WASHINGTON, December 1, 2011 - You probably won’t see any of Lancaster County’s Amish families onboard the Strasburg Railroad’s antique steam train during December. But you can expect to meet Santa inside the rail cars as he greets passengers and hands out treats to the kids.
Although most of Lancaster County’s Plain People – the Amish, Brethren, and Mennonites – celebrate Christmas without lights, Santa Claus, and piles of gifts, the friendly old elf is around in lots of places, as are events and attractions for faith travelers who want to celebrate the traditional reason for the season.
Lancaster’s major melange of religious and secular Christmas events range from seasonal theatrical performances to shopping festivals and living history events. Lodging rates are great this year, too, as low as $99 a night in a great assortment of hotels, inns and B&Bs. There are few places better than Lancaster County to celebrate Christmas.
A good place to begin is the historic district of downtown Lancaster City which has been the heart of the county since 1729. Through December’s first three weekends, there will be caroling bells, Santa Claus’ arrival, lighting of the giant Christmas tree, musical entertainment and a model train display in a bank. And don’t forget to stop in the historic Lancaster Central Market, which brims with Christmas gifts and edible treats this time of year.
Other seductive shopping sites are also lit up, with handmade quilts, traditional wooden toys, and national brand buys as well in the outlets along Route 30.
The Victorians are often credited with “inventing” Christmas as we know it today, with decorated trees and other traditions, and there are several seasonal choices to take in from that era around Lancaster. At Wheatland, the Victorian home of U.S. president James Buchanan, visitors will glimpse the magical world of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s haunting Christmas tale, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The Wheatland mansion has been transformed into the old Stahlbaum home on Christmas Eve, 1860.
For some real interactive Victorian theater, reserve your ticket for “Dickens of a Christmas” at Mt. Hope Estate and Winery. Inside this 200 year-old Gothic mansion, you’ll meet Charles Dickens who will host a special gathering of characters from the pages of his greatest works of literature. Each room in the house is decorated for the season, and you’ll be invited to join in caroling, dancing, and wine tasting, as you enjoy theatrical excerpts from beloved Dickens stories. An interactive, four-course holiday feast precedes performances on select dates.
More German Christmas traditions for the family to enjoy will be waiting at Cake and Kandy Emporium, where Nancy Fasolt creates clear toy candy. Lancaster County’s German children used to set out their plates on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas morning, they would find them filled with fruits, nuts, and clear toy of yellow, green, and red molded figures made from corn syrup. Fasolt shapes her creations in traditional and modern molds to a wide variety of forms like trains, ships, baby carriages, animals, and Santa himself. Visitors may watch candy demonstrations and take along a few of the fascinating pieces for eating or tree decoration.
Cookie decorating and ornament making will be in full swing on scheduled December days at Kitchen Kettle Village, where craft, artisan, and food shops will be celebrating “Holly Days” - and a good stop to buy local jams, jellies, and other foodstuffs with a Pennsylvania flavor.
Besides all the seasonal and standing options for fun in Lancaster County, there are even more unique Christmas sites nearby that are worth a short drive.
Roadside America, the largest known indoor miniature village and the life work of one man, Laurence Gieringer, consumes a display the length of a football field. It’s open year ‘round at Shartlesville near Exit 8 off Interstate 78, but it’s especially enticing at holiday season for any aged visitor.
The exhibit began as a hobby and grew into a collection of handmade and handcarved miniature villages, many of them reminiscent of towns as they looked early in this century. Small model trains climb bridges and pass through a network of tunnels, while tiny cars and trucks go about their daily rounds and miniature children play on swings in parks.
Yet another hobby which began several decades ago and grew is Koziar’s Christmas Village, located on farmland in Bernville north of Reading. Thousands of twinkling lights outline secular and religious Christmas displays each night at Koziar’s through December, such as Santa’s toy shop, a nativity scene, cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. The family who began assembling this display in the late 1940’s, has installed something to delight nearly everyone.
So if December is one of your favorite seasons, consider taking the family for a Lancaster County celebration, amid the event and attractions choices that are as diverse as the lifestyles in this fascinating region. It’s where tradition and modernity live side by side, especially at Christmastime.
Here are a few more options on Lancaster’s December calendar:
Christmas at the Cloister: Spend a few moments in quiet reflection with seasonal readings and holiday music in the historic 18th century Ephrata Cloister where visitors will observe Christmas customs Dec 12 and 13. Tickets required. Lantern tours of the cloister are scheduled for December 27-30
Through December 31 at Sight & Sound Millennium Theatre. This exciting production of the Christmas story with live animals and characters will highlight the season for all agaes.
Sounds of the Season: December 16-18 at the Barshinger Center, Franklin & Marshall College. Treat you and your entire family to an unforgettable holiday experience. They’ll celebrate the wonder of Babes in Toyland, the joy of Hanukkah, and the warmth of traditional Chriatmas music, all performed for your holiday enjoyment!
Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum: Celebrate a Pennsylvania Dutch Christmas on evening of December 16 free of charge. This is a living history site, whose buildings are decorated for the season. Huddle around a bonfire and sing carols, accompanied by the Lititz Moravian Trombone Choir and enjoy cookies and hot cider afterwards in the Yellow Barn. Other events are on the December calendar.
Gift of Lights at Elizabeth Farms: Lancaster County’s new Christmas drive-through light experience. Elizabeth Farms has been the area’s largest Christmas tree farm since 1758, and this holiday season, hundreds of thousands of lights will set the farm aglow.
A Longwood Gardens Christmas: 2011 dates TBD at Longwood Gardens. Thousands of poinsettias and Christmas trees, concerts, fountains and 400,000 glittering lights. 610-388-1000
Read more of Ruth Hill’s faith travel columns at Contemporary Christian Travel in the Washington Times Communities.
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