12 Great Reasons to Visit Lancaster, Ohio This Holiday Season

A new post by award winning travel writer Kathy Witt, author of Cincinnati Scavenger; Secret Cincinnati: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful & Obscure; The Secret of the Belles; and Atlanta, Georgia: A Photographic Portrait.

A new Christmas event based on a German tradition. The largest nativity display east of the Mississippi. And Mike, Carol and the “whole bloomin’ Brady Bunch.” See them all this holiday season on Fairfield County’s Tinsel and Traditions Trail in the Pressed Glass Capital of Ohio – Lancaster – once the world headquarters for the Anchor Hocking Glass Company.

Play

See the grooviest Christmas toys, togs and traditions around at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio at A Very Brady Holiday, part of A Storybook Christmas exhibit, on display through December 31. From Carol Brady’s mod Grand Canyon pantsuit to the Brady Kids’ 1970 album, “Merry Christmas from the Brady Bunch,” to Greg’s fringed Johnny Bravo costume, you’ll step into a time capsule of seventies flower power.

See the Rock’em Sock’em Robots, original Barbie, an Etch A Sketch and other iconic toys and boardgames from the past piled beneath the aluminum tree with color wheel illumination. The exhibit also features 1950s-era pop-up books, vintage Christmas cards and ornaments from beloved storybooks and shows, including “The Wizard of Oz” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Christmas shopping highlights along the Tinsel and Traditions Trail are distinctive and diverse. One-of-a-kind glasswork and barware at Gay Fad Studios, which tells the story of legendary glassware artist and entrepreneur Fran Taylor, who made her mark in the 1930s and 1940s, is stunning and affordable. Loosely translated, the studio’s name means fun, happy designs – and the new and vintage mid-century-inspired glassware, stemware and gifts are all that and more.

If candymaker Alice DuBois seems more like a kid in a candy store, chalk it up to the Candy Cottage owner’s irrepressible love of her job. DuBois is happy to help visitors choose from among the small-batch chocolates made onsite, novelty treats and holiday goodies – for yourself or as gifts. A coffee bar was recently added, and a cappuccino or latte sipped with the confectioner’s dark chocolate buttercreams is a sublime experience.

The Humble Crate is a veritable makers market of handcrafted gift items from more than 70 Ohio artists: soft and sweet baby afghans, original hand-painted snowman creations, Smelly Jellies scented soy candles, hats and fingerless gloves by But First, Crochet, aromatic Kampfire Coffee and more. You could find the perfect gift for everyone on your list with one visit to this hodgepodge of homespun.

Trail experiences include the holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” on Dec. 1, 2 and 3; the month-long Fontanini Nativity Display at the Crossroads Ministry Center, with life-size figurines made in Italy set in a finely detailed Neapolitan-style nativity featuring temple ruins in place of a traditional stable; and several Christmas tree farms with both pre-cut and cut-your-own firs and pines, and offering an array of extras like hot chocolate and crafts, petting zoo and horse-drawn wagon rides.

Eat

Crisscrossing the Tinsel and Traditions Trail is Fairfield County’s 12 coffee shop-strong Java Trail. Bring the little ones to the family-friendly Well and sip a deliciously fragrant turmeric chai latte from a comfy nook while the kids romp in a four-level playhouse. Pair an espresso at Provisions Bakery & Deli with its no one-can-eat-just-one chocolate chip cookies – and pick up a good cab from the shop’s wall of wine for enjoying later.

Slip behind a case filled with t-shirts and other souvenirs and into the secret game room and workspace hidden beyond at L-City, where you can grab a macchiato and pastry. Across the hall is the Downtown Bistro & Bar 123, a favorite gathering place serving salmon and sirloin, burgers and small bites in a casual, comfortable setting. Located in a historic, circa 1940s hotel in the heart of downtown Lancaster, the bistro is known for a staff that feels more like visiting with old friends.

Treat

A new holiday event makes its debut in Lancaster on December 1: The Advent Window Walk features 24 consecutive Big Reveals of brilliantly colored holiday scenes lighting up the windows of two dozen grand and gracious homes in Lancaster’s Square Thirteen Historic District. Think of it as a large-scale advent calendar, with a new window lighting up each successive night during the countdown to Christmas.

The brainchild of resident Joseph Taylor, who will flip the switch on his home’s window on Christmas Eve, the Advent Window Walk was inspired by similar Christmas events in Europe –  and just might be the only one of its kind in the United States.

Event

On New Year’s Eve, Lancaster celebrates its glass heritage with the Glass Town Countdown, a family-friendly street party held downtown at Zane Square and followed by a fireworks show. The centerpiece of the event is the Giant Glass Globe, which is raised rather than lowered, and comprises hundreds of hand-blown glass ornaments, each individually hand-painted. Prior to New Year’s Eve, the Giant Glass Globe may be seen inside the Ohio Glass Museum, which offers glassblowing classes for those wishing to create their own glass ornaments.

If You Go

For more information about things to see and do on Lancaster’s Tinsel and Traditions Trails and the Glass Town Countdown New Year’s Eve celebration, visit www.visitfairfieldcounty.org or download the Visit Fairfield County app (iPhone, Android) and find shopping, attractions, activities, accommodations, restaurants and more.

Recipes

Christmas cookies and Christmas candy. Is there anything sweeter during the holidays? Here are two recipes from Fairfield County’s Tinsel and Traditions Trail.

Provisions Bakery & Deli Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp fine salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 C packed light brown sugar
  • 2/3 C granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 12 oz chocolate chips

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Beat the butter and both sugars together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to medium and add flour mixture. Mix just until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips with rubber spatula.

Using a tablespoon, scoop 12 heaping scoops of cookie dough 2 inches apart on lined baking trays. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Let cool and serve. Makes a dozen cookies.

The Candy Cottage Buckeye Candy

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Parkay margarine
  • 2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 lb. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 lb. milk or semisweet chocolate flavored coating

Instructions

Cream margarine and peanut butter. Add vanilla. Stir in powdered sugar, a cup at a time until consistency is not sticky.

Roll in 1 1 /2-inch balls or use cookie scoop for consistent size. Dip with a toothpick into melted chocolate coating. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.

Pinch to cover hole made by toothpick. Place into paper cups and serve. Makes about 90 pieces.

About Guest Blogger Kathy Witt

Writer and author Kathy Witt is a member of SATW Society of American Travel Writers and the Authors Guild

She is the author of Secret Cincinnati; The Secret of the Belles; Atlanta, GA: A Photographic Portrait

NEWCincinnati Scavenger: The Ultimate Search for Cincinnati’s Hidden Treasures arriving October 2022.

NEWPerfect Day Kentucky: Daily Itineraries for the Discerning Traveler arriving Fall 202

Indulge in the Best of the Black Forest Spa Experiences

SouthWest Germany is a place where you can escape to beautiful scenery, historic palaces, gardens, restorative spas, top restaurants, and elegant overnights. It is a perfect destination to relax before the holidays, or simply to get some well-earned rest and relaxation. The Black Forest Highlands offer miles and miles of well-signposted trails for hiking and biking with charming inns and restaurants and extraordinary scenic views along the way. Gardens and palaces in SouthWest Germany offer soothing landscapes and beauty that take you away to another world. Spas offer restorative experiences from the actual treatments to the beautiful and calm towns and environments where they are located. The hotel options are varied from exquisite five star superior overnights to charming pensions, all of them reasonably priced in their respective categories.

Climactic Health Resorts, Forest Bathing, Herb Paths

“The most you’ll get from walking is blisters,” a herding boy would have said. That his rough path to work would one day become a pleasure trail? Unimaginable. Today in the Black Forest, there is hiking on well signposted, certified “Premium Hiking Region” (German Hiking Institute) trails; invigorating mountain climate with 7 state-recognised climatic health resorts; excellent local cuisine and local specialities, relaxing and regeneration in excellent wellness hotels. With forest bathing, herb, and pleasure trails, you walk through the forest mindfully – smelling, hearing and feeling. Your stress levels plummet. The 3 medicinal herb trails also lead you to contemplate and reflect, while the 17 high-altitude climate trails are invigorating. There are also the 14 certified “pleasure” trails: These particularly beautiful circular tours are 2 to 7 miles long, offer authentic places to stop off and many an insight into regional culture and history from the Black Forest Highland sheep path to the steep and arduous cliff walk. Black Forest Highlands

The Black Forest Highlands Serves Up Delicious Local Fare, Offers Brewing Workshops

The Black Forest Highlands offers many opportunities to taste the local and delicious fare while you are out and about on your walks exploring the countryside. There are 25 nature park hosts who cook seasonally and consciously use regional ingredients from the Black Forest Nature Park for their creations. Along your way, you come across rest areas, restaurants, country inns, and mountain huts that serve the regional food. There are also herb hikes and tasting with the herb woman near St. Märgen as well as cooking courses in Alpersbach.

Of course the original Black Forest cake is served in every good café and restaurant. You can even watch the production, and participate in a tasting in the Café & Schnapshäusle zum gscheiten Beck in Bärental-Feldberg. Another great tour and tasting includes the Rothaus brewery which includes an entire experience and even has its own inn in Grafenhausen. Close by in Bärental-Feldberg Rogg’s organic craft beer is tapped at the brewery inn and offers workshops where you can brew your own beer with a master brewer.Black Forest Highlands

Healing Waters in Baden-Baden

Every day, over 210,000 gallons of thermal water bubble up from the ground in Baden-Baden, and it is still up to 150 degrees hot. On its way from a depth of 6,500 feet to the earth’s surface, it takes minerals with it: Sodium, chloride, fluorine, lithium, silicic acid and boron. It is these substances to which we owe the healing effect. Whether heart and circulation problems, metabolic disorders or respiratory diseases: The healing power of Baden-Baden’s springs promotes well-being and recovery. In addition, the thermal water, due to its warmth and ingredients, provides blood circulation to your muscles, joints and skin. 

In the Roman times, Baden-Baden was simply called Acquae, the waters. Then in the Middle Ages, the town received the name Baden. In the 16th century, to differentiate it from towns of the same name (Baden in Switzerland and Baden near Vienna), the double name Baden-Baden (Baden was also the name of the principality at the time) was given and it became official in 1931. Today, you can visit the Roman style, textile-free Friedrichsbad or the contemporary Caracalla spa to indulge in the treatments, the waters, and to gain a sense of well-being, rest, restoration. Each spa is open to the public. What makes Baden-Baden so unusual too is the beautiful resort town is a cultural destination with world class performances, museums, and beautiful parks and gardens. Baden-Baden

Hotel Dollenberg in the Black Forest Offers Outstanding Year-Round Spa Experience

The Hotel Dollenberg in the Black Forest is one of the most luxurious 5-Star Superior hotel experiences you can have any time of the year and it offers top-notch, panoramic views of the Black Forest from its mountain peak. Recently it has opened its award-winning Dollina Wellness & Spa to day visitors, in addition to hotel guests. It offers one of the largest spa areas covering about 15,000 square feet, including six pools, including mineral water and brine pools, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a whirlpool, and a mountain lake. For over five decades, Hotel Dollenberg, located in picturesque has Bad Peterstal-Griesbach has long been famous for its mineral and healing water which as it bubbles up through layers of Black Forest rock becomes even more enriched with valuable minerals.

There are four different types of saunas, including the old wood sauna, the Swiss stone pine wood sauna, the organic sauna, and the salt dry sauna, and each offers different results for different aches.

The steam baths that improve circulation, metabolism, and immunity include an herbal steam bath, a brine steam bath, and a Hamam with Serail with body peeling, curd soap, and steam thoroughly eliminate waste products and toxins.

And mental stress is simply washed away under subdued light, with lots of soap lather and water. 

There are treatments and massages from around the world from Lomi Lomi Nui to Upanahasveda, and even special wellness programs for children. It is sophisticated and luxurious in the middle of the Black Forest. Dollenberg Hotel Spa

Wald & Schlosshotel Friedrichsruhe in Hohenlohe Offers Award Winning Skincare

In the Hohenlohe region not far from Heidelberg, the award-winning spa and wellness world of the 5-Star Superior Wald & Schlosshotel Friedrichsruhe comprises 15,000 square feet of wellness, water, warmth, massages, and inhouse wine. A starring role is played by the special, inhouse-made wellness care line, SanVino which is a skin-care line made from Hohenlohe grapes. 

 SanVino’s valuable ingredients are from the Hohenlohe vineyards.

Think cold-pressed grape seed oil, red wine and grape seed extracts. 

Highly effective antioxidants and essential oils serve to protect and improve your skin. 

“SanVino–Vino cura naturalis–-health through wine!”

In addition to the SanVino, there a dermo-cosmetic treatment method by Reviderm,

Comfort Zone’s natural ingredients include selected medicinal plants by Pharmos Natur.

The BEWEI boosts metabolism and vitality for the body and face. 

The spa features excellent cosmetics, physical-energetic treatments, biomechanical optimization, and healthy nutrition 

Two Recipes of the The Brown Hotel’s Hot Brown

What do you do with hungry dancers in the wee hours of the morning?

Well, if you’re Chef Fred Schmidt at the Brown Hotel in Louisville back in the Roaring 1920s, you improvise and come up with a dish that is sure to please the more than 1200 guests attending the newly opened hotel’s dinner dances each evening. Determining they wanted something more than just ham and eggs, Schmidt created an open-faced turkey sandwich topped with bacon and a rich Mornay sauce.

Can you say Hot Brown?

The Hot Brown is wonderful and the Brown itself is divine. An architectural gem, the  Georgian-Revival style hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it’s showstopping elegance is all gold, grandeur, gilt, glitter, and glamour.

From when it opened in 1923, it’s allure attracted the crème-de-la-crème of society. According to the hotel’s website,  the French American operatic soprano and actress Lily Pons, who was staying there while playing at the Brown Theatre, let her pet lion cub roam free in her suite. Al Jolson, also playing at the Theatre, got in a fight in the hotel’s English Grill, but said everything was all right—his makeup would cover the shiner. Queen Marie of Romania, when she was on a diplomatic tour of the U.S. with her children, visited in 1926 and was entertained in the Crystal Ballroom in royal style complete with red carpet and a gold throne on a dais. Victor Mature had a brief career as an elevator operator at the hotel before moving on to find fortune and fame in Hollywood.

Other well-known visitors have included the Duke of Windsor, Harry Truman, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Young, Joan Crawford, Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Carter, George H. Bush, and Barack Obama.

As for the Hot Brown, it’s become more than just a Louisville tradition and has been featured in Southern Living, The Los Angeles Times, NBC’s Today Show, ABC News with Diane Sawyer, Travel Channel’s Man v. Food, and The Wall Street Journal, and is a regular entry in many of the world’s finest cookbooks.

Here is the Brown Hotel’s Hot Brown Recipe.

It makes two Hot Browns.

  • 2 oz. Whole Butter
  • 2 oz. All Purpose Flour
  • 8 oz. Heavy Cream
  • 8 oz. Whole Milk
  • ½ Cup of Pecorino Romano Cheese
    Plus 1 Tablespoon for Garnish
  • Pinch of Ground Nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 14 oz. Sliced Roasted Turkey Breast, Slice Thick
  • 4 Slices of Texas Toast (Crust Trimmed)
  • 4 Slices of Crispy Bacon
  • 2 Roma Tomatoes, Sliced in Half
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Paprika
  • Parsley

In a two‑quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a thick paste (roux). Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium‑low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk heavy cream and whole milk into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2‑3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Pecorino Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

For each Hot Brown, place two slices of toast with the crusts cut off in an oven safe dish – one slice is cut in half corner to corner to make two triangles and the other slice is left in a square shape – then cover with 7 ounces of turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and two toast points and set them alongside the base of the turkey and toast.

Next, pour one half of the Mornay sauce to completely cover the dish. Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano cheese. Place the entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from broiler, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley, and serve immediately.

Hot Brown Casserole

  • 1 cup butter
  • 3⁄4 cup flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 6 cups milk
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1⁄4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 16 slices white bread
  • 16 slices cooked turkey (roast)
  • Paprika
  • 1 lb. bacon (to make 1 cup bacon bits)
  • 1 cup tomatoes, seeded & diced
  • 1⁄4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper

The Brown Hotel’s Hot Brown Casserole

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add flour stirring to make a roux; cook 2 to 3 minutes.

Thoroughly beat eggs; beat into milk. While stirring, very slowly add milk mixture to butter mixture.

Stir in parmesan cheese. Cook until mixture thickens, but do not boil. This will take 30 to 45 minutes.

Mixture should heavily coat the back side of a large spoon.

Remove from heat. Fold in whipping cream and add salt and pepper to taste.

Trim crust from bread edges. Toast 10 slices in a regular toaster or place in pan under broiler till golden. Repeat on the other side. Reserve remaining bread slices.

Line the bottom of a 9x13x2-inch casserole with 6 slices of toast. Place the remaining 4 slices of toast in an 8x8x2-inch pan. (If you can place all in one pan then do so.). Top with slices of turkey. Cover with sauce, dividing the sauce between the two casseroles. Spread all of the sauce over the turkey.

Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese and paprika.

Place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or till golden brown.

While casserole is baking, fry bacon till crisp; drain on paper towels. When cooled, break into bits.

Toast remaining slices of bread. Cut on a diagonal. When casserole is done, place toasted bread around outer edge, point side up.

Garnish top of casserole with bacon bits and diced tomatoes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Serve while hot.

Hotel Joaquin: A Hidden Gem In Laguna Beach, California

More than just a pretty seaside town, though we’re not complaining about the miles of sandy beaches, sea coves and caves, high bluffs, and tidal pools stretching along the Pacific Ocean, Laguna Beach with its art galleries, restaurants, and boutiques, has long been a gathering place for artists of every kind.

The list is long starting with silent and silver screen stars—think Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Judy Garland, and Rock Hudson to now (Keanu Reeves sightings have been reported and Diane Keaton had a beachfront home here). Novelist John Steinbeck wrote “Tortilla Flats” when living in Laguna at 504 Park Avenue. Hobie Alter, considered the Henry Ford of the surfboard industry, learned the sport at his parents’ Laguna Beach summer home. If you’ve ever sailed aboard a Hobie Cat, thank Alter. He invented it.

Laguna Beach is that kind of place. So it’s no wonder that Paul Makarechian, founder and CEO of Auric Road, a company that melds history and modernism into petite one-of-kind resorts, decided to turn The Motor Inn Laguna Beach, a 1944 bungalow-style roadside stopover that had decidedly seen better days into Hotel Joaquim, one of the top 25 coolest hotels in the world according to Tablet, the digital guide for hotel curation recently acquired by Michelin.

This relaxing three-tiered resort features 22 rooms with small batch in-room amenities, sweeping views, and bespoke resort-style service, encouraging guests to relax in style.

“The story behind Auric Road is based upon the idea of alchemy and building gold from dust,” Makarechian said in an interview. The Auric Collection of petite hotels includes not only Hotel Joaquim—the name is in homage to the time when much of what is now Orange County was Rancho San Joaquim, a vast track of land granted by the Mexican government—but also Korakia Pensione in Palm Springs, Sonoma Coast Villa Resort & Spa in Bodega, Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana, and Rex Ranch in Amado. The latter is a small town in the Santa Cruz River Valley south of Tucson. Arizona.

Designed by Studio Robert McKinley, the inspiration for Hotel Joaquim derives from a multitude of styles and aesthetics–the French-speaking Caribbean Island of St. Barths, Southern California’s 1950s beach culture, the Mediterranean coast, and even a personal journey Makarechian made along the Camino de Santiago. Also known as St. James Way,  it’s a series of interconnected routes dating back to Medieval times that winds through the mountains and valleys along the coast of the Cantabrian Sea. No matter what passage you follow, the ultimate goal is arriving in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Santiago de Compostela in the Spanish province of Galicia to enter the ornate 11th century Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the Plaza de Obradoiro. And yes, if anyone can make all this come together—Bette Davis, 1950s SoCal, St. Barths, etc., its Makarechian.

Treat yourself to Laguna Beach’s picturesque setting, where bright blue skies, warm sand and cool evenings mark autumn’s arrival. Relax by the sparkling blue pool where St. Barth’s and the French Riviera meet with custom daybeds and chaise lounges. Guests have access to a secluded beach paired with an all-access pass to the Adventure Outpost—home to city bicycles, bodyboards, Dafin fins, corn hole, football, spike ball, Frisbees, Kadima sets and more. Hotel Joaquin has everything from ocean and beach set ups to morning coffee service, to Mediterranean-inspired menus served al fresco at Saline overlooking Laguna’s stunning coastline.

Starting this Fall, stay at Hotel Joaquin for 2 nights from Sunday-Thursday and receive 15% off your room rate! Want to hang out at pool or beach a bit longer, stay 3 or more nights and receive 15% off your room rate plus a $100 credit to use at Saline Restaurant.

This limited time offer is valid for stays from October 1st – November 30th.*

*Certain blackout dates may apply. SALINE CREDIT only offered to guest staying 3 or more nights Sunday- Thursday, credit cannot be used for alcohol. Offer ends 11/30/22.

29 Reasons to Visit Chicago This Holiday Season

Halloween is so over and now is the time to move on to the magic of Chicago during the holiday season. From skating rinks, tradtional Christmas Markets to show-stopping parades, there’s plenty to enjoy. Here’s some of Choose Chicago’s tips on what to see and do

See the Lights

  • Lightscape, the acclaimed holiday event, returns from November 11, 2022 – January 8, 2023 with a new path and new light-filled installations created just for the Chicago Botanic Garden. Featured artistic works will include favorites such as the luminous Winter Cathedral and a reimagined fire garden. Tickets start at $32 for adults ($30 for members), $16 for children ($14 for child members) and all little ones under 2 can enter for free. 
  • The City of Chicago’s “official” Christmas tree in Millennium Park will shine brightly near the intersection of Michigan Ave. and Washington St. from November 18, 2022 through January 8, 2023. A pre-show will begin at 5 p.m. (with performers including the cast of Cabaret ZaZou and several Broadway in Chicago productions), followed by the lighting at approximately 6:30 p.m. and culminating in a fireworks show. 
Photo credit: Phil Parcellano
  • The annual, one-of-a-kind holiday experience ZooLights (Presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ) at Lincoln Park Zoo will return from November 19, 2022 – January 1, 2023. Tickets are now on sale for $5 General Admission, Members-only Nights and Sensory-friendly Night. Tickets to Free Admission Mondays will be released the Tuesday prior at 11 a.m. each week.
  • Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum returns for its 10th year during Morton Arboretum’s 100th anniversary year, from November 19, 2022 – January 7, 2023, Explore 50 acres of the Arboretum’s majestic trees during this one-of-a-kind spectacle of color, light, and sound featuring six dazzling new displays as well as returning favorites. You will be awed and delighted by the first-ever Illumination display in the Arboretum’s new Grand Garden, leading to a spectacular laser-light finale. Craft beer lovers won’t want to miss IllumiBrew, November 17-18. This 21-and-over event provides a first look at Illumination while sampling local brews along the trail. New this year is a special series of Electric Illumination late-night experiences (December 16, 23 and 30; 9:30-11:00 PM) for adults 18+ with an eclectic, curated mix of Trance and Progressive House music, synchronized to the light displays. Ilumination ticket costs will run between $11-$22 for members and $16-$27 for guests, depending on the date and other available discounts.
  • Navy Pier’s Light Up The Lake returns from November 25 2022 to January 7, 2023. Visitors can experience the magic with interactive light displays, a whimsical skating rink, journeys through the birch tree maze, visits with Santa, and more. Pricing is $27 for an adult ticket, and 17 for a child’s ticket (ages 3-12).
  • In the nearby suburbs, Brookfield Zoo is hosting their annual Holiday Magicdisplay, a local tradition for more than 40 years. Zoo-goers can stroll along the many pathways lit with more than two million twinkling LED lights, including the 600-foot-long Tunnel of Lights with thousands of colored lights all synchronized to music as well as enjoy a skating rink, illuminated animal sculptures, numerous photo opps, drop-off letters for Santa and more.

Who Doesn’t Love a Parade?

  • The holiday season in Chicago officially kicks off with The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival (November 19, 2022) a day-through-night, mile-long extravaganza drawing more than one million celebrants. Its centerpiece is the largest nighttime parade in the U.S. — a spectacular parade down Michigan Avenue. Led by Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse of The Walt Disney World Resort, the parade features fabulous floats, giant helium balloons, marching bands, celebrities, musical performances, Santa Claus, fireworks and more —illuminating one million lights on The Avenue’s 200+ trees. Broadcast on ABC 7 Chicago on Sunday, November 20, 2022, Lights Festival will also air throughout the holiday season.
  • The Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade promises a fun-filled morning in the heart of downtown Chicago on November 24, 2022. Starting at iconic State Street in the Loop at 8:00 AM, the procession makes its way up State from Ida B. Wells Drive to Randolph Street. This free, all-ages event features more than 100 floats filled with entertainers, performance artists, helium balloons led by Teddy the Turkey (the parade’s official mascot) and a visit from Santa Claus.

Find That Perfect Gift

  • The Christkindlmarket Chicago, the most authentic traditional holiday market of its kind outside of Europe, returns November 18, 2022 and runs through the Christmas season, with the main location at Daley Plaza, along with outposts in Wrigleyville and Aurora. Of-age visitors can enjoy a mug of glühwein (hot spiced wine) as well as sweet and savory German snacks while shopping for handmade and traditional souvenirs. There are also musical performances and plenty of family-friendly activities for kids.
  • Now in its 21st year in Chicago, the One of a Kind Holiday Show (December 1-4, 2022) brings together hundreds of talented artists, makers and designers with thousands of happy shoppers who love art and original work. The show continues to be the best place in Chicago to find thousands of handmade products, truly unique and meaningful gifts for the holidays.
  • At the iconic Macy’s on State Street, take a break from holiday shopping to enjoy the annual Holiday Windows or have a peek at the Great Tree inside the historic Walnut Room, the first restaurant ever opened in a department store. With Circassian wood paneling imported from Russia and Austrian chandeliers, the 17,000 square foot dining room is both elegant and comfortable and a favored place to enjoy a festive afternoon treat.

Enjoy a Holiday Exhibit

  • At the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI), the annual Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light exhibits return November 16, 2022-January 4, 2023. A simple tradition that began in 1942 with a single tree now features a four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 50 trees and displays decorated by volunteers to represent the holiday traditions from cultures around the globe.

Lace Up Your Skates

  • The scenic rink at Millennium Park offers panoramic views of Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”) and the surrounding city skyline dusted in snow. The rink is open daily from November through March, weather permitting. Skate rentals are available, or you can bring your own.
  • Nearby, Maggie Daley Park is known for its one-of-a-kind Skating Ribbon, an icy path that curves through the park’s whimsical landscape. The Skating Ribbon is open from November through March. You can reserve skate rentals ahead of time or use your own.
  • The Gallagher Way Rink in Wrigleyville offers ice skating from November 18, 2022 – January , 2023, weather permitting. The Rink welcomes all skill levels to skate on their own or ride ice bumper cars on the newly expanded 12,000 square-foot ice rink, located inside Wrigley Field. Tickets are required for access and may be booked ahead of time here or on site. Activities at Gallagher Way also include holiday movie nights, a wreath-making workshop, a branch of Chicago’s Christkindlmarket and meetings with Santa.

Catch a Festive Live Show

Hotel Happenings 

The Peninsula Chicago is back with the Merry & Bright Holiday Package (ideal for couples) and Holly Jolly Family Holiday Package (great for families), valid for stays from November 26 – December 31, 2022. Guests are also encouraged to make a reservation for The Peninsula Hotel’s Holiday Afternoon Tea, where the 20-foot Christmas tree and lavish holiday décor at The Lobby enhance the traditional English tea menu of finger sandwiches, scones with house made preserves and Devonshire clotted cream, and petite seasonal pastries. Vegan and gluten-free options are available. 

The Langham Chicago is again offering its traditional Thanksgiving Feast on November 24, 2022 at its onsite restaurant Travelle, where the menu curated by Executive Chef Damion Henry includes holiday favorites, turkey and stuffing, as well as complementary enhancements such as seafood and carving stations. Chef Henry is also preparing a Christmas Day Brunch on December 25, 2022 and afternoon tea is available throughout the holiday season. 

The Pendry Chicago is offering a series of seasonal happenings, from a “Friendsgiving” dinner at onsite restaurant Venteux on November 23, 2022 to lighting the Menorah each night at 5 p.m. from December 18 – December 26, 2022 to Christmas Eve Dinner and Christmas Day brunch at Venteux on December 24 and 25, 2022.

Grab your partner and head to The Emily Hotel for the ultimate winter rooftop curling experience, complete with an overnight stay for two, curling for two players and two complimentary cocktails at Stone’s Throw. Stone’s Throw, located on the fifth floor of the hotel, features four Olympic sized curling rinks and heated yurts decked out in 80s nostalgia serving up a menu of winter sips and snacks. Offer valid for reservations of 1 or more nights booked by March 27, 2023 for stays between November 11, 2022 and March 31, 2023.

Celebrate winter at Fairmont Millennium Park Chicago’s Fairmont Lodge where you can relax, recharge and have fun with their cozy decor, indoor “fire pits”, festive programming, overnight packages and more. 

The annual Winter Wonderland returns to the IlO Godfrey Rooftop at The Godfrey Hotel with its heated, clear-domed igloos which are available to rent (for groups of up to six people) with purchase from the menu. Order a hot cocktail and s’mores to roast over the outdoor firepits and enjoy winter in Chicago under the city lights. 

From November 1 through January 3, LondonHouse Chicago is hosting Rudolph’s Rooftop from November 1, 2022 – January 3, 2023. This fun holiday-themed experience, complete with whimsical decor, photo opps and igloos, takes place on the 22nd level terrace, featuring breathtaking panoramic views of the city. Holiday cocktails are available from Executive Chef Elizabeth Sweeney. 

Nine Reasons Not to Miss Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas

Various Scenes from Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Last week Mindy Bianca @mindybiancapr.com introduced her newest employee, an elf named Jolly Jinglebutton who, I have to admit, had some great holiday travel destination. Well, it turns out the elf is back and, as he puts it, excited as a reindeer in a carrot patch because “I get to tell you all about one of my favorite places on the entire planet … Dollywood!”

File this under “who would have thought” but it seems Dolly Parton, owner of Dollywood, is an elf favorite, having recently been voted as their Very Favorite Human Ever. I wonder how Santa and Mrs. Claus feel about that as they’re humans too—I think. But anyway, everyone loves Dolly Parton and they’ll probably love her a lot more when they find out about all the special fun things going on at Dollywood from now until January 1st. By the way, in case you didn’t know, Dollywood has been awarded the title of Best Theme Park Christmas Event a whopping 14 times,  

Various Scenes from Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Here are nine reasons not to miss Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas.

Lights!

Six million of them, to be exact … spread across 160 acres. I’m not very math-y, but I’m here to tell you that it equates to A LOT of lights. They introduced a million new lights this year, so a park that already glistened and gleamed now also shimmers and shines. Hooray! There’s something bright and festive around every corner, which means that a walk around Dollywood will make you as giddy as a double espresso with a chocolate chip chaser. Every themed area of the park gets its own look and feel, so it’s kind of like you’re taking a stroll through a series of magical winter wonderlands.

Opening of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas and Glacier Ridge held on November 9, 2019, at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. © Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood

Fireworks!

As if the lights all over the park – in every tree and on every surface – weren’t enough, on Friday and Saturday nights, they put a bunch of lights up in the sky … in the form of the “Merry and Bright!” fireworks show. The colorful display is set to upbeat, contemporary holiday hits and it’s quite a way to end a weekend night in the park. It warms my little heart to see kids try to make it to the end of the day so they can be awake for the whole show. I guess it gives them good practice for trying to stay up late to see Santa, but we all know how that works out …

Trees!

There are hundreds of trees throughout the park – and they decorated even more this year, just to literally up the voltage – but I have two favorites. One is the 50-foot giant evergreen in Glacier Ridge. This magical tree does a whole synchronized music and light show that ends with – wait for it – snow falling! I didn’t think anything could get better than that, but this year they really decked out the part of the park called Adventures in Imagination. The lights here are pink, platinum and gold – VERY Dolly – and they introduced a new 20-foot tree in an area they’re calling “Dolly’s Christmas.” Guess what else you’ll find there? About 60 LED butterflies! What reindeer are to Santa, butterflies are to Dolly. They’re her spirit animal.

Opening of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas and Glacier Ridge held on November 9, 2019, at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. © Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood

Santa!

Speaking of Santa, I don’t think it’ll surprise you to know that he and Dolly are pals. They’re so close, in fact, that she talked him into getting himself a little Smoky Mountain cabin so they can be neighbors! His cabin magically appears inside Dollywood throughout the month of November and right until Christmas Day.(After that, as you can imagine, Santa gets to take a little vacation.) You can get a sneak peek inside the cabin to watch Santa at work and – bonus – if you look closely enough, you can actually see if YOUR name is on his Naughty or Nice List! I have personally witnessed kids turn from grumpy to grand in a matter of seconds so they can be assured that they’ll show up on the correct list!

Music!

Various Scenes from DollywoodÕs Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Let’s face it: Dolly Parton isn’t going to have a theme park with lousy entertainment, is she? Dollywood is legendary in the amusement industry for having some of the best performances and performers. There are so many shows here, in fact, that the park uses both indoor and outdoor venues. The headliner is called “Christmas in the Smokies,” and it’s a show that has been featured here every Christmas since 1990. Music is an incredibly important part of life here in the Smokies – and obviously something that Dolly loves – so get ready to tap your toes as part of your visit. MY toes are clad in special little booties with bells on the end, so you’ll know when I’m in the audience near you!

Various Scenes from DollywoodÕs Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Food!

We elves may be small, but we have big appetites … and I’m here to tell you that Dollywood puts out quite a spread. Let’s see if I can make your mouth water by mentioning some of my favorite hyphenated foods: herb-roasted turkey breast and citrus-glazed carved ham. Or how about chicken pot pie in a bread cone? Yeah, I said it … BREAD CONE! I love to carb load before a long night of delivering gifts, and I can promise you that I’m taking this recipe back to Mrs. Claus. There are also eggnog cupcakes and gingerbread-dusted funnel cakes, and I think I’ve convinced my favorite North Pole barista, Spazzy Sparkleshots, to start serving those at her café.

Rides!

Let’s not forget that this is a theme park, and most of the rides operate even in these cooler months. That means you can race through the night sky while millions of lights twinkle below. And you know what? I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s a lot like how Santa feels when he takes his sleigh ride on Christmas Eve!

Opening of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas and Glacier Ridge held on November 9, 2019, at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. © Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood

Gifts!

Some people love Christmas shopping, others dread it. I’m an elf, so we don’t shop … we MAKE gifts. And so do the craftsmen at Dollywood, who – if they weren’t so tall and didn’t enjoy life in the Smokies so much – could probably be recruited for Santa’s Workshop. Everything they create would make a perfect gift, and they’re also preserving some of the greatest arts of these mountains. Sometimes they even let YOU do the creating, like when the glassblower coaches you in how to make your very own glass Christmas ornament!

Stay!

If you’re thinking there’s a lot to do at Dollywood and you’ll need more than a day here to take it all in, you’re absolutely right. So, it’s kind of perfect that in addition to this award-winning theme park, there’s also a beautiful resort. Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa offers families plenty of food, entertainment and décor during the holiday season. I love the two-story Christmas tree that greets you as you enter the resort. It’s very sparkly … just like me!

Whew! That was a lot to share, but I feel like I barely scratched the surface.

Remember … this Christmas, keep it holly, keep it jolly, keep it Dolly!

Holiday Cheers,

Jolly

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Four Great Christmas Destinations for the Holiday Season

My friend Mindy Bianca of Mindy Bianca Public Relations (MBPR) introduced me to hr newest employee, Jolly Jinglebutton (I don’t know where Mindy meets these characters), an elf who seems in the know for all things Christmas. And here, in his words, are some great holiday destinations.

Photo courtesy of Branson Convention & Visitor’s Bureau

Branson, Missouri

            In this Ozark Mountain town, moms and dads put the kids to bed on Halloween night, sneak some candy to get a little sugar rush, and then scurry around to transform Branson from fall to festive in a matter of hours. Poof! By the morning of November 1, Branson looks like the North Pole … minus the snow! Actually, this year they’re upping their game and transforming the historic downtown into a massive “winter wonderland” display – including hundreds of snowflakes suspended from the lampposts – so maybe it WILL look just like my home!

There are more than 1,500 beautifully decorated trees all around town, including a giant Community Tree whose themed décor changes each year. This year that tree is titled “We All SHINE ON!” and it will feature more than 200 super-sparkly LED stars in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. The Community Tree display, which will stand nearly four stories tall, will be part of Branson’s holiday scene from November 1 through January 7. It’ll be positioned right next to the Branson Ferris Wheel, which itself is beautifully decorated with lights that “dance” to favorite Christmas tunes during multiple shows each night.

Photo courtesy of Branson Convention & Visitor’s Bureau

Though all the attractions around Branson get into the holiday spirit, the highest concentration of lights and décor can be found at Silver Dollar City, a legendary theme park that annually celebrates “An Old Time Christmas.” The park installs more than 6.5 million lights – that’s 680 miles of stringed bulbs! – as well as 1,000 decorated trees, 600 giant wreaths, 3 miles of garland, and 15,000 yards of ribbon. (Fun fact: That’s about 15,000 elves’ worth of ribbon, if we all laid head to toe.)

And perfect for a holiday visit: At the World’s Largest Toy Museum, you’ll find more than 1 million toys that represent pretty much everything that kids have been putting on their Christmas lists for the past 100 years. This museum sure makes me glad that Santa invested in all the new-fangled technology that relieves us elves from some of the most difficult toy-making tasks. (Don’t even talk about sewing on teddy bears’ noses. Ouch!)

Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

            We elves took a recent poll, and our very favorite human – ever – is Dolly Parton. There really isn’t anything she can’t do. She writes and sings songs, she acts (check out her Christmas movie on NBC later this year!), she helps finance COVID vaccines, she promotes literacy, and she owns a theme park in the middle of the Smoky Mountains so that visitors far and wide can learn about and fall in love with her Tennessee Mountain Home.

In fact, Dolly is so amazing that I’m not saying she’s an elf, but I’m not NOT saying she is one, either. Think about it: Some of the best elves I know are named Polly (last name: Peppermintstripe), Molly (Mistletoe), Holly (Hugsomuch), Folly (Funsmith) and Golly (Gumdrop). And then, of course, there’s me … Jolly. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Dolly’s name just SOUNDS elf-y?

Anyway, back to that incredible theme park, Dollywood, which has a tendency – like me – to go a little Christmas-crazy. Starting on the first Saturday of November, the park is completely transformed into a winter wonderland, coming aglow as more than 5 million gleaming lights sparkle across the property. (They have a team of humans here called “Lighting Bugs” who start stringing in the summertime! They started early this year so Dolly could film her Christmas movie last month!) A highlight of the décor is a 50-foot-tall, animated Christmas tree that comes to life via a synchronized light show throughout the evening.

And this is a theme park, so there are plenty of rides to enjoy, too! You get to race through the night sky while millions of lights twinkle below. I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s a lot like how Santa feels when he takes his sleigh ride on Christmas Eve.

Frostburg, Maryland

            Photographer: Hassan Rasheed

Take a look at this tiny town’s name. You just know people here are going to make a fuss about all wintery stuff, right? Fun fact: Frostburg is not named for Jack Frost – which is okay with me, because I’ve always thought that guy was kind of cold. Instead, it was named for a family that was among the first settlers here on what they call “The Mountain Side of Maryland,” way back when this area was pure wilderness.

But that bristly Jack Frost does show up once a year, on the first Saturday of December (this year that’s December 3), for the town’s “Storybook Holiday” celebration. Old Jack pushes his way right to the front of the parade and tries to make it all about him. So typical.

Photographer: Janelle Muletz

But you know who it’s really about? The students from Frostburg University, who work with members of the community to raise money for the university’s Children’s Literature Centre. They all come together to celebrate books, reading and literacy. Kids show up to hear Christmas stories, meet authors, write letters to Santa, watch the parade and sip “Cocoa with the Po-Po,” which is hosted by Frostburg’s police department.

But the very, very best part is – wait for it – when the college kids compete in the Elf Olympics. Events include all the things I’ve spent my life perfecting: cookie tossing, package wrapping, tree decorating, toy creating and even song serenading. It’s so much fun to watch! I asked Santa if I can recruit the best participants for our North Pole team, but he said they probably exceed our maximum height limit.

Something else I love about Frostburg is that it gives me plenty of chances to support small, local businesses, including an independent bookstore, a shop that sells vinyl records, an old-fashioned theater that shows classic Christmas movies, and a café that serves an eggnog latte that I wish Spazzy Sparkleshots, my favorite barista back in the North Pole, could learn how to make.

Bellingrath Gardens in Theodore, Alabama (near Mobile)

            I think a lot of people equate Christmas with colder weather and forget that there are plenty of warmer places that really get into the holiday spirit, too. MBPR represents several destinations that prove you don’t have to freeze your jingle bells off to enjoy the holidays. So, I want to tell you about Christmas at Bellingrath Gardens & Home, which is near Mobile, Alabama. The place is named for Walter Bellingrath, who made his fortune owning the region’s Coca-Cola bottling franchise, and O, Christmas tree … do they go all-out when it comes to decorating his 65-acre garden estate!

            During the Magic Christmas in Lights event, which this year runs November 25 through January 4, the gardens are adorned with more than 1,200 handmade set pieces, 3 million glittering lights and 16 custom scenes that can be enjoyed on your own or via a guided group walking tour. And guess what? Everything is designed, welded, painted and lamped on site by three members of the gardens’ staff.

In December, this area boasts an average daytime high of 63 degrees and a nighttime low of 45, so it’s possible to experience the lights in a comfortable climate but also enjoy a little bundling up … and perhaps a sip or bite of something warm along the way.

In addition to the light displays, the garden hosts live choral performances nearly every night. I love to sing-sing-sing, so I go every night to show my support … and tap my toes in my little curlicued shoes.

Also – news flash! – there ARE flowers that bloom at this time of year. Bellingrath is home to one of the South’s most amazing collections of Alabama’s state flower, the camellia. That was Mr. Bellingrath’s very favorite flower … and it happens to be Mrs. Claus’s fave, too! The team here always lets me pick a few camellias and send them home with Santa, who presents them to Mrs. Claus as part of the elves’ Christmas gift to her.