If you’re looking for fresh, festive spirit this Christmas season, look no further than Decorah, Iowa. Settled peacefully in snowy bluffs, it is worth an hour drive to experience the magic of Christmas in Decorah.
Spark the Christmas feeling early with a visit to the Holiday Lights, Magical Nights at Pulpit Rock Campground November 25-29, December 3-6 and December 10-26 from 5-9 p.m. Freewill donations from this drive-through light display support Helping Services for Northeast Iowa. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Santa Claus and experience the cheerful music of Santa’s Village.
The Holiday Art Fair at ArtHaus (508 West Water Street) and ArtHaus Studio (516 West Water Street) is held Friday, December 4 from 4-7 p.m., Saturday, December 5 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, December 6 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The fair and studio offer a chance to get all your holiday shopping done locally. Browse handcrafted jewelry, pottery, baskets, fiber work and much more.
Take a break from shopping to eat and drink at one of many fine restaurants in downtown Decorah. Enjoy the lighted holiday parade as it weaves through downtown on Friday, December 4 at 6 p.m.
CHRISTMAS AT LUTHER
The 34th Annual Christmas at Luther is held December 4-6. The concert includes performances by six choirs, symphony orchestra, handbell ensemble and organ, with roughly 600 student musicians participating in the concert.
“This year’s theme is ‘Savior of the Nations Come,’” says Eric Ellingsen, production manager for Christmas at Luther. “There’s a special international flare to it, and we’ll be featuring Christmas from different countries and cultures around the world.”
The dynamic nature of Christmas at Luther makes it an event you don’t want to miss, as the choir moves in and around the congregation. The candlelit finale adds a spirit of the divine to the evening, and the decorative garlands and lights add to the festivity.
“It is a very grandiose event on campus,” says Ellingsen. “It’s the kick-off to the Christmas season for lots of families.” While tickets are initially available by invitation only to alumni and parents of students at Luther, remaining tickets will be available to the general public starting November 3.
Christmas at Luther is held in the Center for Faith and Life Main Hall. For concert times and ticket sales visit luther.edu/christmas-at-luther.
NORWEGIAN CHRISTMAS AT VESTERHEIM
The festivities continue with a Norwegian Christmas at Vesterheim Museum in Decorah on December 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This festival of Scandinavian holiday traditions is great for the whole family, with art, music, stories and, of course, delicious Scandinavian Christmas treats.
The festive atmosphere is highlighted with appearances by “Julenisse,” the Christmas elf, who brings treats to visitors, and with “Julebukker,” the costumed folk who maintain the tradition of scaring away evil spirits. “It’s a really colorful, lively weekend,” says Becky Idstrom, editorial assistant at Vesterheim. “Every year is slightly different, and there’s always lots of people in town.”
The day is illuminated by “Jultrefest,” where young and old join hands to sing Christmas songs as they circle around the tree and hear about Christmas in Norway. Artists demonstrate their traditional crafts of woodworking, fiber arts and rosemaling, while hands-on crafts allow children to try their hand at making straw ornaments, woven paper-heart baskets and other traditional crafts.
Warm up from the cold with hot cider and Scandinavian-style s’mores, made of “pepparkakor” cookies and Norwegian chocolate, or try more a la carte delicacies at the “Kaffistova” (coffee shop), such as traditional soups, “varme pølse,” and lefse, or a variety of deserts such as “rømmegrøt,” “julekake” and “sandbakkels.”
“Everybody is welcome, and you don’t need Scandinavian heritage to come,” says Idstrom. “It’s a fun event to learn about different cultures. Bring the whole family!”
For more information and an updated schedule of the weekend’s activities, see vesterheim.org.
Amanda Wingren is a freelance writer.