Ring in the holidays safely
Story by Jane Beathard
It promises to be a Christmas like none before thanks to face masks and social distancing. But that doesn’t mean the upcoming holidays can’t be merry.
In Ohio, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the season with festivities and events that welcome masks and allow folks to stay well apart or, in some places, inside their own vehicles.
But as statewide restrictions and advisories change, so have many community plans for holiday celebrations. Checking event websites for up to date information is always a good idea in this year of the pandemic.
Here are just a few of the many fun events Ohio has to offer that allow for safe social distancing.
Clifton Mill — Clifton
There are four million reasons to visit Historic Clifton Mill in the evening between Nov. 27 and Dec. 30. That’s because about four million twinkling holiday lights adorn the mill building, adjacent Little Miami River Gorge, 100-foot waterfall and surrounding grounds.
Every hour on the hour, starting at about 6 p.m. nightly, the lights go out and orchestral music begins to play traditional Christmas carols. Gradually, the lights begin to flicker on as the music grows louder and louder. As the music reaches a crescendo, the lights again go off and watchers are again plunged into darkness. Within seconds, the millions of lights return and the evening goes on.
Visitors to the mill have a choice in this pandemic year. They can simply meander the outer areas at a distance and enjoy the lights and music for free. Or, they can pay $10 and go inside the grounds. Once inside, they can observe (also at a distance) Santa working in his workshop or see the miniature holiday village and Santa museum. They can then head to the mill restaurant (with mask on) to grab a warm-up snack.
Now in its 33 year, the Clifton Mill Christmas light display has been a tradition for many Ohio families. And this year need not be different.
Reservations are not needed, but hours vary by day and week. So, a check of the mill’s web site at cliftonmill.com/christmas is always a good pre-visit idea.
Lots to do at the zoos — Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo
Ohio zoos shift into holiday mode come November and December.
The 38th Annual “PNC Festival of Lights” at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is a Wild Wonderland this year where visitors can amble (at a safe distance) through a display of three million Christmas lights, ride a Toyland Express holiday train, watch a light show on Swan Lake or visit Santa after 4 p.m. daily.
Festivities start on Nov. 21 and run through Jan. 3, 2021 with “bonus” nights on Jan. 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17. Hours are 1 to 9 p.m. Reservations are required most days.
“Wildlights” at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, now in its 31st year, begins Nov. 20 and runs through Jan. 3, 2021 every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Aside from nightly light displays and shows, there are plenty of daytime things to do at the zoo starting at 10 a.m. every day. Visitors can see Santa working at the Ice Bear Outpost, ride the Polar Bear Express train or — even better — ride a live camel. Distancing rules apply as do regular zoo admission fees.
Visit columbuszoo.org for details.
“Lights Before Christmas” at the Toledo Zoo & Aquarium goes on this year with a million holiday lights and glowing animal images spread throughout the grounds.
There’s also a giant Christmas tree decorated with thousands of LED lights and other fun things to see and do.
Hours vary by day and admission is limited to prevent crowding. Tickets may be purchased online at toledozoo.org/lights.
Dickens Of A Drive-thru Christmas — Ohio Village, Columbus
The former Dickens of a Christmas has been modified to facilitate Covid-19 restrictions. Visitors will view an 1800s English holiday town from their cars as they drive through this annex of the Ohio History Connection at 800 E. 17th Ave.
There will be lots to see, too.
Costumed villagers will dance on the town’s “green” as music plays on individual car radios. Others can be glimpsed decorating a Christmas tree, hitching rails and the town gazebo.
Shoppers will stroll the boardwalks and the village photographer will capture images, using a large camera.
Santa Claus, St. Nick, Jacob Marley — as well as Scrooge himself — will be on hand to greet those driving by.
Only 20 cars will be allowed in the village at a time. With tickets available on a timed basis on Dec. 5, 6, 13, 19 and 20 only.
Visit ohiohistory.org for additional details and tickets.
A Dickens Victorian Village — Cambridge
Historic downtown Cambridge becomes a Victorian Village between Nov. 1 and Jan. 1 with 186 life-size characters from the Dickens era creating 95 open-air scenes along Wheeling Street. The scenes are meant to both fascinate and educate visitors about people and activities of that long-gone era.
Each night from 5:30 to 9 p.m., a light show on the Guernsey County Courthouse will entertain both pedestrians and those who prefer to remain seated in their own vehicles.
Downtown shops and eateries will remain open for those who want to venture indoors with masks on. All activities are free.
Check dickensvictorianvillage.com for more information.
Roscoe Village Candlelighting — Coshocton
History and the holidays come alive at this restored canal town on Dec. 5. Starting at 10 a.m. visitors can take a self-guided tour and stroll streets in the open air to shop, enjoy art with Santa, roast chestnuts and learn crafts.
About 6 p.m. the candlelighting ceremony begins as a 30-foot Christmas tree near the outdoor village main stage comes alive with color. Visitors are encouraged to light candles and join in the fun.
Cookies and mulled cider are available for all who attend. Admission is free.
Details at roscoevillage.com.
Light Up Middletown and Land of Illusion — Middletown
Visitors can drive or walk through Smith Park in Middletown every night from 6 to 10 p.m. between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve to view a multi-million light display in the trees and more than 100 lighted attractions on the ground.
In this pandemic year there will be no Santa House or handouts. But there are a couple of new displays and the popular ARMCO star has been refurbished, organizers said.
A troop of senior citizens, called The Grandpa Gang, works months to create the display each year and admission is by donation only.
Just outside Middletown, holiday joy seekers can also stay in their cars and drive through the Christmas Glow in Land of Illusion.
“Christmas Around The World” is the theme. Visitors see 3.5 million lights and a 45-foot Christmas tree. Just like “Light Up Middletown,” the fun runs 6 to 10 p.m. nightly from Nov. 22 to Dec. 30, except on Dec. 2-4 and Christmas.
Paid admission, with a discount for anyone bringing a canned good.
A Historic Granville Christmas — Granville
This year’s holiday celebration in Granville will focus on the town’s charming nature. Instead of one night, events are set for Dec. 5 and 12 to prevent crowding on town streets.
Seventy lighted Christmas trees remain an event hallmark and Santa plans to make his usual trip down Broadway on Dec. 5. But instead of hearing individual wishes from kids, he will travel through town waving and shouting best Christmas wishes to everyone.
There will be horse drawn wagon rides up and down Broadway on both the 5th and 12th and a gingerbread house class and contest.
Awards will go to the best decorated houses in the town.
The Christmas Ranch — Morrow
Visitors to this nationally known attraction with more than one million lights synchronized to music can either walk or drive through this year.
Hours vary, but the ranch is generally open 6 to 9:30 p.m. from Monday to Thursday and 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday between Nov. 20 and Dec. 23. It’s closed on Thanksgiving Day.
Walkers undergo temperature checks and masks are required inside buildings this year. Hand sanitizing stations are located throughout the ranch and social distancing is requested.
Dining is outdoors only at Santa’s Bakery & Cafe with credit cards the only method of payment throughout the ranch. Two of the seven Christmas Shops will be open for business.
Santa will be hard at work in the ranch’s Reindeer Room where masks are mandatory except for times when the Jolly Old Elf is posing for pictures.
Tickets with date and time must be purchased in advance online.
Visit thechristmasranch.com for more information.