15 Festivities for the Holidays

After last year’s scaled-down and canceled activities, Lancaster County is ready to celebrate the holiday season like never before. Residents started to decorate their homes as soon as Halloween was history and are itching to gather again for their beloved holiday traditions. Following the indoor dining shutdown that occurred last holiday season, restaurants are eager to have their dining rooms bustling with reunited families and friends. The events that were canceled last year are back and bigger than ever. What follows is just a glimpse of ways to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year in Lancaster County.

1. Shop Local

Skip the shipping fees and delays and opt instead for makers markets and local businesses. Creatively Lancaster’s Makers Market (creativelylancaster.com) will be taking over the former Bon-Ton space at Park City Center on December 4, 11 and 18. Another option is the Local Makers Market at The Shops @ Rockvale (shoprockvale.com/makersmarkets) on December 4. On December 12, Lancaster Liederkranz’s Christkindlmarkt (lancasterliederkranz.com) will feature over 30 vendors alongside traditional German food and drink. During Lancaster Shops Late (December 9), retailers and restaurants will be staying open into the evening.

2. Ride the Rails with Santa

A tradition for over 60 years, the Strasburg Rail Road offers a variety of experiences including Santa’s Paradise Express, Santa’s Christmas Trolley and The Night Before Christmas Train. For details, visit strasburgrailroad.com.

3. Go on a Christmas Cookie Tour

On Fridays and Saturdays through December 18, you can visit with Amish families in their homes and learn about their heritage while sampling homemade cookies. You’ll leave with new friends, recipes and a greater appreciation of another culture. Sponsored by The Amish Farm & House. For details, visit amishfarmandhouse.com.

4. Go Back in Time

 Local high school students bring history to life during the Ephrata Cloister’s Lantern Tours (December 27-30). Visit ephratacloister.org for details. The Lititz Candlelight Tour (December 10) provides guests with a guided tour of the 1792 Johannes Mueller House and a lesson in how Christmas was celebrated centuries ago by the early Moravian community of Lititz. For details, visit lititzhistoricalfoundation.com.

5. Celebrate in the City 

Downtown Lancaster’s holiday season will kick off on First Friday (December 3), with the arrival of Santa, the lighting of the community tree and entertainment from Big Boy Brass. For details, go to visitlancastercity.com. 

6. Visit Dutch Winter Wonderland 

After taking a pause in 2020, this year’s Winter Wonderland – November 20-December 31 – will be the largest in Dutch Wonderland’s history. Enjoy themed rides, live entertainment, cookie decorating, pictures with Santa and over a million lights. For more information, visit dutchwonderland.com.

7. Give Back 

’Tis the season for helping others and there are countless opportunities in our community, one of which is Gifts That Give Hope (December 12 at the Farm & Home Center), where you can give a charitable donation in honor of the special people in your life or shop the marketplace for fair trade and sustainable gifts. For details, visit giftsthatgivehope.org/lancaster.

8. See a Show 

The Trust Performing Arts Center (lancastertrust.com) will present a unique adaptation of the classic The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (November 27-December 18). For those seeking a non-traditional holiday show, On the Naughty List (December 3-18) by Prima Theatre (primatheatre.org) will be a “mash-up between a holiday concert with a comedic and provoking TED talk,” says founder Mitch Nugent. The Fulton Theatre (thefulton.org) will present Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol (November 30-December 26), which revisits the classic holiday story from the perspective of Scrooge’s old business partner, Jacob Marley. Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre’s (dutchapple.com) production of Miracle on 34th Street (through December 23) is said to melt even the most cynical hearts. At the American Music Theatre, Winter Wonderland is on stage through December 30. This original production features sacred and secular music, gorgeous costumes and stunning sets. Visit amtshows.com for details. At the Ephrata Performing Arts Center (EPAC), the School Edition of the world’s second-longest-running musical, Les Misérables, will fill the stage December 3-31. The kid-friendly School Edition is a bit shorter in length, less violent and the lyrics of some songs are more PG. The cast is composed of youthful actors. For details, visit ephrataperformingartscenter.com.

9. Celebrate in a Small Town 

Christmas in Lititz Springs Park (December 3) will feature a unique holiday performance, a carol sing, the lighting of the Christmas tree and a special visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Also, don’t miss the Second Annual Holiday Home Decorating Contest in Lititz. Drive around to the various entries (beginning December 3) and vote for your favorites from December 11-24. For details, visit lititzspringspark.org/Christmas. “Friday” events will be held in Ephrata on November 26 & 27; Mount Joy on November 26; Columbia on November 26; Manheim (First Thursday) on December 2; Lititz on December 10; and Elizabethtown on December 10. 

10. Watch Your Favorite Holiday Movies 

Grab a cocktail and watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (December 6) or It’s a Wonderful Life (December 16) at Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse (zoetropolis.com). At Penn Cinema, you can rent a “bubble,” which includes three hours in a private auditorium for 25 people and your choice from their holiday movie selection. For details, visit penncinema.com/movie/bubble-rental.

11. Be Awed by the Marietta Candlelight Tour of Homes 

On December 5, you’ll be able to stroll through private homes and historical buildings decked out for the holidays. Outside Old Town Hall, find Santa and Mrs. Claus, who will light the community Christmas tree. For more information, visit mariettarestoration.org.

12. Celebrate the Winter Solstice 

During Lancaster County Parks’ Winter Solstice Around the World program (December 21), discover how other cultures and religions celebrate the shortest day of the year. After the presentation, enjoy a campfire and hot chocolate at the Environmental Center. For details, visit co.lancaster.pa.us/317/public-programs.

13. Visit Stone Gables Estate 

From November 26 through December 30, the estate will offer a plethora of festivities to enjoy. Experience their Christmas Light Drive-Thru, take a ride on the Santa Express, catch dinner and a show or stroll through the new Star Barn Christmas Village. Don’t miss The National Christmas Center, which features 18,000 square feet of nostalgic Christmas décor, storefronts, toys and much more. Visit stonegablesestate.com for more information.

14. Enjoy Lancaster’s Many Dazzling Light Displays 

At the Christmas Spirit Light Show (christmasspiritlightshows.com) being held at Clipper Magazine Stadium through January 1, drive through the mile-long track and enjoy hundreds of thousands of color-changing lights synchronized to your favorite Christmas classics. During Brethren Village’s (bv.org) Bright Lights (November 29-January 2), the senior-living facility will feature over 150,000 lights on their campus. Hersheypark Christmas Candylane (hersheypark.com) will also feature more than 5 million twinkling lights throughout the park until January 2. If you’re looking for an exciting twist, you can zipline through Refreshing Mountain’s (refreshingmountain.com) holiday lights. Longwood Gardens’ (longwoodgardens.org) display of half-a-million lights is always worth the trip to Chester County, as well. 

15. Ring in the New Year With Your Community 

As 2021 comes to a close, towns across the county have boisterous celebrations planned, complete with fireworks, music and the countdown to the New Year. Some even have a “drop,” such as Haydn’s Jug Drop in East Petersburg and the Red Rose Drop in Downtown Lancaster. 

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