How to celebrate Christmas with time-honored traditions

Christmas at Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill.
Christmas at Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill.

Despite what you might see in TV commercials, few families can afford a luxury car wrapped in a bow as a Christmas surprise.

In today's squeezed economy, many folks have decided to be more reflective about how they spend their time and money during the holidays.

Drawing names and making handmade gifts are two popular trends that are easy on the pocketbook and good for the heart.

So is looking to the past.

Remembering the simple traditions of Christmases of yore — think sleigh bells, trains and caroling — is another way to save money and inspire holiday spirit, all while providing the best gift of all: time well spent.

Luckily, Kentucky has plenty of opportunities for folks to create an old-fashioned Christmas experience. Here are seven suggestions to get you started.

Holidays at Shakertown

The beautiful and serene setting of Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill in Mercer County will look like a postcard of Christmases long past beginning Saturday, when hundreds of candles will illuminate its windows. You can take a horse-drawn carriage ride (complete with jingle bells!) or take a tour to learn about the spirit of giving and forgiving that typified the Shakers' Christmas experience.

Live performances of Christmas music, holiday buffet lunches, ornament-making, craft demonstrations and storytelling are just a few of the events featured daily throughout December. Go to for a complete schedule, including prices where applicable.

(3501 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg. (859) 734-5411.)

A Dickens Christmas

Join fellow revelers as a 100-foot tree with 40,000 lights is illuminated at 5 p.m. Sunday on the lawn of Ashland. Refreshments will be provided for the free event.

After the tree lighting, the old-fashioned fun continues with an event inspired by the author of the timeless classic A Christmas Carol. From 5:30 to 8 p.m., the estate will have "A Dickens Christmas," a ticketed event with holiday-themed tours of the festively decorated mansion, plus more refreshments and period music. Admission is $15 for adults and free for children younger than 12.

The event repeats Dec. 26.

(120 Sycamore Road, Lexington. (859) 266-8581.

A Dickens Christmas Ball

How about an old-fashioned version of date night? Bring your sweetheart to a ball (or find one there). On Dec. 10, you can do your best young Scrooge impression at the Fezziwig Ball, hosted by Lexington Vintage Dance at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.

Dancers will lead guests in re-creating Regency-era dances, including country dances, reels and waltzes. Live music, caroling and period food are featured. Period costume is not required but is welcome.

(7:30-11 p.m. Dec. 10. 251 West Second Street, Lexington. $25, $15 students. (859) 420-6780.

Train ride with Santa

If you have little ones who would love to meet Santa, why not skip the exhausting lines at the mall and take them on an old-fashioned train ride? The Bluegrass Railroad Museum in Versailles will offer train rides with Santa on Dec. 10, 11, 17 and 18.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive on the train with a little help from the Versailles Fire Department. They will spend time with each child as carols are sung and candy canes are shared before returning to the North Pole.

(2 p.m. Dec. 10, 11, 17, 18. 175 Beasley Road, Versailles. $12 adults, $11 seniors, $10 children 2-12, $15 first-class seat. (859) 873-2476.

Hunt your own tree

For the adventurer in the family, take cutting your own tree to the next level at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Western Kentucky.

There are many local nurseries that encourage cutting your own tree (including Barker's Christmas Tree Farm, Christmas Memories Tree Farm or Nieman's Christmas Tree Plantation). Or you can go really old-school at Land Between the Lakes, which issues free permits to cut one cedar tree from within its boundaries. Maps are provided.

It might be a bit of a drive for Central Kentucky residents, but it would certainly make for a memorable day trip. Clark Griswold would be proud.

(Permits, maps and cutting guidelines are at the LBL administrative office, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and at Golden Pond Visitor Center, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sunday. 1-800-525-7077.

If you want to stay closer to home, click here to find the Herald-Leader's guide to Central Kentucky Christmas tree farms, some of which have cut-your-own areas.

A-caroling we will go

You can check with local churches, many of which organize caroling expeditions to nursing homes and hospitals as a way to have fun and entertain others.

However, if you just want to show up somewhere and sing, there are at least two opportunities.

The enormous Kentucky Christmas Chorus, with the Lexington Singers and the Kentucky Christmas Chorus Orchestra on Dec. 13, used to be at Rupp Arena but has moved to the cozier confines of the Singletary Center for the Arts on the University of Kentucky campus. But this year, the free event is sold out. If you don't already have tickets, you're out of luck.

The Alltech Celebration of Song, with the UK Opera Theatre, is Dec. 11 at the Victorian Square Atrium. Everett McCorvey will conduct, and Cynthia Lawrence, Gregory Turay, the Lexington Singers Children's Choir, Victorian Square Orchestra and Alluring Community Handbell Ensemble will perform. Julie LaDouceur will emcee.

(6 p.m. Dec. 11. Victorian Square, Broadway and Main St. Free.

Christmas on the frontier

For an inexpensive history lesson and a beautiful drive, the trip to Fort Boonesborough in Madison County on Dec. 9 or 10 is another terrific day trip. Re-enactors of 18th-century frontier life will recreate a living-history interpretation of pioneer holiday traditions. Learn how different nationalities and ethnic groups contributed their own traditions to those that we recognize today.

You also can enjoy the rustic decorations, music, dancing, and even the sound of gunfire.

(6-8 p.m. Dec. 9, 10. 4375 Boonesborough Road, Richmond. $5 adults, $3 children 6-12, free for ages 5 and younger. (859) 527-3131, Ext. 216.

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