My Pennsylvania Christmas Bucket List

IMG_0255under-treeThere is very little that I don’t like about Christmas. I could go on about the commercialism that has taken hold of the holiday, but ultimately it is not Madison Avenue who dictates how we observe Christmas, we do. I never have a problem getting into the “Christmas spirit,” but if I did I would know just what to do to rekindle that childhood magic.

You may not know that many of the Christmas traditions that we hold dear in the U.S. got their start in Pennsylvania. When German immigrants settled here centuries ago, they brought Saint Nicholas, the Christmas tree and handmade ornaments with them.

After some careful consideration, I’ve come up with a “Top Ten” bucket list of Pennsylvania Christmas attractions that are sure to bring out the kid in you this Christmas.

#10. The Festival of Trees (December 6-9, 2012), Penn State Ag Arena, University Park. More than 100 decorated trees, craft vendors, breakfast with Santa, children’s arts and crafts, food and entertainment make a great weekend excursion.

#9. Dickens of a Christmas Festival (November 30 – December 1, 2012), Wellsboro. Main Street and the surrounding side streets will become an early Victorian marketplace featuring food and craft vendors, strolling musicians and singers, dancers, street corner thespians and much more.

#8. Peddler’s Village Christmas Festival (December 1-2), Lahaska. The Village is beautifully decorated, Victorian-style, with fruit wreaths and greenery. Live entertainment. The aroma of hot mulled cider fills the air as Peddler’s Village celebrates its 50th season with Santa. Admission and parking are free!

#7. Bellefonte’s Victorian Christmas (December 7-9), Bellefonte. Bellefonte, PA has long been known for its beautiful Victorian architecture and it has never been showcased better than during the holiday season. From a spirited Dickens troupe and horse-drawn carriage rides, you’ll feel like you’ve been sent back in time. In addition, the weekend offers a holiday homes tour, arts and crafts, concerts and a festival of trees.

#6. Overly’s Country Christmas (November 15 – December 31, 2012), Westmoreland Fairgrounds, Greenville. What started as one man’s mission to delight children at Christmastime has turned into more than 2 million twinkling lights! When Harry Overly began his light display, he just wanted to make kids happy, and as it grew he realized he had an opportunity to affect the lives of children in big way. Children’s charities have been the beneficiary of Overly’s Country Christmas for decades.

#5. Olde Time Christmas (November 30 – December 2, 8-9, 15-16), Jim Thorpe. The streets come alive with the sounds and joy of the Christmas season. Carolers and horse-drawn carriages create the wonderful illusion that you’ve stepped into a Dickens story.  Quaint shops, decked for the holidays, offer unique gifts that you aren’t likely to find at the mall. One of my favorite places in Jim Thorpe, and there are many, is St. Mark’s Episcopal Church which is literally carved out of the mountain. Thanks to the generosity of some very wealthy parishioners in the 18th and 19th centuries, the church is lavishly adorned, including beautiful Tiffany windows. The church gives tours throughout the year but there will be a special Open House on November 30th, from 5-9 pm.

#4. Christmas City (throughout the Christmas season), Bethlehem. Since the town was christened Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, 1741 its connection to the holiday can be experienced year round in the Historic Moravian Bethlehem District.  Today, the once-gritty Bethlehem Steel plant is now the center of art and culture. From light shows and concerts to carriage rides and historical demonstrations, Bethlehem has earned the title of Christmas City.

From November 15 through December 23 (Thurs – Sun) ArtQuest’s popular Christkindlmarkt will be held at the PNC Plaza. This traditional German-style Christmas market, has been recognized by Travel and Leisure Magazine as one of the top holiday markets in the world! The sounds of live Christmas music will delight you as you stroll through the booths of unique handmade gifts. I love watching as beautiful ornaments and decorations being created at the glass blowing booth.

#3. Koziar’s Christmas Village (through January 1, 2013), Bernville. The only way to describe Koziar’s is magical! For 65 years the Koziar family has welcomed visitors to their winter wonderland. Generations of families have made an outing to Koziar’s part of their holiday tradition. As a kid loved it and I love it now. In addition to the brilliant light displays outside there are several buildings that house everything from Santa’s Post office to an inspirational manger scene. Keeping an eye on your waistline? All diet concerns disappear as the enticing aromas envelop you just outside the Old Fashioned Bakery.

#2. George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (December 8-30, 2012), The Academy of Music, Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Ballet performance of the Nutcracker has been on my holiday bucket list for at least a decade and still I haven’t found the time to experience one of the most celebrated and iconic Christmas productions of all time. Spectacular sets and costumes make a trip to the kingdom of the Sugarplum Fairy an enchanting experience. 2012 is the PA Ballet’s 25th season performing George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Attendees are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy for a needy child which will be distributed by the Salvation Army.

and the #1 pick for my Pennsylvania Christmas Bucket List is…

The National Christmas Center (year round), Paradise, PA. Nostalgic, wondrous and magical are just a few words to describe my absolute favorite Pennsylvania Christmas destination. Seriously, the only time you’ll have a better Christmas experience is on Christmas morning, in your own living room. When I sat down with Jim Morrison for the winter 2008 issue of Where & When, Pennsylvania’s Travel Guide, I had no idea how my visit with this gentle spirit would lift mine. Getting to know the man behind the museum made my experience at the National Christmas Center one I’ll never forget.

The NCC is packed full of everything Christmas from a 1940’s – 1950’s era Woolworth’s to the Christmas Around the World exhibit. My favorite is the huge ‘under the tree’ display. This very unique exhibit allows adults to experience the childhood joy of lying under the tree and looking up at all the lights and ornaments. Though that is my favorite display at the National Christmas Center, my favorite experience came that day in 2008, after I completed my tour of the museum. Here is an excerpt from that interview.

“After the interview he gave me a guided tour of the amazing facility. As we were just finishing up a little boy came into the museum with his family. I’ll never forget the way his eyes lit up immediately upon seeing my host. Morrison sat down on a bench and invited the little boy to sit and talk for a bit. I watched along with the little boys parents as he reached in the bag he was carrying and offered Morrison a cookie from his Happy Meal®

The two talked and as I watched I realized that it wasn’t the beard, the protruding belly or even the color red that Mr. Morrison dons daily that makes children believe they are in the presence of a magical being. It’s what’s in they eyes of the man they are trusting their wishes to. They see goodness and probably most importantly, they see themselves…someone who truly believes in the magic and wonder of Christmas.”

Read the full interview with Jim Morrison of the National Christmas Center here.

Wendy Royal is the blogger for Where & When, Pennsylvania’s Travel Guide.

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About WherenWendy

I am the blogger for Where & When, Pennsylvania's Travel Guide, a quarterly print magazine and online source for what's going on in PA.
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