Home for the Holidays

For a taste of the North Pole, look no further than southern Indiana where holiday spirits are in full swing.
Tracey Teo

The phrase “home for the holidays” has a nostalgic ring, but in this age of Covid-19 and concerns about air travel, some feel they have no choice but to stay home in Indiana. But that’s okay, because the southern corner of the Hoosier state is brimming with holiday festivities. 

Santa Claus 

Take the kids to see Santa Claus. No, not the big fella in the red suit, the town in southern Indiana.  

The main draw is the Land of Lights at Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Resort. “The Shining Story of Rudolph” is a 1.2-mile drive-through light show with more than 300 illuminated displays that tells the heartwarming tale of how Artie the Elf helped Rudolph learn to fly and become “the most famous reindeer of all.” 

The Go Rudolph scene that depicts Santa choosing Rudolph to guide his sleigh is a kid favorite.  

Meet some real reindeer, at the annual live reindeer exhibit at Santa’s Toys, a toy store featuring thousands of specialty items. Just prepare the little ones that these creatures don’t have “a nose so bright.” 

Who can say they have actually roasted chestnuts on an open fire? At Santa’s Candy Castle, it’s an annual tradition. Gather around a firepit on the grounds and learn all about this centuries-old tradition that’s now mostly relegated to a phrase in a popular Christmas carol. 

Afterwards, browse through this unusual candy store that’s a time capsule of nostalgic flavors. 

“Our big thing is unique and hard-to-find candies,” said owner Kevin Klosowski. “Remember Pop Rocks, Reed’s Rolls, and Sweet Tarts? Here, everybody feels like a kid in a candy store, even the grown-ups.” 

www.santaclausind.org, www.lakerudolph.com, www.santastoys.com, www.santascandycastle.com 

Evansville 

Nobody decks the halls quite like the Reitz Home Museum in Evansville’s Riverside Historic District. A holiday candlelight tour is a rare opportunity to see the Victorian mansion’s glowing stained windows, marbled fireplaces, and hand painted ceilings at night.  

The grand dame is always elegant, but during the holidays, she pulls out all the stops, dressing up in all her Christmas finery. Eleven rooms are festooned with Victorian-inspired decorations. 

A pair of Christmas trees sparkling in the parlor’s soft light are a breathtaking showpiece. 

“There's something about a Victorian house decorated for Christmas that people love,” Executive Director Matt Rowe said. “A leisurely stroll around the mansion during the holidays is a wonderful tonic during a busy season.” 

www.reitzhome.com 

French Lick 

All aboard! The French Lick Scenic Railway magically transforms into The Polar Express every holiday season, taking families on an 80-minute ride that begins at the French Lick Scenic Railway Depot. Passengers read the classic children’s story, “The Polar Express,” by Chris Van Allsburg as elves serve cookies and hot chocolate. Wear your coziest pajamas for this memorable journey. 

While you’re in town, stop by the West Baden Springs Hotel at the French Lick Resort. This one-of-a-kind Victorian masterpiece features a cavernous lobby topped by a 600-foot glass dome that was hailed as the eighth wonder of the world when it opened in 1902. A whole lot of Christmas magic fits into such a vast space, including a 40-foot tree laden with glittering ornaments. Festivities include a tree lighting, live musical performances, and activities for kids. Old St. Nick himself occasionally drops by. 

www.frenchlick.com, www.frenchlickthepolarexpressride.com 

Tracey Teo is a writer living in Evansville, Indiana.