Hoosier Holidays

Story by Elizabeth Granger

Oh the holidays… A magical time of year when, somehow, the child in so many of us bubbles to the surface with delight. Events galore promote that magic.

It happens all year long.

He can be dressed in a sport shirt and shorts, and walking the aisles in a grocery store, when a passing child will stop and stare with that unmistakable expression of recognition. Looking back at the child, the man smiles slightly, winks, and puts his finger to his pursed lips in a silent “shhh.”

The beard undoubtedly has a great deal to do with this scenario, but not every bearded man is like Tim Etter. Not every bearded man is Santa.

But Etter is, for the 34th year. He’s really into the role during the holidays, but the Santa demeanor never seems to leave him. Despite a beard that isn’t snow-white (except when he bleaches it in late fall), regular clothing, and glasses that are definitely more contemporary than Saint Nick’s, he exudes an inherent Santa persona all year long.

“The children know,” he says. “They’re always the ones to spot Santa first.”

But when he dons the Santa uniform, it becomes especially moving. “Santa has only one job – to bring joy and happiness,” he says. “That’s it. Anybody who puts on the suit has a responsibility of doing that. It’s something I take very seriously. You don’t play Santa; you portray an image.”

Etter will be Santa – in full Santa attire – at several events this season, including some evenings at Newfields in Indianapolis where he’ll wander around, visiting with guests.

Sometimes he’s already at his Santa site when visitors get there. But sometimes he arrives in a bright red SUV with Polar Express in big letters on the side of the auto. His story is that the reindeer fly only on Christmas Eve, so Santa travels by other means. Usually it’s a train which carries the SUV in a special train car so he can use it where there are no tracks.

Santa skates with visitors at Riverside Rink in Lafayette. PHOTO: Visit Lafayette West Lafayette

By the time Santa appears, holiday events are in full swing. But we’re already seeing strong indications of the season: store decorations, gift suggestions, craft bazaars. For many, Thanksgiving signals the “official” beginning of the holiday season. Some begin the day with a run/walk like the Turkey Trot in Indy’s Crown Hill Cemetery, the Turkey Trot in Tell City or the Bolt for the Heart in Carmel. Turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and football with extended family follow, and now there’s Thanksgiving evening shopping.

At Suncatchers in Whiting, Pajama-Shop-O-Rama begins at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving night. “People come in their pajamas,” owner Edie Rauner says. “They’re in such a great mood because it’s Thanksgiving.” And everything is on sale.

Thanksgiving weekend is huge for the lighting of municipalities’ Christmas trees. Downtown Fort Wayne’s Night of Lights is held the evening before Thanksgiving. The event includes holiday lighting ceremonies from downtown businesses and organizations, along with family events and activities.

Christmas at the (Indianapolis) Zoo begins Nov. 23 and runs through Dec. 30. It was the first zoo in the nation to offer a light display, in 1967. In addition to the lights, there’s Santa’s village where guests can visit Santa, decorate cookies with Mrs. Claus and run through the Snowflakery mirror maze. The animals themselves provide an uncommon experience. “We have a lot of animals that enjoy the cooler temperatures,” says Carla Knapp, the zoo’s public relations specialist, adding that they’re especially active during the evenings. They include tigers, brown bears, red pandas, penguins and flamingos.

Carmel’s Christkindlmarkt is the first market in the United States to have an authentic German “Glühwein pyramid.” Guests can go to the pyramid to get traditional German wines in many flavors. PHOTO: Carmel Christkindlmarkt Inc.

Throughout the state are thousands of Christmas light displays, from modest heartwarming house lights to bigger home displays ala Clark Griswold, to business and municipal lights. Among them: Wellfield Botanic Gardens in Elkhart, Christmas in the Park in Terre Haute, and Winterland Holiday Light Show in Ellis Park in Danville.

A Merry Prairie Holiday Festival at Conner Prairie blends the time-honored Reynolds Farm Equipment Christmas Lights, which were at Indiana 37 and 126th Street in Fishers every year since 1991, with Conner Prairie experiences Nov. 29-Dec. 29. visit Clowes Commons, North Pole village (with a dry snow tubing hill), Blitzen’s Bandstand, Winterland Wagon Ride, and Indiana holidays of 1836 and the 1860s.

In French Lick, tree lighting ceremonies at both the French Lick Resort and West Baden Springs Resort kick off their “50 Days of Lights” celebration, with live musical performances, visits by Santa and Mrs. Claus, ornament making, cookie decorating, fireworks, and more. And new this year is the West Baden Gingerbread House, a must-see.

Tree lighting at West Baden Springs Resort takes place Nov. 16, and at French Lick Resort Nov. 22.

In Anderson, the Paramount Theatre’s Festival of Trees, Nov. 30-Dec. 7, is highlighted with decorated trees, trains and music.

Lights of a different kind are at the free Enchanted Luminaria Walk at Muncie’s Minnetrista Dec. 6-7.

Holiday parades are popular – in Shipshewana Nov. 9, Logansport Nov. 22, in Cannelton Nov. 29, Chesterton Nov. 30, Tell City Dec. 7, Leopold Dec. 8, and Monon Dec. 14. A Very Merry Main Street Christmas Parade in Lafayette, at night on Dec. 7, is the state’s largest holiday parade. And in Winimac their Lighted Christmas Parade is Dec. 6.

In Carmel, Christkindlmarkt guests can enjoy skating with the backdrop of the palladium where they could also catch a holiday show. PHOTO: Carmel Christkindlmarkt Inc.

Carmel’s Christkindlmarkt, in its third season, will be open Wednesdays-Sundays Nov. 16-Dec. 22. It honors the traditions enjoyed at German Christmas markets around the world. Last year’s attendance of 328,000 more than doubled that of its inaugural year, and this year the market is partnering with the Indiana Historical Society and Indiana German Heritage Society to spotlight the importance of German immigrants in Indiana. It will include “10 Christmas traditions you didn’t know were German.” In addition, new foods will include a Belgian hot chocolate, spaetzle (German version of mac and cheese) and flammkuchen (a flatbread pizza).

Ferdinand will host its 22nd annual Christkindlmarkt Nov. 16-17.

And on Nov. 29-Dec. 1, Peru will hold its inaugural Christkindlmarkt on the Courthouse Square. In addition to German foods and Christmas ornaments, it will offer live entertainment that includes two German bands, soloists singing in German, a magician, outdoor ice skating and wagon rides, and live reindeer. Jim Tidd, Miami County Economic Development director, visited Carmel’s Christkindlmarkt last year and said at a subsequent Rediscover Downtown Peru board meeting, “We can do this, folks!” “So we formed a committee and here we are,” says market manager vicki Draper.

There’s additional entertainment – on stage, on film, at home. Traditions include Frosty and Santa and the Grinch on television, along with It’s a Wonderful Life and Christmas vacation.

Reindeer are especially popular during Christmas at the Zoo in Indianapolis. PHOTO: Indianapolis Zoo/Jason Wright

A Christmas Story is based on its author’s Hammond childhood; now Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond presents A Christmas Story Comes Home each year. The exhibit showcases favorite and classic scenes from the movie – like Flick with his tongue stuck to the flagpole – as well as leg lamps for sale. And it hosts two competitions based on scenes from the film.

The Oh Fuuudge! Relay Race on Dec. 14 has parent/child teams “changing a tire” and running through an obstacle course while holding a hubcap filled with lug nuts. The Mommy’s Little Piggy contest on Dec. 21 has both children and adults eating mashed potatoes without using their hands.

Live performances range from holiday school productions – check local high schools and universities, especially – to community theater to professional entertainment. The Abbeydell Hall at The Legend of French Lick will present the Branson- like Christmas Treasures Nov. 30, The Belfry in Noblesville A Christmas Carol Nov. 29-Dec. 15, The vanity Theater in Crawfordsville The Best Christmas Pageant Ever the Musical Dec. 6-8 and 13-15, and Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette The Gifts of the Magi Dec. 13-15.

The Lafayette Symphony Orchestra will present Holidays Around the World Dec. 14. The Fort Wayne Ballet will present The Nutcracker Dec. 6-8 and 12-15; the event includes Sugar Plum Parties as well as the MUTTcracker, with adoptable dogs from the Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control available to meet during intermission. The Lafayette Ballet will present The Nutcracker on Jan. 4-5.

The Welcome Center in Hammond presents A Christmas Story Comes Home in December. Among the exhibits are scenes from the movie A Christmas Story that include Flick getting his tongue stuck to the school’s flag pole. PHOTO: Elizabeth Granger

Not-so-ordinary events include Nights Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes in Madison Nov. 29-30 and Dec. 6-7, A Dickens Christmas High Tea for adults 21 and older at the Nestle Inn B&B in Indianapolis Dec. 6 and 15, and ‘Twas the Night Before interactive theater experience at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis Dec. 12-15. The Charles W. Brown Planetarium in Muncie offers The Christmas Star free of charge on Dec. 6, 7, 13, 14. The Octagon House Christmas Tree Walk in Shirley, Dec. 6, 7, 13, 14, is a festive opportunity to see one of only five octagon houses still standing in Indiana. At the Christmas Open House at Warm Glow Candle Company in Wayne County Dec. 6-8, you can enjoy gourmet food samplings, wine tasting, local crafts and artisans, fantastic sales and more. There are free photos with Santa Friday-Sunday, and you can visit with Reindeer on Dec. 8th, 1:00p.m.-5:00p.m. Shop an array of candles, floral, chocolate and home décor. At the Metamora Christmas Walk, weekends Nov. 29-Dec. 22, you can enjoy an old-fashioned Christmas in Indiana’s canal town. And in Francesville, their annual Turkey Trot and Christmas Market is Nov. 23.

Historic mansions are often decorated for the holidays; they include the Barker Mansion in Michigan City, the Seiberling in Kokomo, Copshaholm in South Bend and Ruthmere in Elkhart.

In some places, an entire downtown joins in on a festive event. There’s Muncie’s Gobble Wobble pub and eatery crawl in on the evening of Small Business Saturday (Nov. 30). Cambridge City’s Winter Wonderland is also on the evening of Nov. 30 with luminaries lining Main Street, horse-drawn carriage rides, carolers, and shopping specials. Zionsville’s Christmas in the Village is Nov. 30, Mooresville’s Victorian Christmas Dec. 7, and Martinsville’s Cookie Stroll is Dec. 14.

Wolf Park in Battle Ground hosts a multitude of events focusing on their resident wolves. Visitors can see the annual Thanksgiving turkey toss, when each wolf gets
an entire turkey to eat, on Nov. 30. And on Dec. 14, Santa will stop by. Visitors are invited to help decorate a tree with edible ornaments for the wolves, then visit with Santa indoors.

The Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis will again offer Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure, its popular locomotive wonderland that takes visitors on a journey through the American West via nine working model trains. It winds past local Indy treasures before heading out to check Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Hollywood and more. Runs Nov. 23- Jan. 20.

The Eiteljorg Museum’s Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure is an incredible display of model trains winding through landscapes of Indianapolis and the American West. PHOTO: Eiteljorg Museum

In Orange County, the holiday season is heralded by pajamas – on kids, parents and grandparents – all boarding the Polar Express for its annual holiday runs on the French Lick Scenic Railway. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 8-Dec. 23, plus additional weekdays in December.

Ditto for Noblesville, as the Nickel Plate Express offers the Reindeer Ride Express weekends Nov. 23- Dec. 22, with multiple rides each day. This year the train will board in Noblesville’s Forest Park and travel to Arcadia and back. The 150-year-old Arcadia Train Depot will be decorated to look like Santa’s Workshop. “People had a great time on the train last year but they were looking to extend their visit,” says director Dagny Zupin. Forest Park will host additional activities, and downtown Noblesville has shopping and dining opportunities.

And then there’s Santa Claus, Indiana, where it’s Christmas all year long. But in December, it’s really Christmas. Three December weekends are stuffed with events that include a parade, Das Nikolausfest, huge lighting displays, and Scrooge’s Christmas. Chat with an elf on the North Pole Network, roast chestnuts on an open fire, go Christmas caroling, visit live reindeer. Have breakfast with Santa, have dinner with Santa, have bedtime milk and cookies with Santa.

Purdue Christmas Show in West Lafayette

The festive spirit continues through the end of the year. Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva will host its countdown to “midnight” with a family-friendly balloon drop at noon.

The Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis will host its family- friendly New Year’s Eve party 6-9 p.m. Dec. 31 with magic, music, dancing, face painting, exploring the entire museum. There’s an eco-friendly streamer and confetti explosion in the Great Hall when the clock strikes 8 p.m.

The ball drops at midnight, accompanied by music and fireworks, in the Courthouse Square in downtown Kokomo.

French Lick Resort hosts dinner and dancing to usher in the new year.

Editor’s note: Check your local area for holiday events similar to those presented here. And please double- check the events that are here to be sure times or dates haven’t changed since we went to press.


Cambridge City Winter Wonderland

Carmel Christkindlmarkt

Christmas at the Zoo

A Christmas Story/Hammond

French Lick 50 Days of Lights

Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure

A Merry Prairie Holiday

Minnetrista Luminary Walk

Night of Lights Fort Wayne


Paramount Theatre Festival of Trees

Peru Christkindlmarkt
(765) 472-7655

Warm Glow Christmas Open House

Wolf Park

Zionsville Christmas in the Village