Head to southern Pennsylvania for small-town holiday fun

Daina Savage

Musicians enhance the holiday spirit in Franklin County’s small towns. (Franklin Co. Tourism)

Looking for a way to fill the holidays with the sweet nostalgia of small-town celebrations? Head to some of nearby southern Pennsylvania’s picturesque Main Streets, where twinkling lights, roaming carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides, and decorated storefronts set seasonal scenes you won’t forget.

The historic downtown of Gettysburg in Adams County, as well as the cultural heritage destination towns of Chambersburg, Greencastle, and Waynesboro in Franklin County, all provide a sentimental side to the season with festive tree lighting events, hometown holiday parades, and music-accompanied strolls through the walkable streets. Franklin and Adams counties are next-door neighbors and located just north of Hagerstown and Frederick, Md., respectively.

A relaxed weekend getaway offers an antidote to what can be a crowded cacophony of checklists, allowing visitors to both unwind and still address their shopping needs. You can pick out your tree, visit local vineyards to sample potential spirited gifts, and get decorating inspiration during historic home tours.

“We have that Norman Rockwell flavor; that’s part of the charm,” said Janet Pollard, who promotes Franklin County. 

Her region starts off the season early with a Holiday Open House by the merchants of downtown Chambersburg on Nov. 3, 5:00–8:00pm. That’s followed by a Taste of the Holidays event in Greencastle on Nov. 9, 5:30–8:30pm, showcasing the creations of local chefs and decorators with tablescapes offering both tasty samplings and a feast for the eyes.

Lincoln Square in Gettysburg is an important part of holiday celebrations in the historic town. (Gettysburg Tourism)

On the weekend of Nov. 17–18, visit your choice of Franklin County small towns for Friday-night tree lightings and Saturday holiday parades, featuring bands, floats, baton twirlers, and a special visitor from the North Pole.

The following weekend, Nov. 25, Gettysburg offers its own tree-lighting ceremony in the town’s historic Lincoln Square, with the requisite carolers, cookies, and cocoa, as well as a visit from Santa Claus.

December’s signature holiday events 

Christmas at Renfrew invites visitors to the 19th-century Pennsylvania German farmstead in Waynesboro to see the decorations and a one-act play and enjoy cider and cookies Dec. 1  

“There are characters in every room who interpret the holiday,” said Pollard, adding that the traditional cantankerous Belsnickle is not to be missed. The event is repeated Dec. 2 and 3. (renfrewmuseum.org)

Pollard noted that Christmas at Renfrew is one of two major events Dec. 1. The fourth annual Chambersburg Cocoa Crawl that evening is a toasty way to savor a seasonal staple as local organizations craft their own spins on the traditional favorite.

“Everybody gets a mug and you walk around and try all the uniquely flavored hot chocolates and then help pick a winner,” said Pollard, who shared that the varieties range from rum-flavored to mint to caramel. “The downtown shimmers with holiday lights, there are carolers and German bands playing music, and people are all out enjoying the quintessential charm of holiday decorations.” 

On Dec. 2 in Gettysburg, the historic downtown celebrates with special events and discounts all day, including free carriage rides and the annual Olde Getty Place Christmas Parade.

The following weekend features the deep, sonorous sounds of the largest of the brass instruments. The annual Gettysburg Holiday Tuba Carol Fest is held Dec. 8, when tuba players from across the country travel to participate in this unique event on Lincoln Square.

Throughout November and December, both regions offer a bounty of boutiques, art galleries, cafes, and coffee shops, all decorated to embrace a sense of holiday cheer with their small town hospitality.

“Not only is the season filled with great events, but restaurants, inns, and stores are all in the holiday spirit to create a charming, yet festive, destination for travelers,” said Carl Whitehill, who promotes Gettysburg. “Look out especially for holiday dinners and special tours of historic homes all decorated in the perfect blend of history and the holiday season.”

House tours

On Dec. 9, the Inns of the Gettysburg Area’s Holiday House Tour will give guests a chance to walk through some of Gettysburg’s historic homes, inns, and properties decorated for the holidays. Additionally, visitors will be able to sample specialty dishes and local wines.

A holiday visit to the Eisenhower National Historic Site shows how President and Mrs. Eisenhower prepared for Christmas. (Gettysburg Tourism)

Insider tip: Combine the tour with a stay at one of the inns, and add in other weekend activities such as the Tuba Carol Fest, a Civil War performance, and a food tour.

On Dec. 10, the Greencastle Heritage Home Tour in Franklin County will feature local homes decorated for the season.

During the month of December in Gettysburg, the historic Shriver House Museum is offering “A Civil War Christmas,” which includes a candlelight tour of the Christmas-decorated museum. Also throughout December, the Eisenhower Historic Site is decorated for a 1950s-style Christmas. A special holiday reception will be held Dec. 10.

Learn more

Franklin Co. Tourism: explorefranklincountypa.com

Gettysburg Tourism: destinationgettysburg.com

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