Sites & Sights — 14 December 2015
Holiday Happenings

By Renée S. Gordon

Lancaster, much to many people’s surprise, is both a county (founded in 1729) and a city (established a few years later). The county is comprised of more than 60 towns and villages with colorful names, distinguished histories, one-of-a-kind attractions and unique shopping, accommodations and dining options. Lancaster is an all-season international visitors’ destination, but it offers the holiday traveler even more special and rare treats.

Lancaster PAThe path to the current state-of-the-art Sight & Sound Theaters began on Lancaster farm of Glenn Eshelman, who used his creative talents to present public programs to organizations. In 1976 he debuted a theatrical production and in 1987 the first live stage show opened at Sight & Sound Auditorium. The current theater complex, with a 300-ft. stage, opened in 1998 with a seating capacity of 2,000. Shows are staged with outstanding acoustics, colorful sets up to 40-ft. high, costumes and an ethnically diverse cast. Use of a three-sided stage and use of live animals provides an immersive experience.

“Miracle of Christmas” will be presented several times a day until January 2, 2016. The musical takes the viewer from the betrothal of Mary and Joseph to the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem with an emphasis on the secondary story of the love between Mary and Joseph. Members of the theatrical team visited Israel to ensure historical accuracy and insert minor details that elevate the production to a work of art. Theatergoers should arrive early for photo ops and shopping. Sight & Sound’s full 2015-16 schedule is available online.

Bird-in-Hand is home to the Amish Experience, interpretive tours of the Amish House, one-room schoolhouse, area tours, buggy rides and the Amish Experience Theater F/X production, “Jacob’s Choice.” The complex is a winner of TripAdvisor’s “Certificate of Excellence.” This holiday a new experience, a Victorian Christmas Magic Lantern Show, “A Christmas Journey, ” will be presented until December 31.

Magic Lantern shows were forerunners of motion pictures. The device was invented in 1657 and was originally illuminated by candles; the first documented use of a magic lantern in America was in 1743 Salem, Mass. By the end of the 19th Century there were more than 30,000 lantern showmen and 75,000 performances annually in the US.

The Amish Experience Magic Lantern Show is the only remaining permanent show of its type in the world.

Prior to the use of electricity limestone lighted with gas was used to create “limelight,” a term still used when actors “step into the limelight.” The art of magic lantern shows was often used as a feature in Victorian séances using kerosene and often accounted for appearances of the dearly departed. There are three parts that make up the show, music, images projected on a large screen and storytelling, all simultaneously accomplished by the showman.

Professor Phineas T. Firefly is the consummate showman as he leads guests through a Victorian holiday celebration. Festivities include, in addition to the magic lantern show, a holiday quiz, seasonal songs, storytelling and historical background. Many of the show’s slides are original and are handpainted while newer slides are photographic reproductions. Special effects are accomplished using different types of slides.

Lancaster PAThe award-winning National Christmas Center is a great destination year-round but it takes on a special meaning around the holiday. The center is the area’s gift from James Morrison whose vast collection interprets, collects, preserves and showcases Christmas Past in memory and legend. Fifteen galleries inside a 20,000-sq. ft. museum showcase the history of the holiday and celebrations from around the world incorporating more than 500 Santas and 40 life-sized wax figures. Tours are self-guided and every gallery has a host of highlights. Not to be missed is a diorama based on Virginia O’Hanlon’s 1897 letter to the New York Sun Newspaper questioning the existence of Santa Claus. The editor, Francis Church’s response beautifully explains the meaning of the American Christmas spirit and is widely reprinted annually. The diorama includes a copy of the letter, a recorded reading and Church’s original desk. A replicated Woolworth’s toy department, once at 10th and Market in Philadelphia, the animated “A Tudor Towne Christmas” and an enormous putz are also stops on the themed tour.

The National Christmas Center has been designated one of the Travel Channel’s “Most Christmasy Places in America.” It is open daily through December 31, 2015, so you can enjoy the ultimate Christmas experience.

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– Photos by Renée S. Gordon

Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.

Renee GordonRenée S. Gordon has written a weekly travel column for the Philadelphia Sun for the past 14 years and has published travel articles in numerous publications. Her columns focus on cultural, historic and heritage tourism and she specializes in sites and attractions related to African American and African Diaspora history. Renée serves as a consultant for educational trips and history-related tourist destinations. She considers herself a “missionary journalist” and as such she continues to promote heritage and sustainable tourism. She has been honored with several awards including the 2013 Recipient of African Diaspora World Tourism and Flame Keeper in Media Award for Travel Writing.

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