Your guide to holiday fun in Northeast Ohio
When the weather is just right, Northeast Ohio can look like a winter wonderland - with events to match. Traditions include everything from Cleveland Orchestra concerts to Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad rides to lantern tours at Hale Farm to Deck the Hall at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Akron.
Both the Akron and Cleveland zoos offer spectacular lighting displays, as does historic Nela Park in East Cleveland. The Cleveland Botanical Garden has reimagined its light show with themed rooms as Frost: An Ice-Capped Garden Experience. Downtown Cleveland is a glow with holiday lights as well, and there is a menorah lighting on Public Square Dec. 7.
At Playhouse Square, Karamu House presents the annual staging of “Black Nativity” Dec. 9-18. The district is full of other holiday shows too, from Great Lakes Theater’s “A Christmas Carol” to Jim Brickman’s “A Joyful Christmas.”
Yet that’s only a light dusting of what’s happening throughout the region this month. Here’s a county-by-county sampling of ways to enjoy the rest of 2023.
What looks like a historic European castle in Ashland was actually built in the late 1990s. Landoll's Mohican Castle opened in 2002, just minutes from the state park with the similar name. Both are surrounded by thousands of acres of forest, but only one (the castle) is offering the chance to dine in a heated igloo dome this winter, with thousands of glittering lights dotting the landscape.
Also in Ashland, Tuba Christmas blasts into Ashland University's Hugo Young Theatre on Dec. 2. The annual gathering of musicians performing festive charts begins at noon, following registration and a rehearsal at 10 a.m. Got a tuba? Secure the spit valve and get ready to play!
Geneva-on-the-Lake transforms itself from wine country into holiday wine country from Dec. 1-3 with horse drawn carriage rides, food trucks, bar crawls and much more, all in the vicinity of the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake. On Dec. 9, they combine three of Northeast Ohio's favorite pastimes with the Wagon Ride Ugly Sweater Poker Run. Then on New Year's Eve, D-Day Conneaut presents a 1944-themed evening of dancing with music from the Madison Jazz Project, capped by a toast at midnight. WWII-era attire is requested.
The Roxy Theatre is the place to be in December, as the Minerva Area Chamber of Commerce presents holiday classics on the big screen, Saturday nights at 7 p.m. Those include “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (Dec. 2), “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (Dec. 9) and “The Polar Express” (Dec. 16). The theater also hosts the Minerva Historical Society’s annual Christmas concert Dec. 8.
The Will Ferrell classic “Elf” turns 20 this year, and its musical counterpart is on stage at the Squeaky Wheel Theater Company, Dec. 1-3, in Columbiana. Then, from Dec. 17-19, the company stages “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer: The Musical Jr.” It features all the characters from the classic television special (Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Yukon Cornelius), performed by the company’s special needs cast.
ARTSNCT, the Arts Center of Newcomerstown, presents a classic holiday story with a twist. Instead of the ubiquitous Jimmy Stewart film, visitors on Dec. 1-2 can enjoy "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play." The story of George Bailey and Bedford Falls will be told by actors using their vocal talents, radio jingles and live sound effects. Showtime is 7 p.m. and admission is free.
For one night only, on Dec. 8, the Nutcracker vaults ahead two centuries with "The Hip Hop Nutcracker." The program begins with a short set by hip-hop legend Kurtis Blow.
Although the Beck Center’s production of “The Nutcracker” is already sold out, Cleveland Ballet will present the work on select dates from Dec. 14-23 at Playhouse Square. Several performances will be followed by a cast meet-and-greet.
Talespinner Children’s Theatre presents a different play at Mandel JCC in Beachwood with "A Light in the Night" Dec. 2-3 and 9-10. It's the story of a young brother and sister's race to "fix" the history of Chanukah and reunite their family before lighting the first candle.
The African American Archives Auxiliary of the Western Reserve Historical Society holds its annual Kwanzaa celebration Dec. 26 from 3:30-7 p.m. The event at Forest Hills Church in Cleveland Heights will celebrate Umoja ("Unity"), the first principle of Kwanzaa. Admission, parking and refreshments are free.
At the Sawmill Creek Resort’s convention center on Dec. 10, the Firelands Symphony Orchestra presents "A Peppermint Twist Christmas." It's not the '60s dance craze, but the group’s annual holiday pops concert. Guest vocalist Connor Bogart O’Brien, who has performed with the Cleveland Orchestra and toured with Jim Brickman, will be there to perform alongside the FSO Chorale.
During the holidays there's eating, and then there’s eating well. A class at the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking in Chesterland might teach you about strudel, wine or vegan dishes. Two specific classes have names that are hard to beat.
Potato Perfection on Dec. 8 will bake you the world of latkes, sweet potatoes and more. Pretzel Palooza on Dec. 12 provides a twist on old favorites like Bavarian pretzels, pretzel dogs and pizza pretzels.
There are also opportunities for dancing. While Polka bands have dominated September and October in Northeast Ohio for years, now the Chardon Polka Band claims December too. After a series of holiday dates in Cleveland and Youngstown, the eccentric ensemble will close out 2023 with two hometown shows at the Geauga Theater Community Arts Center in Chardon on Dec. 16. Holiday classics set to a polka beat will mingle with originals and carols throughout the evening.
Take a trip to Bethlehem in Holmes County on Dec. 1-2. Visitors can experience the sights and sounds of the journey of Mary and Joseph, such as registering for taxation and going to the marketplace. The tour is a mix of walking and driving and begins at Walnut Creek Mennonite Church. Even though the event starts at 4 p.m. both days, its recommended to arrive early for this free event.
If you can't find the perfect holiday gift but want to make one, Chestnut Ridge Sewing in Millersburg offers a day-long workshop on Dec. 15: How to Copy a Garment Without Taking It Apart. The class focuses on basic pattern drafting techniques and strategies. Attendees should bring a garment they wish to copy.
Try your hand at ornament making at the Huron County Community Library in Willard. Two evenings in December, the library hosts a workshop to make diamond art ornaments. Join Dec. 4 at 5:30 p.m. or Dec. 11 at 6 p.m. This is just one of several festive offerings at the library during the holiday season.
Kenyon College in Gambier hosts two very different arts events this month. On Dec. 1, short films from the annual Beijing Queer Film Festival come to the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater at 7 p.m. Some of the directors will participate via Zoom for a Q&A after the program.
On Dec. 3 at 3 p.m., the college's Symphonic Wind Ensemble present its winter concert in Rosse Hall.
And if one elf on one shelf isn't enough, the Centerburg Public Library can help. Elves will be hidden all over the library from Dec. 10-15 for the annual scavenger hunt. Find all of them to be entered in a drawing.
Manry Park in Willowick turns into a Winter Wonderland on Dec. 10 from 1-5 p.m. The synthetic ice rink, North Pole train and Santa will all be there. The city also runs its annual Holiday of Lights contest for residents. Visitors who want to see the best displays in Willowick might want to visit when judging takes place, Dec. 18 starting at 6 p.m.
Every night through Dec. 30 from 5:30-9 p.m., experience a free lakefront drive-thru at Lakeview Park which is lit - literally and figuratively. Thousands of twinkling lights create holidays scenes along the route. On select evenings, visitors can also register to have hot cocoa and decorate cookies with Santa. Tickets are also available for Santa’s Holiday Lunch Party on Dec. 9.
The 15th annual Memories of Christmas Past runs through the end of December at the Arms mansion in Youngstown. Built in 1905, the seven-room home will be "filled to the brim with vintage and contemporary decorations," according to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. The vintage décor spans the 1800s through the 1960s, and the museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from noon until 4 p.m.
If you’d rather be skating, Mahoning County has two options. The synthetic rink at the Jewish Community Center of Youngstown is open weekends through Dec. 31. In Boardman, the rink at the Southern Park Mall is open daily through January 15, except holidays.
Medina takes the tinsel from Tinseltown with the Christmas movie museum, open 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. during the holidays. If you'd like to see artifacts from "Elf," "The Grinch" and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," reservations are required at Castle Noel.
Another Northeast Ohio historic home will be decorated for the holidays: the 19th century McDowell-Phillips House in Medina. The Medina County Historical Society hosts twilight tours on Dec. 9 from 4-7 p.m. Although built in 1890, the home was used as residence until being purchased by the historical society in 2019. The original owners were Robert and Elizabeth Blake McDowell. He was president of the Old Phoenix Bank, and she was the daughter of abolitionist and U. S. Congressman Harrison Blake.
Renowned composer Phil Kline created "Unsilent Night" in his adopted home of New York City in 1992. The Akron native provided cassette tapes to people, each containing one of four parts of his musical composition. Once loaded into boomboxes, participants wandered the streets together as a kind of electronic marching band. In Kent on Dec. 9 at 6:30 p.m., phones and Bluetooth speakers will replace tapes for a staging of sonic serenade. If you can't make it there, a separate "Unsilent Night" event is Dec. 8 at the Lincoln Park Gazebo in Cleveland’s Tremont.
The perfect handmade, artisan gift could be just a drive to Richland County away. Artists offer their wares at the Mansfield Art Center’s 54th annual Holiday Fair through Dec. 24. Ornaments, candles, books, jewelry, vases and much more are available along with “Soupe Au Fair,” artisan soups available Dec. 5-9, 12-15 and 19-20.
Nature’s A-Glow in Alliance at Beech Creek Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve. More than 350,000 lights turn the gardens into a holiday feast for the eyes. It's open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 5-9 p.m. before Christmas, plus Dec. 26-30.
If you prefer to stay indoors, the Canton Palace Theatre might be the place. From Dec. 8-10, it hosts the Canton Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.” Then in the lead-up to Christmas, catch a classic holiday film every night from Dec. 18-21: “Elf,” “Home Alone,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
The name of the Magical Theatre Company evokes a sense of holiday cheer all by itself. As part of its 30th season, the Barberton troupe presents "Paddington Saves Christmas." The show runs through December 17.
On a much different note, a modified road rally sounds unusual for Northeast Ohio roads in December, but that's how the Summit County Historical Society describes its "Sacred Structures" event on Dec. 10. They'll reveal buildings which were originally built for religious purposes. The event starts at the John Brown House in Akron and driving directions will be provided from there.
According to New England tradition, burning bayberry candles will bring health and prosperity in the new year. On Dec. 9, you can learn to make candles from the delicate wax of the bayberry plant at John's Country Nursery in Middlefield.
New Year's Eve will be a double celebration in Warren as the city also marks its 225th birthday. Ephraim Quinby founded the city in 1798 on land which was part of the Connecticut Western Reserve. He named the town for its surveyor, Moses Warren. The festivities begin with a dancing light show at Courthouse Square at 6 p.m., followed by entertainment at various venues in Downtown Warren.
The Village of Zoar has a population of about 200 people. Every December though, that number swells as visitors enjoy Christmas in Zoar. This year’s event is Dec. 2 from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Dec. 3 from noon until 4 p.m. Santa and carolers will be welcoming people who want to see an entire town that's been recognized as a National Historic Landmark.
The Dennison Railroad Depot Museum will transport riders on the Polar Express with several excursions a day on Dec. 1-3 or 7-10. Chris Van Allsburg's 1985 book is the basis for this visit to the North Pole to see Santa and his workshop.
Wooster's historic churches will be front and center during a "hop on/hop off" tour Dec. 1 from 4-7 p.m. Many stops feature refreshments and music from pipe organs. The tour begins at the Wayne County Public Library, where a bus will transport visitors to 11 different houses of worship.
Along with performances in Ashtabula, Canton and Lorain, Tuba Christmas also blows into the Performing Arts Center at Wooster High School on Dec. 16 at noon. Registration opens at 9 a.m. followed by rehearsal. Players are asked to dress in bright, festive holiday colors and to decorate their instruments.