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Consider Gettysburg for the Holidays


Don't forget to have your picture taken with Lincoln when you visit the Wills House on the town square in Gettysburg. NPS photo.

Gettysburg is more than just a summer destination. Here are a dozen holiday activities that make Gettysburg National Park and its gateway community a good choice for a memorable getaway

Visit the Battlefield

Gettysburg National Military Park is a quieter and in many ways more interesting place when the summer crowds are gone. The park is open daily from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. from November 1 to March 31. The Museum and Visitor Center is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm daily during that period except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years Day.

Watch the Wreath-laying at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery

The Soldiers National Cemetery (Gettysburg National Cemetery) is located atop Cemetery Ridge and is open from dawn to dusk daily. It was here on November 19, 1863 that Lincoln presented his Gettysburg Address. The bodies of 3,700 Union soldiers were disinterred from hasty graves around the battlefield and moved to this cemetery. From the Spanish-American War to the Gulf War, the cemetery also received the bodies of more than 7,000 military casualties, honorably discharged servicemen, and their dependents. For a second year, the Sgt. Mac Foundation (named for a local war hero killed in the line of duty) will place hundreds of holiday wreaths on the grave sites of soldiers buried in Gettysburg. This year’s wreath-laying will take place on December 4.

Visit the David Wills House

The David Wills House on the town square in downtown Gettysburg is where President Lincoln stayed and worked on the final draft of his Gettysburg Address the night before he delivered it. This historic structure was added to the national park in 2001. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 to 5 during November, and Wednesday through Sunday from 10 to 5 during December. There is a modest admission fee.

See the 22nd Annual Gettysburg Christmas Parade

The Gettysburg Chamber of Commerce says that the town’s Christmas parade is “the perfect way to get into the spirit of the holiday season. Just two days after Thanksgiving on November 28, folks are still cheerily singing those holiday favorites and the sight of Santa still brings a twinkle in their eyes.”

Take in the Tuba Carol Fest

Hey, this is not your typical tuba band belting out holiday music in a historic town square. This is a by-gosh “bring your own tuba” event that’ll probably attract several dozen players. Anybody can play (they’ve had players from age 8 to 80, and from very accomplished to, well, “enthusiastic”). The day to circle on your calendar is Saturday, December 12. Don’t forget your tuba.

Spend the Holidays with Ike and Mamie

Throughout the month of December, the Eisenhower National Historic Site staff welcomes you to the Eisenhower home, which is decorated for the holidays in the1950s style. You won’t find LED lights and blowup yard ornaments here, only the best of the Eisenhower era -- Christmas songs, original decorations and Christmas cards, boughs of holly, candles, a big plastic Santa, that sort of thing. The Eisenhower farm home is located adjacent to the battlefield and is open 9 to 4 daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. To get there you have to take the shuttle from the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center. Check with the park for the shuttle bus schedule.

Take a Holiday House Tour

On Saturday, December 12, the inns of the Gettysburg area are hosting an open house tour that gives you a look inside many of the community’s holiday-decorated inns and businesses. If you stay in one of the inns, your tickets are free.

Feast at the Historic Fairfield Inn

Gettysburg’s historic (established 1757) Fairfield Inn, which has hosted presidents and celebrities galore, does the holiday feast tradition up in grand style on two weekends with two different themes. Slated for Friday and Saturday nights, Dec. 11-12 and 18-19, the holiday feasts include prime rib, roasted turkey breast, salad, soups, dessert, and lots of music and holiday cheer. There’s a B&B upstairs. The rooms are probably booked by now, but you can always ask.

Take a Shriver House Candlelight Christmas Tour

This Shriver House museum, one of Gettysburg’s most popular attractions throughout the spring, summer and fall, kicks it up a notch in December with special holiday tours from November 28 through December 19. Here’s your chance to learn how George, Hettie, Sadie, and Mollie Shriver marked the holidays in the 1860s and how the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg changed their lives. Start early with a Thanksgiving night tour. Adult tickets are ten bucks apiece.

Take in a performance at the Majestic Theater

Gettysburg’s historic Majestic Theater, which opened in the mid-1920s as a large vaudeville and silent move theater, packs the holiday season with lots of entertainment, including The Letterman Christmas Show, a Celtic Yuletide and Big Band concert on New Year’s Eve. Even if you’re just looking for a great excuse to see what $16 million worth of renovations did for this grand old theater, this is your chance. Seats 800+.

Shop in Downtown Gettysburg

Here’s how the Gettysburg Chamber of Commerce puts it in tourist promotion-speak: “Remember the days when Christmas shopping used to be fun? You weren’t scrambling for parking, waiting in long lines and dinner wasn’t at the mall food court. Gettysburg brings you back to that time with its collection of stores, galleries, antique shops and boutiques. While you’re here, grab a hot cappuccino or dinner at any one of Gettysburg’s fine restaurants.”

Spend New Year’s Eve in Downtown Gettysburg

OK. This is the last shot of promotion-speak. I promise! “Tired of ushering in the New Year from your living room sofa? Want your kids to enjoy New Year’s Eve in a fun, family environment? Gettysburg can do both. The streets of Downtown Gettysburg are filled with holiday fun like art, performances, music, contests and lots of food and entertainment. The night, of course, is capped off with fireworks, so go ahead, Google the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne” and come celebrate with us.”


And of course don't forget Remembrance Day on Nov. 21st. Reenactors, military groups, school bands, etc. will march in the annual parade. The graves in the cemetery will be illuminated by candles at night. Truly a great experience for all ages.

Glad to see you're tuned in to this CivilWarBuff. But I think that you're pushing the concept of "the holidays" a tad too early. Remembrance Day is the Saturday after Dedication Day, which is by far the better known of the two events. Watch tomorrow's Traveler for an article on this.

[The Sunderman Conservatory of Music at] Gettysburg College usually has several excellent student holiday concerts in December too!

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