An Americana Christmas in Lancaster County

December brings forth the enchantment of the holidays at this popular travel destination in Pennsylvania.

BY ELEANOR HENDRICKS MCDANIEL
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER

View the Christmas story at the Sight and Sound Theater.(COURTESY OF DISCOVERLANCASTER.COM)
View the Christmas story at the Sight and Sound Theater.
(COURTESY OF DISCOVERLANCASTER.COM)

A wounded Philadelphia cop hides from corrupt colleagues on farm and falls in love with Amish woman. That’s the plot of the film “Witness.’’ If you saw the movie, you discovered that Lancaster County, Pa., is dominated by Amish culture, but it has so much more to offer. It touts many of our American ideals: Family values, religious freedom, entrepreneurship and brotherhood, which we find there in farming, shopping, entertainment and history.

Although you’ll find it’s a great destination any time of the year, December brings forth the enchantment of the holidays, especially in the following venues.

Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum
In 1925, two brothers, Henry and George Landis, feared for the heritage of their German culture.

Shop in the charming shops at Kitchen Kettle Village.(COURTESY OF DISCOVERLANCASTER.COM)
Shop in the charming shops at Kitchen Kettle Village.
(COURTESY OF DISCOVERLANCASTER.COM)

They began to amass tools and other implements used in rural life. When their home could no longer contain the ever-growing collection, they housed it in the estate’s out-buildings. Today, the site has expanded into a compound of historic structures and a museum that showcases the largest treasury of German artifacts in the U.S.

I strolled the outdoor setting and experienced examples of the industrial and agricultural life of the 19th century. Period homes line roads to complete the illusion. Animals, living history enactors and crafts persons lent an air of authenticity to the setting. As a testament to its authenticity, it was one of the settings in Oprah Winfrey’s film, “Beloved.’’ You can walk down the same lanes that the actors walked.

Come celebrate a Pennsylvania Dutch Christmas at Landis Farm. Ride an old-time wagon through the decorated hamlet. Then warm up near a large bonfire. Carol along with the Lititz Moravian Trombone Choir and toast the season with hot cider and cookies in the Yellow Barn.

More information: landisvalleymuseum.org

Sight and Sound Theater

Behold the telling of Christ’s birth in Sight and Sound’s holiday presentation, “Miracle of Christmas.’’ Watch as you and the audience are enveloped by the happenings on a three-sided stage and the procession of camels, horses, donkeys and performers marching down the aisles. This show will run until Jan. 2, 2016.

Since 1976, Sight and Sound Theater has brought the Bible to life through spectacular live Broadway-style musical productions. Now housed in an enormous, magnificent new theater that was constructed in 1998, the auditorium has expanded to hold a 300-foot stage and over 2,000 seats. Among its former presentations are “Jonah, Noah – the Musical’’ and “The Splendor of Easter.’’ I recently enjoyed the story of “Joseph,’’ complete with music, song and dance. Beginning in 2016, “Samson’’ will be on the bill.

More information: www.sight-sound.com

Kitchen Kettle Village
Everyone’s Christmas gift list usually includes food gifts and the dilemma of finding the right present for that hard-to-please person.  Kitchen Kettle Village to your rescue.

The Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum was the setting for the film “Beloved.’’(ELEANOR HENDRICKS MCDANIEL/SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER)
The Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum was the setting for the film “Beloved.’’
(ELEANOR HENDRICKS MCDANIEL/SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER)

Start by browsing in the shop of Jam and Relish Kitchen. You’ll be awed by the many shelves of relishes and pickles, sauces and salsa, jams and jellies – and more. They’re all made by local country cooks. Just like homemaker Pat Burley who made her first batch of jelly in 1954. Her successful business eventually mushroomed into this fresh air mini-mall of 40 independent clothing, arts, crafts, restaurant, edibles and lodging establishments.

During the holiday season, the Kitchen Kettle Village sparkles with decorations and the excitement of special events, such as Breakfast with Santa and Dinner with Mrs. Claus and Yummie, the gingerbread man. Both feasts feature an array of Lancaster County farm-to-table foods.

More information: www.kitchenkettle.com

Strasburg Railroad     
When my son was little, I took him for a short trip aboard Strasburg Railroad’s historic train. It was summer, and the train whistle blew in through open windows. He really enjoyed that unique adventure. But imagine the mind-boggling journeys that await youngsters (of all ages) when the coaches are transformed into Santa’s Paradise Express and the Night Before Christmas Train.

The fun begins at the station where kids can climb aboard a classic caboose to listen to holiday tales or hop onto the Tinsel Trolley, a self-propelled motorcar.

Santa’s Paradise Express has the “jolly old elf” meeting families, taking photos and giving a gift to each child under 12 years old. On the Night Before Christmas Train, a Victorian character, dressed in a nightshirt and cap reads the famous poem by Clement Clarke Moore. Cookies, milk and a heated potbelly stove complete the joyful experience.

More information: www.strasburgrailroad.com

Writer Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel and Lorraine Williams clown around at the Ephrata Cloister.
Writer Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel and Lorraine Williams clown around at the Ephrata Cloister.

Ephrata Cloister     
Pennsylvania has always been a haven for religious freedom. Among the sects that have fled their countries to settle in that state were the Quakers, the Moravians and the Anabaptists, which includes Mennonites and Amish. Conrad Beissel immigrated to Lancaster County and in 1732 he established a religious community whose tenets rested on a spiritual, not materialistic, lifestyle.

By 1950, the membership had grown to over 300, which included a married order of worshippers who lived on the fringe of the celibate cloister. The Brothers and Sisters sustained their society with farming, orchards, basket making, printing, papermaking, milling, and carpentry. They provided for themselves and outsiders.

Visitors are invited to tour the buildings and grounds of this National Historic Landmark through guided and self-led tours. You’ll see the tiny cells in the Sisters’ Dormitory, the Meeting House and the amazing craftsmanship and precision in the beautiful hand-drawn illuminations and “Frakturschriften, an alphabet book of letters.

The site is open all year, but Christmastide welcomes both quiet contemplation and exuberant celebration with seasonal readings, music and an informative Lantern Tour. Call 717-733-6600 or go online for reservations.

More information: ephratacloister.org

Don’t just stop with only these venues. Holiday merry makers explore Lancaster County and find many more events and attractions. Find them at discoverlancaster.com.

Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel is an experienced travel journalist who writes for print magazines, newspapers and online magazines. She has lived in Paris, Florence (Italy) and Philadelphia. She currently resides in Ormond Beach. Check out her blog: flybynighttraveler.com and follow her on Twitter at ellethewriter.

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