6 Very Special Reasons to Celebrate Thanksgiving in Williamsburg

From the site of the first Thanksgiving in America to great dining, fabulous shopping and lots of holiday cheer, Greater Williamsburg offers a unique experience.

Foods and Feasts of Colonial Virginia
Yankee Candle Christmas Village
Christmas Town at Busch Gardens
Colonial Williamsburg Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in Greater Williamsburg is more than just football and a feast.

It's a cornucopia of options from celebrating the first Thanksgiving — not that other Johnny-come-lately at Plymouth, Mass. — to enjoying the best from area restaurants to getting a jump start on that other bit of feasting, namely shopping.

Celebrate History

First, take a step back in time to the real first Thanksgiving. No turkey. No friendly Native Americans. Just a lot of thanks.

Celebrate a re-enactment of the first Thanksgiving at Berkeley Plantation on Nov. 5. That original Thanksgiving took place at the site of today's Berkeley Plantation on the banks of Virginia's James River after 38 British settlers landed on Dec. 4, 1619, two years before the more famous festivities in Plymouth, Mass.

They celebrated "a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God," reading from the Book of Common Prayer. There was no grand meal. In fact, they likely fasted, a common practice during religious days in those times.

They were following orders of the London-based Berkeley Company, which purchased 8,000 acres between what is now Williamsburg and Richmond to build a community of farms, storehouses and homes. The company declared their arrival day must be yearly and perpetually kept holy. They followed those orders for two years until the native Powhatans attacked Berkeley on March 22, 1622, which abruptly ended the settlement.

The 2017 celebration will be a bit more lively beginning with a parade of horse-drawn carriages, a fifes and drum corps, and musicians, magicians and re-enactors who will stroll the plantation grounds. The Chickahominy Tribal Dancers will perform. The Itinerant Band will play tunes from the 17th century. Vendors will showcase food, arts, and crafts. At 3 p.m., there will be a re-enactment of the landing.    

So go ahead, try something different. You can still celebrate a modern Turkey Day later in the month.

Dine with History

If you want to stick with the history theme, the taverns of Colonial Williamsburg Shields, Christiana Campbell, Chowning's and The King's Arms — will feature a special Thanksgiving Day dinner with pumpkin soup, sage-rubbed young turkey, pan-seared salmon or slow-roasted prime rib with a choice of desserts. 

Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown are also celebrating with Food and Feasts of Colonial Virginia, Nov. 23-25.

At Jamestown Settlement's Powhatan Indian village you will see venison, turkey and other game roasting over an open fire while stews of corn, beans and squash cook in traditional clay pots. Inside the re-created fort, the food preparation will reflect the English colonists with baked bread, pudding and pies. On Thursday and Friday, a pig will be processed into hams and bacon. And instead of the after-meal football game, you can enjoy European military drills. Finally, at the ships' pier, you'll be able to explore what sailors ate: salted fish, biscuit and dried foods and try making a ship biscuit.

At the American Revolution Museum, there's a chance to learn about the meager rations of dried beans, salted meat and hard bread that barely fueled Revolutionary-era soldiers. On the museum farm, dishes will be prepared daily using the open hearth. Watch daily artillery drills, which show visitors how soldiers earned their rations. 

Dine in Style

If you're looking for more modern bites, Greater Williamsburg area restaurants give you the chance to enjoy Thanksgiving without all the sweat — and cleanup — in the kitchen.

At Opus 9 Steakhouse in Williamsburg, the buffet goes on all day with ham, turkey, prime rib and all the trimmings, both traditional and non-traditional. If you're looking for wine choices, this is a place to indulge your tasting palate. Opus 9 has more than 150 bottles on its extensive list.

For a seafood-focused meal, consider Waypoint Seafood & Grill. Start with roasted tomato, crab and jalapeño bisque and then choose from a roasted, herb-rubbed heritage turkey with sausage stuffing or seared Chesapeake rockfish and jumbo lump crab with golden polenta and butternut squash, before finishing with a harvest sampler of spice mousse, sweet potato pound cake, apple fritter and pecan shortbread.

Overlooking the York River in Yorktown, Riverwalk Restaurant offers another buffet option with traditional turkey and prime rib joined by seared tuna loin and a seafood bar of raw oysters, marinated mussels, shrimp cocktail, and crab dip. The choices also feature both traditional and oyster stuffing, mac and cheese, greens, and a green bean casserole with crispy shallots.

Walk off Those Calories

Need to walk off those calories? Williamsburg Walking Tours starts offering its Christmas Past and Present Walking Tour on Nov. 23 with morning and afternoon treks. Stroll through the colonial streets of the historic area. Learn how early Americans celebrated Christmas. Discover the sources of modern-day celebrations in Williamsburg and how a Christmas decoration sparked a battle on Duke of Gloucester Street between a rooster and a Dalmatian.  Another idea is to visit one of the areas parks  (York River State Park or New Quarter Park) where you can hike, bike or just enjoy the outdoors.

Get in the Holiday Mood  

For a modern take on the holiday, Christmas Town at Busch Gardens opens Nov. 24. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer returns to Christmas Town this year. Trust us. You can't miss him. You will be able to enjoy the classic television special with a series of photo opportunities including having pictures taken with Rudolph and friends Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and Bumble. Add in holiday shows featuring Christmas traditions from across the globe, the largest light display in North America with eight million lights and plenty of hot chocolate and you'll instantly be in the holiday spirit.

Shop Till You Drop

The Day After Thanksgiving, of course, is Black Friday so head out to the Williamsburg Premium Outlets. Arrive early to get a head start on designer deals here at places like Gap Factory, Polo Ralph Lauren, Bose, Kate Spade, Aeropostale, Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein, DKNY, L'Occitane, Movado, Oakley and The North Face. When you are ready for a break from shopping stop by the Alewerks Tasting Room.  And don’t miss Yankee Candle Village with its 45,000 square feet of shopping and fun entertainment, and Santa’s arrival on Nov. 11.

Any way you enjoy your Thanksgiving in Greater Williamsburg, it's a feast.

Sample more great farm-to-table dining and fabulous brunches in Williamsburg. Check out all of our restaurants and things to do and start planning your Thanksgiving visit today.