When you think of Christmas lights and grand displays you don’t necessarily think of the Amish who practice a simple life of dedication to faith. Yet, travel just three hours from midtown Manhattan to Lancaster County Pennsylvania and you will see the clash of Amish austerity with 21st Century Christmas regalia. To the Amish Anabaptists, Christmas is a day for religious observance and family celebration. Sadly, for most Americans, it has become a day for big box store bargains and Christmas bling. So, I set forth on this Christmas weekend escape from New York not knowing what to expect but was pleasantly surprised.
The Amish country that I visited in my childhood is still present in Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania but just a mile away along the Route 30 corridor, between Lancaster and Paradise, lies a different world, a mecca of amusement parks and miniature golf, dinner theater and discount outlets and nearly every chain restaurant imaginable from the known pancake houses to the more regional chain eateries.
With Christmas on the horizon, I didn’t know where to shop first and think I spent more on myself than actual prezzies. Tanger is present, as are other strip mall outlets, making for the perfect girls’ getaway, especially with Boscov’s Department Store (a shoe lover’s paradise) a short 10 minute ride away.
A visit to the National Christmas Center (3427 Lincoln Highway, Paradise, PA), which is open all year, will help get you in the holiday spirit. It’s an indoor Christmas wonderland with niche displays from around the globe and right in our own backyard. Remember holiday shopping at Woolworth’s? There’s a life-sized version of the five-and-dime and I was lucky enough to find my old tin doll house on a top shelf. During the season there’s also an outdoor world of Christmas lights which is an extra $5 per ticket.
Kitchen Kettle Village (3529 Old Philadelphia Pike, Intercourse, PA) is a collection of artisan shops from food to crafts to eateries, even a Brighton shop for girlies who know the brand well. Kids can munch on homemade fudge and fresh pretzels and you can grab a ride in a genuine Amish buggy. During the Christmas season, check the schedule for caroling and breakfast with Santa.
A visit to The Amish Experience (3121 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-in-Hand, PA) will get you a tour of an Amish farmhouse and their one-room school but buy the combo ticket and see “Jacob’s Choice.” It’s the story of a 17-year-old Amish man who must make the choice to stay or leave the insular Amish community. The story is told in a multi-dimensional way that really makes you pay attention to the story and lets you walk away with a better understanding of the choices the young people make to remain in this close-knit community of antiquated customs. They don’t drive cars because a horse and buggy won’t ever take them too far from home.
By far, the highlight of a Christmas getaway in Pennsylvania Dutch country is the holiday show at the American Music Theatre (2425 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, PA). The building is massive but the intimacy of a 1600 seat theater is not lost. This year’s Winter Wonderland Show is an ensemble of 28 of the most talented actors/singers/dancers, from wee ones to seasoned pros, accompanied by an incredible nine-member orchestra. Amazing voices, lights and holiday scenery, it even snows over the audience, get you in the mood for Christmas. It rivals the show at any dinner theater, even, dare I say, the Radio City show which is the same old thing year after year. At the American Music Theatre, the show’s theme changes every year. Personally, I can’t wait to return next year for the Home for the Holidays show. They must be doing something right since some 100,000 people are expected to attend this year. Ho ho ho and Merry Christmas!
TOURIST TIPS: We dined at Plain and Fancy and found the food to be rather bland. Much better at the known chain restaurants along the Route 30 corridor. That being said, do visit their gift shop. It’s on the same site as The Amish Experience. You can take home gifts of tasty apple butter and other homemade jams for the holiday.
We stayed at the Best Western Paul Revere Inns and Suites (3063 Lincoln Highway East, Paradise, PA). It’s not fancy but it’s clean. It has family rooms that can sleep 4-6 for a girlfriend getaway or family fun. There’s even an indoor pool and a free breakfast buffet in the lobby.
Also, know that Route 30, from Lancaster down to Paradise, changes names along the way but it is always known as Route 30.
Remember, you are sharing the road during this weekend getaway with horse-drawn buggies, even at night. Yield, show some respect and it’ll all roll along just wonderfully.