Every Hoosier knows that Indiana is a beautiful place to visit in the winter, with all its unique events and traditions that are unique to the state. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit a town called Santa Claus during the holiday season? Well, you can experience it in Indiana. How about world-renowned holiday light shows and displays? We’ve got that too. Enjoy these 15 activities and places that will make your holiday visit to Indiana one to remember.
One of Indiana's most beloved traditions is a day in Brown County. The town of Nashville, Indiana, becomes a charming hotspot for specialized shopping and gift browsing while the vast expanse of Brown County State Park awaits the treading of your hiking boots. While most make a visit to Brown County a fall treat to enjoy the breathtaking colors of the changing leaves, there are plenty of things to do for the winter season. Of course, Nashville boasts two year-round Christmas shops (The Holly Shop and Granny's Christmas and Gift Shop) where you can get your early dose of Christmas cheer during your fall visit, but did you know that Brown County rolls out the red carpet for Christmas as well? From a winter hike to a Victorian Christmas dinner, Brown County will provide you and yours with a rich Yuletide experience you'll remember for a lifetime.
The Christ Child Festival of Fort Wayne, Inc. sponsors a yearly Christmas in the Park, a festival dedicated to the Reason for the Season. Live animals and actors in first century dress bring history to life, offering experiential learning about life in Bethlehem the day after the long-awaited birth of the Savior. Arts and crafts are also available for gift-making, or gift-baking if you prefer! In the spirit of giving, the festival is entirely free of charge for anyone and everyone, but if you would like to give back, opportunities for charity abound, with benefits going to American veterans, prison ministries, and African children.
Grown-ups only, please…Lanthier Winery in Madison, Indiana, holds an annual event of brand new Christmas-themed wines. The premier event and tasting begins the day after Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas Eve, with wine gifting options available for those who wish to give a bottle of vintage at the company Christmas party. Lanthier Winery holds other seasonal events in conjunction with other establishments in the area, so keep an eye on their calendar when you plan your visit.
Conner Prairie is already a famous living-history museum, but in winter, the homes come alive with bright Christmas cheer in 1836 style. Meet the different families that settled the area and learn how they celebrate the season, from dancing with the genteel in the parlor to bonfires outside with “rowdies” out for a good time. Then warm up in the gift shop within the museum for unique Christmas gifts made right there on the prairie by period craftsmen, perfect for the historian in your family.
If its an authentic Victorian Christmas you’re looking for, you can find it on the day of Moorseville's Victorian Christmas extravaganza. Victorian musicians stroll the streets along with townsfolk dressed in full Victorian costume, shops are holding open houses, carolers are offering joyful hymns of yesteryear, and horse-drawn carriages steal the scene as they roll by. There is also a gingerbread house decorating contest for the prize of a $25 gift card, but entirely-edible entries must be delivered to the office the day before the festival.
The University of St. Francis provides guests with a rich and inspiring Christmas experience. The Bass Mansion, built and inhabited by early 20th century industrialist John H. Bass, and the centerpiece of the University of St. Francis which now occupies its surrounding acreage, is lavishly decorated in abundant elegance for tours throughout the “castle,” also known as Brookside. Other events during Christmas at USF include the Spanish nativity tradition Los Posadas, a reenactment of St. Francis' 1223 narration of the Christmas Story accompanied by a Living Nativity, and a petting zoo for children to meet the animals used in the Living Nativity. For a donation of $10, you can dedicate a luminary for any special reason, and that luminary will join others around Mirror Lake to create an inspiring Christmastime glow.
Think Indiana is only on the world map once a year in spring for the Indianapolis 500? Think again! The Racing Capital of the World is home to a true winter wonderland. Drive your car on the most famous asphalt in the world, and over the most famous bricks in the world, to view over 400 light displays and Christmas scenes illuminated by a total of over two million lights. The racing fan in your family will never forget driving through the Lights at the Brickyard where generations of auto-racing legends have sped forward towards the checkered flag in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for more than a hundred years. Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!
Minnetrista Cultural Center holds a Muncie Christmas tradition: the Enchanted Luminaria Walk. Held in early December, often within the first week, the luminary walk is more than a charming stroll through a winter wonderland. It's a one-evening festival complete with apple cider from the orchard, a short performance by a theatrical group, and carriage rides through the candlelit paths of the Minnetrista grounds. Each of the five majestic Victorian houses, once owned by the famous Ball Brothers of Ball jar fame, is richly decorated for a Victorian Christmas. Chamber orchestras and individual musicians warm the parlors and great rooms with Yuletide carols and hymns to complete the Victorian Christmas experience.
For many, the snowy season is not complete without laying scratches on an open plane of ice. The Pop Weaver Youth Pavilion at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis annually hosts public ice skating for an affordable entrance fee and skate rental. Keep an eye on their calendar for open skating time, and leave room in your luggage for your skates (and a helmet … ice is slick in Indiana).
Although Indiana doesn't usually inspire mental images of ski slopes and cozy lodges, southern Indiana defies expectations with our very own Paoli Peaks. The featured hill is a natural 300-foot vertical drop with a mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced slopes. A comprehensive lift system makes getting back to the top easy. Flying downward on nothing but two thin pieces of wood and fiberglass too adventurous for you? No worries, Paoli Peaks also has a snow tubing area where the only thing you need to know is how to hang on tight and scream a lot. The après ski experience of sipping hot chocolate in a warm lodge is available, but only during the day. However, recognizing that many skiers wish to make their mountain stay longer, Paoli Peaks has partnered with several charming lodges in the area.
Your cheeks are nice and rosy … and you'd like to warm them up. Lucky for you, the South Bend Chocolate Company is a multi-franchise chain across the state and you're likely to be near at least one location if you visit any of the places in this article. Widely regarded as some of the most delicious hot chocolate available, the chocolate beverages of the South Bend Chocolate Company are liquid warmth in a cup after a chilly day out in the Hoosier winter. You can also sample their delightful chocolate candies and other dessert treats, which, by the way, make excellent Christmas gifts.
The Indianapolis Zoo, one of America's most famous, is a popular summertime destination for family day-cations as well as fair-weather field trips. At Christmastime, however, the zoo is open and ready to make your Christmas a fur-ociously fantastic one. The zoo is aglow with the bright glimmer of LED lights, cold-climate favorites are frolicking in their habitats, and Santa and his missus are busy offering Christmas cheer to visitors in their workshop in White River Gardens. Among the benefactors of this Yuletide spectacular are Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent, Central Indiana Honda Dealers, USA Insulation, Teachers Credit Union, and Donatos.
Yes, Indiana, there is a Santa Claus. Indiana boasts our very own town of Santa Claus, which of course hosts a Christmas celebration like no other. For the first three weekends of December, tourists cozy up in one of several Christmas-themed accommodations (thanks to the town's affordable getaway packages) and enjoy the Yuletide goings-on throughout the town. Help Santa stamp his reply letters with the year's specially commissioned stamp, attend the arts and crafts show for a bounty of homemade goodies, stroll through the enchanting Land of Lights, and watch the Christmas Parade spread cheer through the streets. There's no question, if you're in Indiana for Christmas, tell Santa Claus you're coming to town!
New York has the giant light-up ball, Indiana has an IndyCar! If you're planning to ring in the New Year Hoosier-style, join us for our new tradition: a 10-second descent of the auto-racing icon, the IndyCar. Georgia Street in the heart of Indianapolis is flooded with Hoosiers in party hats dancing to club beats by the featured DJ and other guest performers, all in anticipation of the countdown to the New Year. Crack your glow sticks, put on your silly glasses, and dress warmly for a family-friendly party in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. Party guests, start your engines!
The Friday after Thanksgiving, Hoosiers gather alongside guest artists, talent showcase winners, the mayor of Indianapolis, and Jolly Old St. Nicholas himself in Monument Circle in the heart of Indianapolis to celebrate the arrival of the Christmas season. Every year, the Indiana Brotherhood of Electrical Workers #481 donate their time, effort, and resources to string the 284-foot-tall Soldiers and Sailors Monument with 4,784 lights. At the appointed time, one special child will help Santa and the mayor flip the switch to all 52 strands of lights, illuminating Indiana's largest Christmas tree. Indianapolis Circle of Lights is, without a doubt, Indiana's top Christmastime tradition.