Discover holiday traditions in Newport News’ historic settings

Angela Blue

Lee Hall Mansion presents Antebellum Holidays Dec. 8–31, demonstrating pre-Civil War holiday celebrations.

Festive décor and twinkling lights are part of the whimsy and nostalgia that make the holidays come alive each year. History buffs traveling to Newport News this December can celebrate the season while indulging in some fascinating customs of the past.

Newport News, located near Virginia’s coast, is home to Lee Hall Mansion, where affluent planter Richard Decatur Lee once resided. The mansion was built between 1851 and 1859 and is one of the last remaining antebellum homes on the Virginia Peninsula.

Lee Hall Mansion presents Antebellum Holidays Dec. 8–31, demonstrating pre-Civil War holiday celebrations.
Lee Hall Mansion presents Antebellum Holidays Dec. 8–31, demonstrating pre-Civil War holiday celebrations.

Throughout the year, visitors can step back in time to experience the mid-Victorian period at Lee Hall, but Antebellum Holidays (Dec. 8–31) is an especially magical time to visit. Period decorations bring an added charm to the home and illustrate how Lee and his family celebrated the holidays in the years before the Civil War.

Just a little more than a mile from Lee Hall sits Endview Plantation, which served as a Confederate hospital during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Visitors can tour the plantation year-round to learn about the families and local history that surround the home. During Christmas at Endview (Dec. 8–31), greenery and period decorations transport guests to the 1861 holiday season. Children will be especially delighted to visit on Dec. 11–12 to see St. Nick. It’s a heartfelt occasion of giving and receiving, as parents are asked to bring two gifts — one wrapped for their own child and another new, unwrapped present to be donated to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.

Another great way to dive into history is by heading to The Mariners’ Museum. Civil War enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the rare figureheads, handcrafted models, and USS Monitor, but the museum holds programs and exhibits geared to all ages and interests. Through Dec. 24, young guests can stop by the museum’s Explorers Theater to view The Light Before Christmas 3D, a story about two children who get lost on a cold, blustery Christmas Eve and are magically transformed into characters from the poem The Night Before Christmas.

Also shown in the Explorers Theater this season through Jan. 31 is Jerusalem 3D, presented by National Geographic Entertainment. The film immerses audiences into the beloved city that holds great secrets and ancient rituals and offers a glimpse into the city’s holiest sites, as well as rare and breathtaking aerial footage of the Old City and the Holy Land.

Visitors can extend their museum experience further by visiting the Virginia Living Museum from Nov. 26–Dec. 31 to relive the journey of the Magi in Star of Wonder: Mystery of the Christmas Star, shown in the museum’s planetarium theater. Since 1965, visitors to the museum have followed in the footsteps of the Magi. The changing scholarship about the area and what sign the Wise Men might have followed led to a complete revision of the show in 2008. It offers a truly immersive look at the journey of the Magi and the Star of Bethlehem.

A second show, Laser Holidays, presents the music of the season and dazzling laser effects. Classic holiday favorites are presented in an animated Christmas light display that the whole family can enjoy, though the show is not recommended for those younger than 6 years old. The Wild Things Museum Store features nature-related items for all ages on your gift list. (thevlm.org)

History is alive and ever-changing in Newport News, so connect with the past to make the present season all the more extraordinary.

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