If you think the Norman Rockwell version of Christmas no longer exists, pack up the kids and your shopping list and head to Danville.
“Every building and tree is covered with white lights,” says Julie Wagner, executive director of the Heart of Danville Main Street Organization. “It becomes a gingerbread community.”
This time of year, the town is so beckoning that upon seeing it for the first time, a number of people—including current Chamber of Commerce Director Paula Kilby—have actually moved here.
Adding even more holiday spirit, activities in Danville and its surroundings abound.
In mid-November, merchants preview their holiday treasures during the town’s Holiday Open House. On November 30, the mayor throws the switch on the community Christmas tree and Santa makes his inaugural appearance at the annual downtown Christmas parade. Once a week until the 25th, shops stay open until 8 p.m.
For nostalgia buffs, the West T. Hill Community Theatre features It’s a Wonderful Life—The Radio Play, complete with old radio sound effects. And the Moscow Ballet re-creates The Nutcracker at the Norton Center for the Arts.
Make reservations for the Formal Holiday Tea at Chateau du Vieux Corbeau Winery at the Old Crow Inn, a 1776 bed and breakfast, and hear Louisiana-born proprietor Andre Brousseau’s interpretation of Cajun Night Before Christmas.
Harkening back to the days of “department store” Santas, the jolly old soul appears at various Danville businesses during the season for free photo opportunities.
In 1792, the state’s first constitution was signed at historic Constitution Square, and the whole shebang is decked with red bows, window candles, and greenery for a period feel, as is the McDowell House just across the street, where the first ovarian tumor was removed on Christmas Day in 1809. Celebrate the home’s unusual history with candlelight tours and tea.
Take a sanctioned peek into other people’s houses spiffed up in holiday finery just 10 miles south during the Christmas Home Tour in Stanford. All the downtown store windows will be decorated for Stanford’s Christmas parade, including one on Main Street, where you can purchase Kentucky-made gifts.
Pop into Kentucky Soaps and Such for handmade goat’s milk soaps, gourmet foods, and gift baskets galore, including the Romantic Movie Night or Backyard Barbecue Baskets. Or put together your own.
Just a quick sleigh ride west in Gravel Switch, generations have gathered around the stove since 1850 at Penn’s Store, with refreshments and discounts at its Country Store Christmas. Look for an array of gifts, arts and crafts—such as handmade Christmas ornaments made from gourds and orange peel—peanut Santas and Wise Men, and seasonal produce.
After all, the holidays are a time to eat to your heart’s delight.
Fill your belly with down-home vittles at Christmas Dinner on the Fork at nearby Forkland Community Center, a vibrant gathering place for valley residents.
“People think of us being hillbilly, but we compare ourselves to the Biltmore,” says Doris Purdom, the Center’s vice president, with a chuckle. “We have live classical music and hors d’oeuvres in every room at our Twilight Christmas.”
For the ultimate yummy goodies, hit third-generation Burke’s Bakery on Danville’s Main Street.
“You can hardly get in the door during Christmas season,” Julie Wagner laughs. “They have mincemeat pies, homemade yeast dinner rolls, gingerbread men, and Christmas cookies.
“Talking about it makes me hungry. I may have to run over there right now.”
For more information about Danville and the surrounding area:
Danville-Boyle County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Heart of Danville Main Street Organization
15-17: Holiday Open House, Danville
24: Country Store Christmas, Penn’s Store
29: Moscow Classical Ballet The Nutcracker, Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts
30: Hometown Christmas Parade, Danville
1: Old-Fashioned Christmas Dinner, Forkland Community Center
1: Downtown Christmas Parade, Stanford
2: Christmas Homes Tour, Stanford
7: It’s a Wonderful Life—The Radio Play, West T. Hill Community Theatre (12/7-9 and 14-16)
8: Twilight Christmas in the Country, Forkland Community Center
Old Crow Inn’s Chateau du Vieux Corbeau Winery Holiday Tea
15: Holiday Wine & Food Pairings, Chateau du Vieux Corbeau
Sleep with History
Recharge your shopping batteries nearby at Harrodsburg’s Beaumont Inn, a National Register of Historic Places hostelry with fifth-generation owners. “People come here for R&R, our traditional Kentucky fare, and a touch with the past,” says Helen Dedman, owner with husband Chuck.
Find Out More
Beaumont Inn, Harrodsburg
Forkland Community Center, Gravel Switch
Kentucky Soaps & Such, Stanford
Norton Center for the Arts, Danville
Old Crow Inn/Chateau du Vieux Corbeau Winery, Danville
Penn’s Store, Gravel Switch
Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
If you’re looking for a bit of peace on earth during the holiday hustle and bustle, head for a National Historic Landmark in a quiet corner of central Kentucky’s Bluegrass. A model for historic preservation, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is a delightful step back to the 19th century, when a thriving community occupied its current 2,800 acres of preserved farmland.
Because of their ritualistic dance, the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming were known to the world as Shakers. A devout and visionary people, the well-organized order invented laborsaving devices, such as the flat broom, and handcrafted exquisite furniture still in demand today.
Begun in 1805, the village boasted some 500 residents on 4,000 acres of land in its mid-1800s heyday. However, changing social attitudes, the industrial revolution, and the Shakers’ required celibacy led to its decline and eventual closing in 1910.
All year long, costumed interpreters now lead guided tours of 14 of the 34 beautifully restored original buildings, some of which feature overnight lodging.
This time of year, you can learn more about the Shakers during a slew of holiday happenings, beginning with Thanksgiving Day lunch and dinner in the Trustees’ Office Dining Room, and ending with a New Year’s Day brunch. Reservations (well in advance during the holidays) are vital for meals so divine you’ll swear Grandma’s cooking in the kitchen. Be sure to save room for luscious Shaker Lemon Pie.
On November 24, the season gets under way with the Woodford Hounds foxhunters’ annual Blessing of the Hounds, when a priest offers prayers for riders clad in scarlet formal hunting attire, baying hounds, and a sly fox, and all take off for winter’s first chase.
From December 1-30, Mondays through Saturdays, sip afternoon Holiday Tea with tasty, tummy-warming teas, breads, tea sandwiches, and tiny desserts. Reserve ahead for these wintertime treats.
Celebrate a simpler, Shaker-style holiday on December 1 during Christmas in the Shaker Spirit. Make paper chains, string popcorn, and learn Shaker songs. All shops will feature refreshments, visiting craftspeople, and music while you shop, and receive a 10 percent discount for one day only at the village craft stores.
At 7 p.m. that evening, sing carols along the lantern-lit village road.
Closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Pleasant Hill re-opens for its annual Simple Gifts of Christmas from December 26 through 30, when guided tours focus on Shaker life and Christmas customs, including holiday music performances and showings of The Shakers, a film narrated by Ben Kingsley that chronicles the history of this intriguing, now-defunct community.
And for a breath of fresh air in the midst of this all-too-busy season, bring your horse, your mountain bike, or your walking shoes and traverse the Shaker Village trails along the Bluegrass area’s most extensive collection of rock fences and the 400+ million-year-old rock formations of the Kentucky River palisades.
But remember, whenever you visit Pleasant Hill during the holidays: don’t expect flashy displays of lights or photo ops with Santa. “The Shakers were a simple people who embraced a simple way of life,” says Amy Darnell, publicist for Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, “and holiday decorations are understated, with candles on windows and garlands on lampposts.”
“Shakertown” is seven miles from Harrodsburg on U.S. 68. For specifics, visit www.shakervillageky.org or call (800) 734-5611.
Holidays, Daniel Boone-style
Fort Boonesboro State Park
4375 Boonesborough Road
Richmond, KY 40475-9316
or www.parks.ky.gov (click on Parks tab, then Historic)
After surviving Indian skirmishes and bouts with Mother Nature, Daniel Boone and his men reached the Kentucky River on April 1, 1775, and began building the Commonwealth’s second settlement. Now a Kentucky State Park, Fort Boonesboro is a beautifully reconstructed working fort with blockhouses, cabins, period furnishings, and costumed interpreters.
Though the fort is officially open from April through October, November brings two events that take you back for a fascinating peek into Boone’s era.
During A Kentucky Woodsman’s Weekend, an annual two-day seminar, speakers and demonstrators address aspects of frontier life. Topics can cover 18th-century clothing, foods, weapons, tools, and game calls. You might discover how longhunters used rockhouses, salt licks, and streams, or how they hunted on Native American land. During the weekend, militia musters feature camps with period-costumed re-enactors available to answer Revolutionary War-era questions. Take a self-guided tour of the fort that Daniel built.
Just in time for holiday shopping, Winter Trade Days add an 18th-century twist to your gifts. For a weekend, traders and merchants in 18th-century period clothing set up shops in the fort and sell items common during that time but still useful today. Think candle lanterns and hand-sewn niceties.
“This is the weekend after Thanksgiving,” says fort manager Bill Farmer, “and it’ll give people a chance to walk off that dinner.”
A Kentucky Woodsman’s Weekend
November 3-4, $50 per person
Winter Trade Days
November 24 & 25, free.
Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.