Local displays put families in the holiday mood

Call me old-fashioned. Call me a traditionalist. Call me a procrastinator. But I don’t like to celebrate one holiday before the last one is over. No saving up grocery points for a free turkey before the Halloween candy is gone. No Christmas music until the pumpkin pie is digested. And certainly, no plugging in the lights until the weekend after Thanksgiving!

But now that the leftovers have finally been consumed or gone bad, it is time to turn on Andy Williams, trim the tree, make the shopping list, and enjoy the local sights of the season!

I am pleased that Downtown State College waits for an entire week after Thanksgiving before its official Christmas Tree Lighting event, officially welcoming the holiday season with stories by Mrs. Claus, live music, cookies and cocoa, and Santa arriving just in time to throw the switch to light the tree on Allen Street! The event takes place at 5:30 p.m. November 29.

The tree and the lighted snowflakes that line the streets of downtown State College are always tasteful and lovely, and should whet your appetite for some more local holiday displays. One that has always intrigued me is the Twelve Days of Christmas display on South Sparks Street, a local symbol of neighborly cooperation and holiday spirit, and the inspiration behind local author Martha Freeman’s children’s book, Who is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas? Just drive through the neighborhood anytime; it’s informal, and it’s fascinating to imagine that buying a house on that street comes with the inherent responsibility of partaking in what has become a cherished community tradition.

The Penn State Interfraternity Council’s Annual Holiday Lights Tour is a competition among the 47 fraternity houses in the Highlands neighborhood of State College. These houses are beautiful anyway, but adorned with holiday lights, they are simply spectacular. This year’s event is set for Decmeber 6. In the past it has taken place on a weeknight in early December and has included a 25-minute guided bus tour of the fraternity district, departing from Beta Theta Pi on Burrowes Street. Check http://pennstateifc.org to find updated information.

Another display that has become a tradition in Centre County is undergoing a major change this year. The Festival of Trees has now become part of the Bellefonte Victorian Christmas weekend and will be moving from the Ag Arena on Park Avenue to the Central PA Institute of Science & Technology in Pleasant Gap. This event will run from December 6-9. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children, and proceeds benefit the Centre County United Way.

Finally, to experience a special display that is a little over-the-top, take a drive over to Lakemont Park in Altoona for “Lights on the Lake,” open from November 22-January 6. This drive-thru display features animated lights and Christmas music, and even the most jaded tween-age Scrooge will be interested in counting the items the Grinch is stealing for a chance to win a cash prize.

Cost is $10 per car. At the end of the ride, you can visit with Santa, see a model train display, and, during certain dates, enjoy horse-drawn sleigh rides.