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Holiday entertaining is about more than simply hosting a big dinner or holiday party. It’s about fully enjoying the holiday season.

Whether you’re looking for ways to entertain out-of-town guests or simply make the season more fun and meaningful for you and your family, here are some ideas for every day through Christmas Eve, beginning with Dec. 1. 

These 5 holiday home tours in and around Lancaster County show off their Christmas spirit

You'll find home tours, holiday train displays and more.


Dec. 1: Marietta Candlelight Tour of Homes.

Kick off the Advent season today with the 54th edition of this holiday tour hosted by Marietta Restoration Associates. The tour, billed as one of the oldest continuous holiday walking tours in Pennsylvania, features eight private homes, public buildings and a variety of special events from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. Purchase today at First National Escape Bank, 100 W. Market St.; Old Town Hall, 3 W. Walnut St.; or Donegal Intermediate School, 1177 River Road. Free parking and shuttle service are available.


Dec. 2: Think cookies.

Start baking (and freezing) cookies or storing your dough so you always have fresh baked goodies on hand to serve unexpected visitors or give as gifts.


Etown Trains

Dec. 3: Visit a model train display.

The Choo-Choo Barn, 226 Gap Road, Strasburg, transforms its 1,700-square-foot display into a winter wonderland complete with homes and businesses decked out for the holidays and 58 hidden Santas (plus Santa in his sleigh flying overhead). The Christmas layout is open seven days a week through Dec. 31. For more information, visit choochoobarn.com.

Or check out these other local train displays:

— All Aboard Railroad at Bart’s Pneumatics Corp., 1952 Landis Valley Road, weekends beginning Dec. 7-8.

— Columbia & Susquehanna Model Railroad, 21 N. Second St., Columbia, weekends through Jan. 5

— Garden Spot Village train display, 433 S. Kinzer Ave., New Holland, Saturdays through December.


Dec. 4: American Music Theatre Christmas show

“Joy to the World,” the 2019 Christmas show, features music, dance and humor in a nostalgic hometown setting at the American Music Theatre, 2425 Lincoln Highway East. The show runs through Dec. 30. For tickets, visit amtshows.com.


Dec. 5: Ride the rails with Santa

Hop aboard Strasburg Rail Road’s “Night Before Christmas Train.” A reader in nightshirt and cap will read the Clement C. Moore classic, followed by milk and cookies. Feel free to wear your PJs. For a complete list of days and times, visit strasburgrailroad.com. A portion of proceeds benefits the Clinic for Special Children.


Dec. 6: Christmas in Lititz Springs Park

Enjoy carol singing and the lighting of the community Christmas tree starting at 6:30 p.m. The town continues its holiday cheer with Lititz Hometown Christmas, a celebration geared to children 10 and under, on Dec. 7; the annual carol sing at the Moravian Church Square on Dec. 12 and a Christmas Candlelight Tour on Dec. 13.


Dec. 7: Strasburg Heritage Society holiday home tour

Get in the spirit with holiday decor from the 1700s to today as you visit festively decorated homes and churches in historic Strasburg from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Other activities include a public holiday market from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., food at the Holiday Pantry and a silent auction for a Colonial hearth-cooked dinner for six. Tickets are $20 if purchased by Dec. 5 at Main Street Antiques, Speckled Hen or Strasburg Heisler Library ($21 if purchased online at strasburgheritagesociety.org) or $25 the day of the event at First Presbyterian Church fellowship hall.


Dec. 8: Find Your Belsnickle tour of inns

Authentic Bed and Breakfasts of Lancaster County presents its annual Find Your Belsnickle tour of local inns from noon to 5 p.m. Dec. 7 and 1 to 5 p.m. Dec. 8. Participating inns will be decorated for the holidays, and each one will be harboring a hidden Belsnickle, Santa’s cranky cousin. Sample the signature cookie at each inn, find the hidden Belsnickle (Belsnickel) and get entered in a grand prize drawing for a stay at one of the inns. Tickets are $20. Proceeds benefit Make-A-Wish, and each ticket includes a voucher for free admission to the Choo-Choo Barn. For tickets, visit authenticbandb.com.


The Cloister by candlelight

Dec. 9: Christmas at the Cloister

Spend a few moments in quiet reflection with seasonal readings and holiday music at the 1741 Meetinghouse on the grounds of the Ephrata Cloister, the site of an 18th-century monastic community at 632 W. Main St., Ephrata. Performances are at 6:30 and 8 p.m. Dec. 9 and 10. Admission is $7. Seating is limited, and advance tickets are required. For more information, visit ephratacloister.org or call 717-733-6600.


Dec. 10: Visit Trees Galore

This holiday tradition at Lancaster Museum of Art, 135 N. Lime St., features mini trees decorated by local businesses and artists and available for bidding. There’s also a silent auction for original holiday-themed artwork by Lancaster-area artists, as well as a holiday gift shop featuring handmade and locally sourced items. The exhibit runs through Dec. 19. Visit lmapa.org.


Dec. 11: Ring the bell

Volunteer as a bell ringer in the Salvation Army Christmas kettle program. For details, visit salvationarmylancaster.org.


Dec. 12: RLPS Architects gingerbread display

Check out this annual holiday display of an elaborate village of gingerbread houses from 5 to 7 p.m. at RLPS Architects, 250 Valleybrook Drive. Additional public open houses will be held Dec. 19 and 26. Admission is free, but donations of nonperishable food items for Water Street Mission are welcome.


Dec. 13: Take a horse-drawn carriage ride

See downtown Lancaster from a different perspective with these holiday carriage rides, offered from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. every Friday through Dec. 20. Rides are $5 for adults, $2 for children 12 and under, and depart from Fulton Bank in Penn Square.


Dec. 14: Shop the Makers Market

Creatively Lancaster hosts this holiday market featuring handmade goods in the former Sears wing at Park City Center. Shop from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday in December leading up to Christmas.


Dec. 15: Solanco Christmas Bird Count

Take a break from the holiday hustle and bustle, get some fresh air and volunteer in this very timely effort to assess the health of the bird population. This annual count in southern Lancaster County is one of several that take place locally each year. No worries if you’re a novice. You’ll be on a team with leaders who can show you the ropes. The count starts at 7 a.m. Email info@birdtreks.com to volunteer.


Dec. 16: Yuletide at Wheatland

The home of President James Buchanan opens its doors for the holiday season. This year visitors will tour the festive halls and rooms of Wheatland and discover the historic Christmastime traditions and customs held by Buchanan’s German and Irish domestic servants in “Yuletide at Wheatland: Christmas Below Stairs.” Tours are available throughout December, Monday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Last tour is Dec. 30.


Dec. 17: Miracle of Christmas

The Christmas story comes alive on the stage of Sight & Sound Theatres, 300 Hartman Bridge Road, Ronks, complete with Mary and Joseph, a flock of shepherds, three wise men —and their camels. The show runs through Dec. 28. For ticket information and show times, visit sight-sound.com.


Dec. 18: "Holiday Inn"

Take in the Broadway musical version of this holiday comedy classic, featuring the music of Irving Berlin, at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, 510 Centerville Road. The show runs through Jan. 4. For tickets and show times, visit dutchapple.com.


Dec. 19: Get your pet’s photo taken with Santa

Does Fido want a new bone for Christmas? Maybe it’s time for a visit with Santa. Pets can get in on the holiday spirit, too, at That Fish Place-That Pet Place, where Santa will be ready to pose for photos. Sessions will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Dec. 5, 10 and 19, and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 7, 14 and 21. Prices start at $8 with proceeds benefiting Centerville Pet Rescue. Or help Pet Pantry of Lancaster County help pets and pet owners in need by bringing your pet to meet Santa at a variety of locations in December. Visit petpantrylc.org for details.


Dec. 20: Visit a live Nativity

Experience the Christmas story outdoors with a live Nativity featuring real animals at “Journey to Bethlehem,” an annual event at Woodcrest Retreat, 225 Woodcrest Road, Ephrata. Walk a candlelit wooded trail with biblical characters to view six interactive scenes. Other dates are Dec. 13, 14 and 21. For more information, visit woodcrestretreat.org.

Woodcrest Retreat’s “Journey to Bethlehem.”

Angels sing in scenes from Woodcrest Retreat’s “Journey to Bethlehem.”


Dec. 21: Volunteer with Project for the Needy

Help feed those in need by handing out groceries for a holiday meal to low-income families in Lancaster County. Arrive at Clipper Magazine Stadium, 650 N. Prince St., around 5 a.m. to help package food. Distribution will begin around 8 a.m. Now in its 33rd year, Lancaster Project for the Needy distributed 1,200 meals downtown in 2018.


Dec. 22: Look at Christmas lights

Take a drive with your family and see how your Lancaster County neighbors have decked their homes for the holidays. Need some ideas where to start? Check out our online guide to the best Christmas light displays below


Dec. 23: Host a holiday party

’Tis the perfect time to gather with family and friends. For tips, tricks and recipe ideas to make this year’s holiday drop-in fun and stress-free, click here.


Dec. 24: Go ice skating

Nothing puts you in the holiday mood quite like ice skating. Take a break from all the hustle and bustle, grab the family and hit the ice during public skating hours at Lancaster Ice Rink. Check lancastericerink.org for hours and details.