From classic toys by the Toymaker of Williamsburg to Fifes and Drums ornaments at the Christmas Shop, Merchants Square is a one-stop shopping destination for all things Colonial and all things Christmas during the holiday season. Situated right next to the Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg, the square is a retail extension of the local attraction’s historic charm. More than 40 retailers and eateries dot the cobblestone streets, inviting customers to spend a little time, and a little money, on a experience of yore.
And though shoppers will find decorations to envy, they won’t spot too many snowmen or other cartoonish Christmas characters. Christmas in Merchants Square resembles the holidays of our forefathers, who celebrated with simple, but beautiful greenery and candles. It’s America’s first shopping center, after all, Colonial Williamsburg promoters say. Shoppers will recognize Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” a 30-minute humorous take on the classic story performed in the streets by the Virginia Theater Machine throughout the holiday season.
An open-air holiday farmers’ market treats shoppers with holiday favorites like apple butter, pumpkin butter and other home-baked specialties.
Santa Claus will make his appearance in the square, where children can share a story and take a photo. Strolling musicians bring home the atmosphere of Christmas cheer.
In the nearby Historic Area, guests can liven up their shopping trip with a guided walking tour of the Colonial decorations, sip a holiday tea at one of the nearby taverns, or enjoy a Colonial Christmas concert at an art museum.
The square will be particularly lively on Dec. 4, when the Historic Area celebrates its annual Grand Illumination event, complete with family activities, music and fireworks.
Merchants Square retailers are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Most of the restaurants are open until 9 p.m. or later. Guests can find a calendar of Historic Area holiday happenings at colonialwilliamsburg.com, or get a list of scheduled performances and Santa appearances at merchantssquare.org.
Here are some other festival spots to stroll during the holiday season, and, perhaps, find a unique gift or two.
Main Street, Smithfield. Small town charm is amplified during the holiday season, with a Christmas parade scheduled for Dec. 10, and a year-round Christmas Store filled to the brim with specialty holiday items. A Jingle Bells holiday market will take place on Dec. 17. On Fridays and Saturdays, you’re sure to find every store open for business, with nearly 20 stores open every day, including The Christmas Store. For more information, check out visitsmithfieldisleofwight.com.
Olde Towne, Portsmouth. Antiques, art and home décor is what you’ll find in Portsmouth’s waterfront destination, and for the holidays, it’s all dressed up. From a retailers’ holiday window art contest to the nostalgic Christmas Coleman’s Collection at the Courthouse Galleries, shoppers can break up their retail frenzy with a sip of hot cocoa and a stroll through a Winter Wonderland. For more information, go to visitportsva.com.
Riverwalk, Yorktown. Perfect for an evening stroll on the waterfront, Riverwalk caters to local merchants and their unique wares. During the holidays, expect special outdoor markets, strolling musicians, a parade and beautiful decorations, including a large, lit Christmas Tree. For more information, visit yorkcounty.gov.
City Center, Newport News. The annual Hollydazzle event, which incorporates music, food and fireworks, kicks off the Christmas season in the retail center that includes stores like Coldwater Creek, The Mole Hole and Talbots. Find more information at citycenteratoysterpoint.com.
Peninsula Town Center, Hampton. A more modern retail experience, the shopping center boasts nearly 50 retail shops such as Macy’s, New York & Company and Blue Ridge Mountain Sports. During the holiday season, look for appearances by Santa Claus, special holiday concerts and fun activities for the kids in the center’s central square. For more information, visit peninsulatowncenter.com.