‘Tis the season for holiday travel

Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens during the holidays
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Akron

Think mistletoe. Think holly. Think of Ohio as one big stocking, stuffed with cool Yule celebrations. We’ve selected eight close-to-home holiday destinations that evoke the story of the first Christmas, foster good cheer, and brighten spirits — all of them ideal spots for making merry with family and friends.

At the Manger
University of Dayton, Dec. 2–Jan. 12

Artistry, imagination, and the reason for the Christmas season draw visitors to the University of Dayton’s Marian Library for At the Manger, an annual display of Nativity scenes from the library’s collection of 3,500 crèches representing more than 100 countries. The event shows how different people and cultures interpret the birth of Christ, and this year, the exhibit’s volunteers selected which Nativity scenes to display. Tour guide Ann Persensky picked “Black and Beautiful,” a contemporary crèche by a Dutch-born artist. “One of its Magi is a woman,” says Perensky, “and a curled-up sheep is cuddling beside Baby Jesus.”

Deck the Hall 2019: A Classic Comic Hero Christmas
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Akron
Select evenings, Nov. 29–Dec. 30

Held at the splendid estate created by Goodyear co-founder F.A. Seiberling and his wife, Gertrude, Deck the Hall offers an array of experiences — a million dazzling lights, wondrous holiday music, a gorgeous Christmas tree, hot cocoa, gingerbread, and boutique shopping in the carriage house — for the entire family. Since its 2019 theme is superheroes, the Manor House’s marvelous décor features Wonder Woman, Superman, Spiderman, Batman, and other comic book favorites.

Dickens Victorian Village
Cambridge, Nov. 1–Jan. 1

With Cambridge’s Victorian-looking downtown as a backdrop, visitors stroll among more than 90 individual scenes with nearly 200 mannequins inspired by A Christmas Carol and Dickens-era England. Delightfully lifelike figures such as Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, carolers, lamplighters, and Father Christmas populate Wheeling Avenue, and at the courthouse, nighttime light and music extravaganzas are a joy to behold. “People tell me they’ve never seen better light shows anywhere,” says group tour coordinator Bev Keller. Also available are Victorian teas, carriage rides, and performances of an original Sherlock Holmes play, “The Case of the Christmas Carbuncle.”

Hayes Home Holidays tours
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums, Fremont Tours, Dec. 20–22

Rare evening tours of the mansion where President Hayes and his wife, Lucy, lived after leaving the White House present a perfectly lovely opportunity to make holiday memories. “Seeing the home at night is a special experience,” says Kristina Smith, the museums’ communications manager. “Because almost all the home’s furnishings were their belongings, it feels like Rutherford and Lucy are still here to welcome you.” Other activities include the Hayes Train Special, a model railroad with traditional holiday scenery, and horse-drawn trolley or sleigh rides (depending on the weather) through the grounds surrounding the Hayes Home.

Hocking Valley Scenic Railway holiday trains
Nelsonville Depot; Select dates, Nov. 30–Dec. 31

Oh, what fun it is to ride on the HVSR’s trio of festive excursions. The Railway’s Santa Train features the Jolly Old Elf plus a grumpy Grinch, while the New Year’s Eve Train stops for midnight fireworks and offers both a family-friendly pizza and soda car and an adult-oriented wine and cheese car. New for 2019 is the Holiday Express to Robbins Crossing, a re-created log village where passengers can see how the pioneers celebrated Christmas. According to Isaac Miller, the conductor, it’s pulled by Ohio’s only operating standard-gauge steam locomotive.

Holiday Lights on the Hill
Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum Hamilton, Nov. 22–Jan. 5

Drive through tunnels of twinkling lights and alleys of gleaming candy canes at Pyramid Hill, one of the nation’s few outdoor sculpture museums and a Butler Rural Electric Cooperative consumer-member. Covering rolling terrain graced by woodlands and lakes, the self-guided tour showcases the park’s internationally acclaimed collection of monumental sculptures. Executive director Sean FitzGibbons says the event is quite popular because it accomplishes Pyramid Hill’s mission of bringing people to art in nature.

Nutcracker Village and Advent Market
Steubenville, Nov. 26–Jan. 4

This truly hometown and homegrown event in Steubenville features the world’s largest collection of life-sized nutcrackers — more than 150 of them.  They’re all made in Steubenville and depict characters and individuals ranging from Santa Claus, Jack Frost, and Charlie Brown to Mother Teresa, John Glenn, and Steubenville native Dean Martin. “People like coming during the day to see the wonderful details on the nutcrackers, but at night with the colorful lights and holiday music, they’re just magical,” says Judy Bratton of the Steubenville Visitor Center. Adding to the enchantment is a weekend Advent Market with European-style chalets where local vendors and artisans sell holiday foods, gifts, toys, and, of course, nutcrackers.