on the following criteria: the types of materials used; creativity and elements of the design; originality and faithfulness to the spirit of eighteenth-century decorative ideas; attention to detail and written information provided by the residents.

Here’s a sneak peek of all of the wreaths and wreath parts that are ready for installation!


So when will these beauties adorn doorways throughout the historic area? If you’re here for Thanksgiving, you can expect to start to see some hints of the holidays including electric candle lights in the residence windows. Wreaths will be up by Grand Illumination, which is a great day to spend taking in all the decorations and stay for the pyrotechnic kick-off to the holiday season.


This year, you can take the historic holidays home with you. That’s right, our Holiday Decoration Sale is back by popular demand. Handmade in the same style of the decorations that adorn the Historic Area buildings, a variety of wreaths and centerpieces at different price points will be available during Thanksgiving and Grand Illumination weekends at the lawn between Shields Tavern and the Palmer House. Learn more here.

Want to know who wins? Join us Dec. 11 for the announcement of the winners of this 27th annual contest or follow us on Facebook or Instagram where we will announce the winners.