Lancaster, Pennsylvania is a city in South Central Pennsylvania. It is the Lancaster County seat and one of the oldest inland cities in America. Lancaster is known as the hub of Amish country and is also home to the 15th President of the United States, James Buchanan. Lancaster even served as our Nation’s Capital for a day during the Revolutionary War.
Steeped deep in history, this quaint town is the perfect place to spend the holidays. The “old country” feel immediately engulfs you through it’s strong Amish, German, and Dutch culture. It embraces you when you walk into the oldest continuously running Farmer’s Market that has been in operation at Central Market since 1889.
During the holidays, Lancaster glows with a holiday spirit like no other. Often a light snowfall brings a cheerful chill to the air as shoppers search for Amish goods that often can’t be found elsewhere. The smells of fresh baked goods and hot chocolate heighten the senses. It just makes you want to go out and find Belsnickle!!
is a crotchety, fur-clad Christmas gift-bringer figure in the folklore of the Palatinate region of southwestern Germany. The figure is also preserved in Pennsylvania Dutch communities.
Belsnickel is a man wearing furs and sometimes a mask with a long tongue. He is typically very ragged and disheveled. He wears torn, tattered, and dirty clothes, and he carries a switch in his hand with which to beat naughty children, but also pockets full of cakes, candies, and nuts for good children.
Belsnickel was known in Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. Among the Pennsylvania Germans, Belsnickel is the character who visits homes prior to Christmas to check up on the behavior of the children. The traditional Belsnickel showed up at houses 1–2 weeks before Christmas and often created fright because he always knew exactly which of the children misbehaved. He would rap on the door or window with his stick and often the children would have to answer a question for him or sing some type of song. In exchange he would toss candies onto the floor. If the children jumped too quick for the treats, they may end up getting struck with Belsnickel’s switch.
Unfortunately, the annual Belsnickel Tour featuring Lancaster’s BnBs has been cancelled. But plans are already in place for 2021. See more here.
Built in 1889, the Lancaster Central Market is the oldest continuously operated farmers market in the United States, and many tourists come to purchase the handmade Amish goods that are not commonly found elsewhere. Central Market is listed with the National Register of Historic Places, and its towers are of the Romanesque Revival style.
Lancaster also has two outlet shopping centers, both of which are located in East Lampeter Township on U.S. Route 30. Tanger Outlets is home to about 65 stores. Rockvale Outlets contains approximately 45 stores and restaurants.
In addition to Lancaster’s boutiques, vintage shops, and art galleries (Gallery Row), Park City Center is the largest enclosed shopping center in South Central Pennsylvania. The mall includes more than 150 stores and is anchored by Boscov’s, JCPenney, and Kohl’s. Park City opened in September 1971.
Lancaster also has an extensive art district, that bears visiting.
Fun With Santa
Lancaster,Pa., is all about Santa. What if I told you , you could get on a real steam engine on America’s oldest operating railroad and take a ride through Amish Country while Santa and Mrs. Claus visit and read stories? It happens every year in Lancaster on the Strasburg Railroad.
Strasburg Rail Road™ is America’s oldest operating railroad with a charter dating back to June 9, 1832. First used for passenger and freight transportation, the short line limped along for more than a century until in 1958, on the verge of abandonment, the railroad was salvaged and given new life as a tourist railroad.
When you visit Strasburg Rail Road, the first thing you can expect is an authentic experience of a real steam railroad. The locomotives and passenger cars, (known as “rolling stock”) are not replicas, and our staff members are not reenactors. Strasburg Rail Road has five working steam locomotives and 20 operating passenger cars, including our President’s Car, First Class Parlor Car, First Class Lounge, and our Dining Car. All equipment is restored and maintained on-site in our Mechanical Shop.
Santa arrives Thanksgiving Day and special train rides and a Night Before Christmas train ride highlight the season.
Amish Country: quiet, secure, a slower pace, awesome food, community. It’s a different way of life surrounded by strong religious beliefs. And a very deep history. As you travel the Lancaster country side, horse and buggies travel by. Neighbors are helping neibors. Crops are being grown. Barns raised. All that stress begins to melt away as the quiet and slower pace take you to a different time.
Visit the Old Windmill Farm, an authentic working Amish dairy farm. Milk a cow while you are there. Or, bottle feed a calf. Take a hayride. Enjoy nature!! Gosh knows we have been cooped up inside for long enough.
Find an Amish Mud Sale. That’s right Mud Sale. But, it’s not what you think. Amish Mud Sales are a Lancaster County original tradition and refer to annual auctions or sales of Amish goods at a number of local fire companies. The sales attract thousands of people looking for bargains on anything from Amish quilts and antiques to lumber, buggies and lawn equipment.
Visit The Amish Village. Take a guided tour of an authentic 1840’s Amish farmhouse and learn about today’s Amish lifestyle. Then, after your farmhouse tour, explore our 12-acre village grounds, mingle with our Amish staff and say “hi” to Mr. Ed the horse. Even have your picture taken on a real Amish buggy.
Have fun while learning something new with the area’s only authentic Amish lessons, taught in our one-room schoolhouse. During the summer, an actual Amish schoolteacher will share her wisdom along with a real Amish lesson. As winter arrives and Christmas nears, see how the Amish decorate for Christmas in the one-room schoolhouse and enjoy the Amish Holiday Tradition Tour. Decorations will captivate, seasonal samples of Amish delights will be available, and an array of traditional Amish Christmas gifts and holiday items will be available for purchase.
A special note from Discover Lancaster: “Just as the Amish do not carry personal photographs or display them in homes, they do not want others to take photographs of them. Many visitors to Lancaster County, find it difficult not to do so. Yet, if there is one thing that appears to frustrate the Amish, it is tourists attempting to take their picture. Please follow our lead in taking no photographs in which faces are recognizable. Refraining from taking photos is more than just a courtesy; it’s a respect for our Amish neighbors and their way of life.”
Why Lancaster, PA?
Because Lancaster offers history and beliefs. Simplicity and security. Railroads and buggies. Food and laughter. Shopping and art. Santa and Belsnickle.
Lancaster is the perfect place to visit not just for the holidays, but anytime of year!
Remember if you decide to fly there to Fly Southern.
And if you need more info on Lancaster, PA and their events and attractions click here to go to the Discover Lancaster site.
NOTE TO READERS: In uncertain times, please check with the Discover Lancaster site above for any changes or cancellations.