With COVID cases climbing in Lancaster County and its neighboring counties, we are looking at a holiday season full of changes and cancellations.
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls for virtual visits and staying at home during the worsening COVID-19 pandemic and asks that people consider whether their family and friends are in high-risk groups.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health echoes that guidance, but also said earlier this month that there are no plans to go back to red, yellow and green phases of reopening.
What does all of that mean for tree lightings, New Year’s Eve celebrations and Santa visits?
We compiled a list of several annual events, plus some new offerings, to check on the status. Here’s what we found. If you have an event to add or change, please leave it in the comments.
Turkey Trot in Millersville: It’s happening, virtually
What: This race benefits Millersville-area running groups. Details: millersvilleturkeytrot.com.
When: Participants are asked to complete a 5K walk/run on their own any time between Nov. 22-29.
American Music Theatre Christmas show: It’s happening, with changes
What: American Music Theatre canceled the originally scheduled “Deck the Halls” show due to COVID-19. Instead, the theater launched an eight-part video series, “Home for Christmas,” which was prerecorded live on the AMT stage and directed by artistic director Andrea McCormick. It features the theater's usual wide array of singers, dancers and musicians, including Michael Austin, Sarah Chance, Nicole Esposito and many more. The videos are free. Details: AMTshows.com
When: The series premiered Nov. 4. Videos will be released on American Music Theatre's Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts on a weekly basis through Dec. 23.
Hersheypark Sweet Lights: It’s happening
What: Drive through two miles of wooded trails and see about 2 million lights on nearly 600 animated displays. With a pair of HoloSpec glasses, this light show takes on another dimension. There is a cost. Details: bit.ly/SweetLights20.
When: Opened Nov. 13. Open nightly through Sunday, Jan. 3. Hours are 5-10 p.m. Fridays through Sunday. Hours are 5-9 p.m. Mondays through Thursday. The week of Christmas, the site will be open until 10 p.m.
Hersheypark Christmas Candylane: It’s happening
What: The amusement park is open with 5 million lights, Santa, nine live reindeer and several roller coasters and other rides. There is a cost. Details: hersheypark.com/explore-the-park/christmas.php.
When: Opened Nov. 13 with select dates through Jan. 3.
Dutch Winter Wonderland: Not happening
What: Lancaster County’s only amusement park typically opens for rides and special events in November and December. But a statement on the Dutch Wonderland website says: “Due to uncertainties regarding COVID-19 in areas such as what this fall and winter may look like, we will not be offering our Dutch Winter Wonderland event for the 2020 Season.“
Herr’s Christmas Lights Display in Nottingham: It’s happening
What: Drive through this snack company’s corporate campus, decorated for the holidays with about 500,000 lights. It’s located at 20 Herr Drive, Nottingham, Chester County. It’s free. Details: herrs.com.
When: Daily through Saturday, Jan. 2, dusk to dawn.
Lights For All in Stevens: It’s happening
What: Drive through the woods decorated with 8 miles of Christmas lights at Refreshing Mountain Retreat and Adventure Center, 455 Camp Road, Stevens. There’s also the option to park, buy a drink and sit by a campfire. It’s free, but donations will be given to 12 local nonprofits. Preregistration required. Details: refreshingmountain.com.
When: Starting Friday, Nov. 27, the outdoor lights will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 20. Additional dates are Dec. 10, 17 and Dec. 26-30, Jan. 1-3 and Jan. 8-10. Hours are 4:30-8:30 p.m.
Star Barn Christmas Light Drive-Through: It’s happening
What: In this 2.6-mile course at Star Barn Village at Stone Gables Estate with 600,000 lights, drive through a covered bridge, past a train and into a Moravian star forest. The entrance is at Brittany’s Hope, 1160 N. Market St., Elizabethtown. There is a cost. Details: bit.ly/StoneGableChristmas.
When: Fridays and Saturdays from 5-9 p.m. Nov. 27 through Dec. 31. Plus 5-8 p.m. Dec. 16-19, Dec. 21-24 and Dec. 28-31.
Christmas Spirit Light Show, Clipper Stadium: It’s happening, with some changes
What: Drive through a mile-long light show with tunnels, trees and more. The show has about 500,000 lights inside and outside Clipper Magazine Stadium, 650 N. Prince St., Lancaster, set to a synchronized soundtrack on the radio. There is a cost. Details: christmasspiritlightshows.com.
COVID-19 changes: Buy tickets online for less contact at the entrance. (Tickets are also available on-site.) Bathrooms will not be available and the stadium activities will not be held this year.
When: Drive-thru light shows are Nov. 28-29, Dec. 3-6, Dec. 8-13 and Dec. 15-31. Hours are 5:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 5:30-10:30 p.m. Friday to Saturday.
Elizabethtown train displays: Not happening
What: The Train Guys typically set up a 65-by-18-foot train display at Elizabethtown Public Library, with a shuttle. Also in Elizabethtown, the Masonic Village Model RR club normally opens a display on the Masonic Village campus. The displays typically attract more than 4,000 visitors. Both displays are canceled for 2020, but will return in 2021. The Train Guys have planned four train-related virtual presentations to be given over Zoom. They began Nov. 19, but continue on Dec. 3. For more information, visit etownpubliclibrary.org.
Ephrata Tree Lighting and Santa’s Arrival: It’s happening, with some changes
What: The annual tree lighting and arrival of Santa Claus will be virtual this year. The event will be broadcast on Blue Ridge Channel 11, Mainspring of Ephrata’s Facebook page, Christmas in Ephrata’s Facebook page or Mainspring of Ephrata on YouTube. Santa’s House will be open Dec. 4 through Dec. 19 at 16 E. Main St. — 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. Social distancing and masks will be required. One family at a time will be admitted in Santa's House. Children will not sit on Santa's lap, but kids will be able to talk to Santa while he is sitting at his desk behind a Plexiglas barrier. Photos with Santa will not be available. Details: ephratachristmas.weebly.com.
When: 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27.
Mayor’s Tree Lighting and Tuba Christmas in Lancaster city: Not happening
What: Traditionally, the holiday season starts in Lancaster city the day after Thanksgiving with the tree lighting in Penn Square, Santa’s arrival and a night full of holiday music performed by tuba players from throughout the region. This year, to avoid crowded gatherings and maintain social distance, the city will be holding a Weekend Winter Wonderland with Santa visiting the city in a firetruck and virtual events. See the December events list for details.
Small Business Saturday: It’s happening
What: The last Saturday in November is set aside in the holiday shopping season as a day to support local small businesses. Stores throughout Lancaster County will be taking part, with specials and events. Specific municipalities will have their own events.
When: Saturday, Nov. 28.
Forty Elephants Vintage and Handmade Holiday Market: It’s happening
What: More than 100 vendors offer wares, goodie bags and food at this annual craft sale, held in the former Bon-Ton at Park City Mall. Details: facebook.com/fortyelephantsmarket.
When: Nov. 28-29, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Santa’s Paradise Express at Strasburg Rail Road: It’s happening, with changes
What: Santa returns to the Strasburg Rail Road, keeping alive a more than 60-year tradition. Santa, wearing a mask, will greet passengers on a 45-minute train ride. Children 11 and under will receive a gift. Mrs. Claus will be available in the North Pole Annex to help children with letters to Santa from noon to 4 p.m. Carolers and musicians will perform at the station. There is a cost, and reservations are available online. Details and tickets: strasburgrailroad.com/ride/events/santas-paradise-express.
When: Rides began Nov. 21 and continue through Christmas Eve, Dec. 24.
Christmas Tree Train at Strasburg Rail Road: It’s happening
What: Passengers can ride to Leaman Place Groce by steam locomotive to choose a pre-cut Fraser Fir tree and have it delivered back to the station. There is a cost, both for the ride and the tree, and reservations can be made online. Details and tickets: strasburgrailroad.com/ride/events/christmas-tree-train.
When: Trains will run Nov. 27, Nov. 28, Dec. 4 and Dec. 5.
Strasburg Railroad's Santa rides look a bit different this season [photos]
Santa’s Paradise Express train rides look a bit different than in years past.
The annual holiday train ride takes passengers from Strasburg to Paradise and back, with Santa as the special guest. But there aren't any packed train cars this year, and a mask covers the face of the ride’s VIP, along with all the passengers.
The railroad is operating at 50% capacity and spacing families out throughout the train cars, usually keeping a seat or two between parties.
Santa Claus, who’s been portrayed by Dick Hoffman of Fayetteville, Pa., for the past three years, still makes his way down the aisle of seats, stopping to ask children for their Christmas wishes and hands out a gift to all the passengers.
The ride takes passengers through Lancaster County countryside with views of farmers, cows and waving train fanatics parked at railroad crosses with video cameras set up to catch the locomotive.
Along with the changes in capacity and the mask-wearing mandate, after every ride, the cars are all wiped down by employees with disinfectant.
Hoffman, who’s been Santa Claus around Pennsylvania for the past few decades, said he really enjoys the rides.
“My favorite part is putting a smile on someone else’s face,” Hoffman said. “Even though it was hard to see this year.”
Dutch Wonderland Holiday Lights: It's happening
What: For the first time, Dutch Wonderland’s Old Mill Stream Campground will be lined with more than one million lights in a 1.5-mile drive-through display. The site will not have Dutch Winter Wonderland this year. There is a cost. You can buy tickets at DutchWonderland.com. The site’s castle will be open for kids to tell Santa their wishes and take photos (from a distance) through Dec. 23. Admission also includes a ride on the Wonderland Special train. Details: DutchWonderland.com/Holiday-Lights
When: Daily, Dec. 2-31, 5-9 p.m. The site will be closed Dec. 24 and 25.
Weekend Winter Wonderland in Lancaster city: It’s happening
What: Instead of the traditional Tree Lighting and Tuba Christmas, Lancaster city will hold a weekend of events to start December. Events will include Santa’s arrival, holiday performances, caroling and more. With the help of the fire department, Santa will visit throughout the city in the “Kringle Caravan,” and the Prima Theatre Lancarolers will sing throughout the city. Details: visitlancastercity.com/city-events/lancaster-city-for-the-holidays.
When: The Kringle Caravan will take place from 2 to 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, and from 9 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5. Prima Lancarolers will take place from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4.
Landis Valley Museum Country Christmas Village and Belsnickel visits: Not happening
What: A banner at the top of the Landis Valley Museum tells visitors that due to COVID, the museum is closed. In previous years, the Country Christmas Village in December included children’s activities, wagon rides, old-fashioned cookies and cider, evergreens trimmed with natural decorations, Christmas carols and bonfires. They also included visits from the “Belsnickel,” a historic Christmastime character originating in southern Germany, but brought here to Lancaster and surrounding counties. This foil to Kris Kringle is much more sinister. He is dressed in dirty, tattered furs, holds a switch in one hand and a sack of treats in the other. He visits homes on Christmas Eve, punishing the naughty children with a gentle strike from his switch and rewarding the good ones with treats from his sack. Details: landisvalleymuseum.org.
Messick’s Christmas Light Show in Elizabethtown: It’s happening
What: Park your vehicle at this farm equipment business at 187 Merts Drive, Elizabethtown, to watch the light show with about 70,000 lights synchronized to music on the radio. It’s free, but donations are collected. Proceeds go to local families. Details: bit.ly/messicks20.
When: 6.-9:30 p.m. Dec. 4-30. Shows run every 10-12 minutes.
Conestoga Valley TSA Holiday Light Show: It’s happening, with some changes
What: Park to watch a 20-25-minute light show at Conestoga Valley’s Huesken Middle School, 500 Mount Sidney Road, Lancaster, with 14,000 lights choreographed to holiday and pop songs. This show is designed, programed and choreographed by students in grades seven through 12. This year, they did the work virtually.
COVID-19 changes: No food sales. The live chorus will not perform this year. It’s free, but donations go to the Technology Student Association club. Details: fb.com/CVTSAHolidayLightShow.
When: To comply with Governor Wolf’s latest order and to slow the spread of COVID-19, the show will be held one night only, Friday, Dec. 11. Shows will be held at 6:30 p.m., 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Santa Run in Manheim: Not happening
What: Each year, hundreds of runners dress up like Santa Claus for a 5K through Manheim. But due to COVID, the event has been canceled for 2020.
Lancaster Shops Late: It’s happening.
What: Retailers in Lancaster city are encouraged to stay open into the evening. The event, presented by the Lancaster Office of Promotion and the Lancaster City Alliance, includes roaming entertainment, warm beverages and treats. Details: visitlancastercity.com.
When: Thursday, Dec. 10.
Lititz Christmas in the Park: It’s happening.
What: Annual tree lighting in Lititz Springs Park, Lititz, with caroling. Details: Call 717-626-8981 or LititzSpringsPark.org.
When: 6:30-7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6.
Marietta Candlelight Tour of Homes: Not happening
What: This would have been the 55th year for Marietta’s Candlelight Tour of Homes. “Since we cannot offer home tours this year, we ask that you decorate, light-up and encourage others to visit our town,” according to the Marietta website. Instead, the town is planning …
Marietta Outdoor Christmas Festival: It’s happening
What: Because COVID led to the cancellation of the annual Candlelight Tour of Homes, Marietta will hold an outdoor festival called “O Little Town of Marietta: The Town That Saved the Spirit of Christmas.” The event, sponsored by the Marietta Restoration Associates, encourages residents and businesses to decorate their exteriors. Weather permitting, outdoor entertainment will be available, as well as food, a Make-A-Wish fence, Santa and Mrs. Claus, a Christkindlmarkt and a tree lighting. Visitors are encouraged to walk or drive through town to view the decorations. The festival will honor first responders and front-line workers. Details: marietta-pa.com/events/marietta-candlelight-tour.
When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6. The tree lighting will be at 5 p.m. at the Old Town Hall.
Ephrata Jingle Bell Tour: It’s happening, with changes
What: Mainspring of Ephrata hosts the seventh annual Jingle Bell Tour, which will consist of a GPS-guided tour of Ephrata homes and businesses (exteriors only) decorated for the holidays. Participants can download the app to follow Santa’s reindeer through town. Participants must pick up a “passport” at Javateas Gourmet Café, 1 Dutchland Ave., to take the tour. Passports will be entered in a drawing, and the winner will receive a gift basket from local businesses. Details and tickets: bit.ly/JingleBellTour.
When: Starts Friday, Dec. 4.
Santa Stumble: It’s happening, with changes
What: An annual bar crawl isn’t in the cards this year with COVID, so the Santa Stumble is moving virtual. The online stumble plans are still in the works but will likely amount to a virtual happy hour over Zoom hosted by the Facebook group People of Lancaster and Central PA. Details: facebook.com/events/362379571535650.
When: 8-10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12.
Night Before Christmas Trains at Strasburg Rail Road: It’s happening
What: A reader dressed in a nightshirt and cap reads Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” then passengers can enjoy a treat of milk and cookies before returning to the train station. Children and their families are encouraged to come dressed in pajamas. Masks are required. Santa is not featured in this event. Details: strasburgrailroad.com/ride/events/the-night-before-christmas-train.
When: Select nights from Dec. 3 through Dec. 23.