In your backyard: Holiday destinations

Halls will be decked, stockings hung and lights illuminated around the region over the next few weeks, with destinations near and not-so-far ready to celebrate Christmas.

And while there are many parades, concerts and special shopping events scheduled, there are also ongoing activities and displays that people can fit into their busy holiday itineraries.

The Valley

Marietta resident Cheryl Cook likes visiting Oglebay Park in Wheeling, W.Va., for its renowned Winter Festival of Lights featuring 80 scenes and displays using energy-efficient LED Christmas lights. She doesn’t get up there as often as she’d like, but she makes it a point to visit Civitan Park in Belpre each year to take in the holiday lights on display there.

“You can spend as long or as little time as you want,” Cook said, noting she’s rarely found traffic heavy at the park. “It’s not like that when you go to Oglebay. It is bumper to bumper.”

More than 250 displays, both in the park and elsewhere in the city, will be lit between 6 and 11 p.m. starting on Thanksgiving and continuing through Jan. 2. Lights are now on display at Parkersburg City Park through New Year’s Eve and will come on soon in Beverly’s Dodge Park and Jackson Park in Vienna, W.Va.

Many families may be waiting a bit on their own decorations as well – at least until after Thanksgiving – but the Blennerhassett Hotel and Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History in downtown Parkersburg already have dozens of Christmas trees in place.

Thirty tannenbaums representing more than 20 countries and other themes are on display on the first and second floors of the museum. The trees drew Washington, W.Va., resident Hazel Lewis, 77, into the museum for the first time, and she enjoyed them as well as seeing the regular exhibits.

“I didn’t realize there was this much stuff down here,” she said.

Meanwhile, more than 30 trees and wreaths on display at the Blennerhassett Hotel a few blocks away will come down Dec. 6. That’s because the annual Festival of Trees at the hotel is a fundraiser for Easter Seals, benefiting the organization’s uncompensated care program to provide treatment for children with disabilities who are uninsured or under-insured.

The trees and wreaths – colorfully decorated in traditional styles and around unusual themes like pink flamingos and Winnie the Pooh – will be auctioned off Dec. 3.

Lubeck, W.Va., resident Betty Shreve has been decorating trees for the festival since 1998. Her entry this year follows the theme of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

“My head’s full of more ideas than I have room in my house for trees,” she said.

Just before the trees depart, the hotel will be adding a new holiday display – gingerbread houses, as it picks up the annual contest for children, adults and professionals previously held at the Lafayette Hotel. The Lafayette stopped holding the contest due to declining participation.

The gingerbread houses go on display Dec. 3 and will remain in place until Jan. 1.

In addition to the plethora of local options, there are other draws for holiday tourists within easy driving distance.

Polar Express

Young fans of the children’s book and movie “The Polar Express” can live out the story at the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum in Dennison, about an hour-and-a-half’s drive north of Marietta off Interstate 77.

“What we do is we re-enact the whole story,” said Wendy Zucal, director of the museum. “Kids come here in their pajamas. … They actually see the North Pole through the train windows, Santa and his elves.”

During the 90-minute train ride, storytellers read the tale aloud and elves serve hot chocolate and cookies. Carols are sung, games are played, and Santa himself joins families on the train to give each child a jingle bell from the harnesses of his reindeer.

Coach seating is $40, while first-class is $60. Seats were still available this week for rides Dec. 13-15 and 20-22.

Prior to or following the trip, families can tour the museum itself, an 1873 train depot that was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2011 due in large part to its role in World War II.


While the “Polar Express” ride is a draw for children and families, Glenlaurel, a Scottish country inn in the Hocking Hills, is thought of as a romantic getaway for couples. Each Sunday and Wednesday in December, the inn, located about an hour-and-a-half from Marietta in Rockbridge, west of Logan, adds a Dickensian touch to its six-course evening meals.

“Between each course, there will be readings from ‘A Christmas Carol’ by (a) Victorian-attired staff member,” said Jennifer Vickroy, with guest services and marketing at Glenlaurel.

The gourmet meal with a Scottish flair is $49 a person. Diners who choose to spend that night at the inn receive a 50 percent discount on their accommodations.

“We say we talked Ebeneezer Scrooge into giving everybody a discount for staying over Christmas,” Vickroy said.

Glenlaurel consists of 140 acres that include three hiking trails, a scenic gorge, waterfalls, a manor house, carriage house, cottages and crofts, or small farmhouses.

Point Pleasant

Approximately 70 miles south of Marietta is Point Pleasant, W.Va., which offers a trio of holiday light shows in December.

From now through New Year’s Day, visitors can drive through Krodel Park, the city’s largest, and view light displays, many of them animated, featuring Santa’s workshop, a 20-foot windmill, gingerbread men, angels and the area’s most famous and mysterious figure, the Mothman.

Also under way is the newest addition to the light displays, in Point Pleasant’s Riverfront Park, which also includes a number of murals and statues related to the region’s history.

“You get on a little train, like a Christmas train,” said Denny Bellamy, director of the Mason County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And it is a tour not only of the lights but of the murals.”

While admission to the Krodel Park display is by donation only, there is a charge of $3 for adults and $2 for children – unless they can sit on an accompanying adult’s lap – to cover expenses for the Riverfront event.

From Dec. 13-22, the West Virginia State Farm Museum will have trees, shrubs and buildings adorned with more than 3 million lights, according to the Mason County CVB website. People can drive through there as well, but there are other activities, Bellamy said.

“You get to get out with Santa Claus at the Farm Museum, and you sit on his lap and they take your picture and they feed you,” he said.

If people choose to make it a two-day trip since the displays take place in the evening, Bellamy said there are other museums, including one dedicated to the Mothman, as well as parks and shopping opportunities as well.

A Christmas Story House

A little farther away, but holding a special place in the hearts of many, is the home where filmmakers chronicled young Ralphie Parker’s struggle to survive the holiday season, a bully and his family while yearning for that elusive Red Ryder BB gun.

The restored home is located in Cleveland, with a museum dedicated to “A Christmas Story” located across the street. In honor of the 30th anniversary of the movie’s release, a celebration and convention is being held Nov. 29-30 featuring original cast members who played little brother Randy, bully Scut Farkus and others. Mrs. Parker’s Little Piggy Luncheon will be held on Nov. 30 at the Renaissance Hotel in Cleveland.

“It’s an opportunity to dine with the actors and enjoy a meatloaf, mashed potatoes and red cabbage (meal), just like Mrs. Parker’s,” said Angela Dickerson, chief of operations for the house.

The proceeds from the meal benefit efforts to restore the neighborhood around the house, as does a 5K/10K Run the following week.

“Everybody’s coming … dressed in costume – leg lamps, crates and bunny costumes,” Dickerson said.

The house and museum are open year-round.