Residents of this colonial city maintain that if the real Williamsburg had survived, it would have looked like Annapolis.

While the Virginia village's reconstituted Georgian facades now house museums, many structures here that date from the 1700s still thrive as shops, restaurants and houses.

Every year at Christmas time, Annapolitans go all out in a festive attempt to drive that point home.

From the annual illumination of the official Christmas trees Dec. 1, to the "huntboard" feast provided by local innkeepers on New Year's Day, the city is teeming with activity that harkens back to its highflying days as a colonial port city.

Garlands of pine tied with red ribbons and laced with twinkling white lights line the city's Main Street. Carols sound in the downtown and the spicy scent of wassail escapes from candlelit taverns.

This month, residents are opening their 18th, 19th and 20th century houses to neighbors and strangers for a holiday tour aimed at showing off modern life in Annapolis, which, unlike Williamsburg, has remained a state capital since its founding in the mid-1600s. Williamsburg's reign ended after the American Revolution, when Richmond became Virginia's capital.

"We thought we could become a Williamsburg alternative . . . " said Norma Groverman, president of the Tourism Council of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

With the success of Williamsburg's Christmas celebration in mind, the council seven years ago began coordinating activities that were already under way, and then added a few of its own ideas.

One of the most popular is the Candlelight Pub Crawl, an eating tour of the city's historic taverns led by guides in colonial dress offering tidbits of local lore.

This year, the feast is to begin with wassail and cheese at the newly restored Governor Calvert House and move on to Harry Brown's for appetizers. The main course will be served at Riordan's or Middleton's Tavern by the city dock. The evening will conclude at Maryland Inn with dessert, Irish coffee and music.

The $40-per-person crawl, begun in the late 1970s, has grown so popular that all six nights, through Dec. 20, were booked by the end of October, Groverman said.

Community caroling throughout Annapolis' historic district and the surrounding neighborhoods got under way this week and is open to all comers. The caroling will continue every weeknight through next Wednesday, with singers meeting at various locations. For information, call (301) 268-TOUR.

Tonight, the annual open house will be held at Government House, the official residence of Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, from 7 to 9. Visitors will be taken on a short candlelit tour of the house and will meet the governor and his wife, Pat Hughes.

Friday and Saturday, the Hammond-Harwood House, located at 19 Maryland Ave., will hold its 26th Annual Greens Show and Sale. The formal town house, a registered national landmark built in 1774, will be decorated by 15 garden clubs with 18th century Christmas decorations. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Admission fees are $3 for adults and $2 for children.

The William Paca House, owned and maintained by Historic Annapolis Inc., will also have its own celebration at 186 Prince George St. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Both houses will have exhibits, period music and refreshments. Joint tickets to tour both houses can be purchased for $6 for adults and $3.75 for students.

Groverman recommends visiting the Paca house first and then the Hammond-Harwood House by candlelight after 3 p.m.