The National Christmas Center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, by Santa Johnny Boy
I’m sure there’s many of you out there, like myself, that experience Christmas Withdrawal Symptoms: The depression that is felt when the holidays are over; being the last one in the neighborhood to take down the Christmas decorations, and still playing Christmas music in the privacy of your own home or car. Still hanging on to any bit of Christmas possible. Why does it have to be over so quickly?
It doesn’t !
My wife surprised me with an After-Christmas Getaway, by taking us on a trip a few hours away to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Having never been to Lancaster before, I must say that I was quite impressed with this town. But what fascinated me the most was the National Christmas Center.
Located on the historic Lincoln Highway (Route 30 East), The National Christmas Center is a premiere family attraction with over 20,000 square feet of indoor exhibits - everything Christmas!
Think back to when you were a child at Christmas time. Do you remember visiting downtown store windows, department store toylands and shopping at the local 5 & 10? What about the first time you saw the Nativity displayed at your church? It seemed like the whole world was made of magic.
The magic is back! No matter what decade you grew up in, there is sure to be something here that will stir your memories and emotions and bring back the child inside you.
Like going to a Christmas back in time with all the lights and displays, The National Christmas Center is the brainchild of Jim Morrison, who prefers the name Santa Jr, himself a real-bearded Santa and a card-carrying member of the AORBS Santa Jr, a delightful one to talk to with his many stories of his own Christmas memories, had been collecting Christmas memorabilia since he was a child. Couple that with his years of working for the Smithsonian Institute and you have one first-class, spectacular museum. Also featured are the collections of Judith Murtagh from the American Christmas Museum.
The feeling of Christmas is abundant in the many displays. There is, "Christmas Around the World". You can learn about the customs brought over by the early immigrants as you pass through life-size displays of England, Russia, Holland, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Italy. It was their traditions that evolved into the American Christmas as we know it.
You can visit a re-creation of an early F.W. Woolworth’s 5 & 10 complete with fixtures and display cases of that era, packed with toys and Christmas merchandise from the1930's through the 1950's. Coming here made me feel like Ralphie, from "A Christmas Story". There was never such a sense of warmth and beauty in today’s malls and superstores.
"Tudor Towne" is a walk-through, English Victorian-style village complete with cobble stone roads. It contains over 125 animal characters dressed in authentic, Old English-style outfits. Walk through, and an original Christmas Fairy Tale unfolds before your eyes in the form of chapters and scenes.
The memories of a childhood Christmas are well-preserved in, "Toyland". I can remember when my dad would assemble the American Flyer train set under the tree a week or two before Christmas. Being very young at the time, I would lay on the floor eye-level with the train as it traveled it’s course around the track. Looking up, I could see the underside of the Christmas tree with lights and ornaments dangling down, a view not shared by many except for children. The tree would look so huge from that angle; like being in an enchanted forest. That was also the thinking of Santa Jr when he created the Toyland exhibit. Imagine a mountainous, 30-foot diameter train display centered around the trunk of a tree whose branches reach across the ceiling, covered with lights and over 3000 ornaments. As you walk around this huge display, you will also notice the life-sized toy shop windows of yesterday. It was hard to pull me away!
"Santa’s Enchanted North Pole Workshop", is a must see for any aspiring Santa Claus. The level of detail is astounding in this bigger-than-life walk through of Santa’s secret domain. Animated elves are busy at their trade while Santa checks his list for the second time. Polar bears curiously peer in through the windows. Toys are everywhere! If no one’s around, you may want to sneak a picture of yourself sitting in Santa’s chair.
The First Christmas is equally and dramatically represented.
"The Art of the Nativity", features a world-wide collection of creches, some as old as 200 years. There is a room-filling, Moravian Presipio that depicts nearly the entire town of Bethlehem. Appropriately, there are church pews to sit on as you listen to the Biblical account of the first Christmas, while gazing into the panoramic view set across a star-lit night sky. The beauty is breathtaking !
Just when you think that it can’t get any better, you walk into life-size scenes, complete with sounds and life like figures of the Holy Land, historically accurate and with actual ancient artifacts. Travel through Bethlehem on a cobblestone road like it was over 2000 years ago, and see period structures, tools and clothing used by the average citizen of that time. A Roman soldier speaks Latin and an Innkeeper speaks ancient Aramaic. See an Angel appear as if from nowhere to announce to the Shepherds the birth of the newborn King. You will feel what it must have been like, the night that Jesus was born, as if you were a time-traveler coming back to that point in history.
And then, of course, the crowning jewel - a historically researched life-sized Mary and Joseph as they celebrate the Birth of Christ. This is how it might have actually looked as you peer over the shoulder of one of the Three Wise Men into the Manger of a scene that is far more beautiful and humbling than any church that I’ve ever been in. This was quite a moving experience.
There are many other displays that I haven’t mentioned only for matter of space in the Khronical. They are, "Pennsylvania Christmas", "Antique Christmas Emporium", "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa !", "Amish Christmas", ‘Images of Santa" and a 1943 Living Room with Christmas ornaments from that time period and Christmas songs playing on an antique radio. Even the Rest Rooms are decorated and feature framed pictures of old time Christmas ads. Two new exhibits are being built and are planned to be unveiled in Summer of 2007, one of them is being called, "Street of Memories", where visitors will walk past old time department store windows decorated for Christmas. The other new exhibit will be a life-sized tableau based on a 1950's Christmas.
Plan to spend at least three hours here, if you like to take your time to see everything. The National Christmas Center is a self-guided tour and is handicap accessible. For hours of operation and more information, visit www.nationalchristmascenter.com
There are plenty of other interesting things to do and see in Lancaster. Try, "The Strasburg Railroad" (ride an actual, working steam locomotive) , "The National Toy Train Museum", (Toy train collectors hold their conventions in this town) , "Longwood Gardens" ( world-famous, a must for any gardening enthusiast) , and many numerous others. Just Google "Lancaster PA" and see for yourself. There are plenty of hotels, motels and an RV campground all close to the main attractions. Mrs. Claus will especially enjoy shopping at the two, huge factory outlet malls - Rockvale Outlets and the Tanger Outlets. The Elves and Grand Elves will love Dutch Wonderland Amusement Park.
Lancaster is right off the PA Turnpike and there are airports in Lancaster, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. The town is family-friendly and has lots of meeting, hotel and convention space. Don’t just take my word for it; plan to spend some upcoming vacation time here. You won’t regret it!