As we come upon that special season, whether your favourite holiday is Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas, Virginia offers numerous unique experiences with historical twists. After all, you can’t be the birthplace of America and not have some seriously scary haunted spots; or the perfect pumpkin pie recipe—handed down through more than 400 years; and of course, a host of holiday celebrations that harken back to America’s very roots.
Take in a True Ghost Story this Halloween
With significant historic destinations like Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, Jamestown, and Mount Vernon, Virginia draws countless visitors looking to learn more about America’s past. In addition to these monumental landmarks, if you walk more than a few feet in any direction in Virginia, you’re almost guaranteed to step foot onto the hallowed grounds of an American Revolution battlefield or a Civil War site. But such rich history also brings an eerie side effect: a long list of supposedly haunted sites.
Halloween isn’t the only thing celebrated in October – it’s also Virginia Wine Month. So, let’s set the scene for an ideal October get-away at a haunted winery! The Winery at La Grange is a scenic 22-acre farm vineyard with a fully renovated manor house dating back to 1790, now used as their tasting room. The house and property are rich with history and folklore, with many visitors sharing their stories of experiences with the ghosts that live here. Most of the encounters entail the parlour piano playing on its own, the ghost of a young girl who inhabits one of the upstairs rooms, or the spirit of Benoni who guided the home’s restoration project in the 1800’s.
Benoni E. Harrison purchased the La Grange estate in 1837 and lived there until he died in 1869. Rumour has it that Benoni still haunts the manor house to this day. You will find a glass of red wine on the mantel in the Tasting Room—set out for his ghost each day—to ensure the staff doesn’t encounter any mysterious phenomena while open to the public.
As an early American settlement, numerous historic houses in Colonial Williamsburg are believed to be haunted by past residents. One such property, the Peyton Randolph House, housed the Peachy family, who rented the property to many guests during their residency, including a young unnamed soldier attending the nearby College of William & Mary. Unfortunately, the young man fell ill during his stay and never recovered. He died in the home, and today, there have been multiple accounts of visitors spotting a young man walking sadly through the house or hearing heavy footsteps above their heads, even though no one is upstairs. You can take a complete tour of Colonial Williamsburg’s creepiest locations on the Colonial Ghost Tour, a moonlit tour of the haunted historic grounds.
For an overnight stay in a haunted house, book a room at The Martha Hotel & Spa in Abingdon. The building served as a hospital for wounded soldiers from both sides during the Civil War, and many unfortunately never left the hospital to return home. The Martha is said to be haunted by a few of these phantoms, apparently unfinished with the world of the living. Learn about the story of the Yankee Sweetheart, the Phantom Horse, and the Reappearing Bloodstains when you stay at the historic Martha Hotel & Spa over Halloween.
Most cemeteries are at least a little creepy, but Richmond residents believe Hollywood Cemetery to be especially haunted. The landmark’s deceased residents include more than 18,000 Confederate soldiers, two United States Presidents, the President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, and 25 Civil War generals. In addition to these important burial memorials, you’ll come across a large, cast-iron Newfoundland dog marking one small grave in the cemetery. The statue stands guard over the grave, holding the remains of a young girl who tragically died in 1862. Another strange site within the cemetery is the tomb marked W.W. Poole. The site seems similar to the other mausoleum-style graves, but according to gossip and lore, the Richmond Vampire dwells inside the tomb.
Interested in more ghostly grounds? Check out these 11 Haunted Sites in Virginia with true ghost stories.
Celebrate Thanksgiving with an Authentic American Treat
While Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated everywhere in the world, and certainly not on the same day or in the same style as it is celebrated in America, the concept of giving thanks for our blessings remains a powerful message everywhere. Virginia hosted the first American Thanksgiving in 1619 at Berkeley Plantation, just outside of Jamestown, the first permanent English Colony in the New World. From then on, Americans have given thanks across the table every year, sharing their bounty with friends and family. Tours of Berkeley Plantation are available daily or you can visit in November for the Virginia Thanksgiving Festival to discover the history behind America’s holiday.
Pumpkin Pie is a time-honoured element of every American Thanksgiving and would have been served on tables as far back as George Washington’s time. The original pumpkin pie recipe comes from Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery cookbook, published in 1796, and the first known cookbook written by an American. It was a revolutionary publication, as it used terms known to Americans and ingredients readily available to American cooks – and was the first cookbook to include what is now called pumpkin pie.
While the Mount Vernon Inn, the on-site restaurant at George & Martha’s beloved Virginia Mount Vernon estate, doesn’t follow the original recipe as outlined to create their beloved pumpkin pie, they can confirm that Mount Vernon’s historic trades team would bless this recipe for any Thanksgiving table!
The modern recipe:
• Approx 300g Pumpkin
• 1L Milk
• 4 Eggs well beaten
• 140g Molasses
• 1 teaspoon Ginger
• 1 teaspoon Allspice
• 2 Pie Crusts
1. Cut pumpkin in half, gut and bake upside down at 175C for 1hr
2. Peel and mash the pumpkin
3. Add milk and mix
4. Add the eggs and molasses
5. Mix in the ginger and allspice
6. Pour into a crust
7. Bake in the oven at 160C for 75 minutes
For more special Virginia recipes to try yourself at home check out the Inside the Kitchen series with some of Virginia’s star chefs.
Current Christmas Celebrations with a Nod to the Past
Many of Virginia’s unique experiences pay homage to our old world roots and the Christmas season offers excellent opportunities to witness how the holidays were celebrated in years past.
Step back in time at Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s largest living history museum, with Grand Illumination every December. The colonial Christmas festivities feature unique 18 th -century decorations, music and stories – as well as Father Christmas – and celebrations are punctuated each night with an amazing fireworks display above the Governor’s Palace.
Experience Thomas Jefferson’s estate as it is rarely seen when you attend the Monticello Holiday Evening Tours. The Founding Father’s home is richly decorated for the season, and special tours share the stories of how the residents of Monticello, both enslaved and free, celebrated the holidays during Jefferson’s era.
Alexandria, right across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. is recognized as One of the Most Magical Christmas Towns Across the World and George Washington’s Mount Vernon is just down the road, with its Winter Glow, cheerful carolers and Aladdin, the Christmas Camel.
Alexandria is also home to the Campagna Center’s Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend, which acknowledges the city’s distinct Scottish heritage. See the parade in action and take a listen to those lovely bagpipes here.
In Middleburg, the nation’s horse and hunt capital, Christmas in Middleburg draws thousands of visitors, who line the streets each year to watch the parade and the Middleburg Hunt & Hounds Review. Check out this video tour!
For more ways to experience a Colonial Christmas in Virginia, and when the time is right, look forward to welcoming you to Virginia for a truly historic holiday experience.