Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, is a living history museum, which means it teaches kids history the way they learn it best: by experiencing it. The outdoor museum becomes a living history of Christmas at the turn of the last century during its annual Holiday Nights celebration — part yuletide activity, part history lesson, all fun.
Disclosure: The writer was hosted for this trip.
Greenfield Village Holiday Nights
Only a handful of the 83 historic homes and buildings at Greenfield Village are open during Holiday Nights, but that didn’t put a damper on our holiday spirits when my family visited. During a long weekend in Detroit, I took three young adults to see Holiday Nights. They were more enthusiastic than the tweens I took 10 years ago.
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Tweens are a notoriously tough crowd. And they were, to put it mildly, less than enthused about going. They took their time getting ready and dawdled over dinner, all of which meant we arrived nearly an hour after the 6:30 p.m. opening. When the night came to a close with Christmas carols and the fireworks finale at 10 p.m., both girls were sorry they had delayed our arrival. It meant we didn’t have time to see everything there was see.
Fortunately, the young adults who accompanied me on this trip were more excited about the whole process, right from the beginning.
Greenfield Village covers more than 80 acres and the night we visited it was cool with a stiff breeze blowing. There are warming bonfires in 55-gallon drums lit throughout and it’s warm inside the buildings (especially the houses where the costumed interpreters are cooking traditional holiday meals), but most of the time you’ll spend outside. It’s possible to bring strollers and wheelchairs, but this is a faithfully executed historic village, so don’t expect the historic home tours to be handicapped accessible.
There also are bigger warming centers where you can buy food or a hot drink. At one, we spent some time watching the model trains run around the holiday-themed track. Then we posed for a photo in a living room staged to look just like the one I remember from my grandmother’s house.
What to Do at Holiday Nights
During our first visit, we opted for a ride in a Model T. It’s a short jaunt around the village, but it’s fun to get a feel for automobile transportation as it was in the beginning. The girls didn’t enjoy it quite as much as hubby and I, but they did spend a lot of time giggling and we all were glad to sit down for a few minutes.
On this visit, we opted for a ride on the horse-drawn wagon dolled up with Christmas cheer and accompanied by a minstrel who led us in more Christmas carols.
After the ride, we grabbed a cup of hot chocolate and followed our noses to a house where a woman was baking on a wood burning stove, marveling along the way at the beautiful holiday decorations and listening to the strolling carolers.
We could have taken a spin on the ice skating rink (bring your own pair of ice skates or borrow a pair there), but opted instead for a ride on the turn-of-the-century carousel. By that time, the event was winding down and there was no wait. When it ended, we simply walked across Main Street to join in the evening’s finale — a Christmas carol sing-along. fireworks and a visit from Santa.
Stroll along Main Street
Main Street brims with shopping, holiday finery, the sounds of carolers, fiddlers, sleigh bells and live musical performances. It smells of roasting chestnuts, hot chocolate and other warm beverages. Period-costumed merrymakers walk the latern-lit sidewalks clutching gifts wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string.
Some of the shops are working retail outlets, selling handcrafted ornaments and other holiday goods — in fact, there were more actual retail shops that I remember seeing 10 years ago. There are plenty of others still outfitted as period shops, displaying wares people would have bought in the late 1800s. My daughter, the history major, was a big fan!
Scattered throughout Greenfield Village Holiday Nights are houses where you can see holiday cooking demonstrations and skill artisan demonstrations. My daughter, who also happens to be an enthusiastic and talented cook, stuck around discussing the recipes for making the table full of Christmas dinner delights. I was just amazed that they had cooked everything over a wood-burning stove.
Food at Greenfield Village Holiday Nights
It’s easy to grab a snack or a bag of roasted chestnuts and munch as you stroll down Main Street. But you can take the dining up a notch by booking dinner at the Eagle Tavern. We did not do this, and I was a little sorry we didn’t. It looked down right charming. The feast is served by wait staff in period costumes and accompanied by live music.
Other dining options include Holiday Nights Happy Hour and Supper with Santa. Each meal is part of a package that includes entry to Greenfield Village Holiday Nights.
Greenfield Village Holiday Nights Details
This annual event occurs on weekends in December. For 2019, the dates are Dec. 5-8, 12-15, 17-23 and 26-28. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and the event ends with the fireworks at 10 p.m.
Ticket prices are $30 for adults, $27 for seniors 62+, $22.50 for kids ages 5-11 and free for ages 4 and under. Save $4 with the code HN0419 on the first 3 weekends. Members of The Henry Ford Museum get 15 percent off Holiday Nights tickets and early access at 6pm.
All of the extras — Model T rides, the horse-drawn wagon ride, carousel and ice skating — are included in the Greenfield Village Holiday Nights entry fee.
Where to Stay
We stayed down the street as guests of the lovely Dearborn Inn, a Marriott Hotel. The lobby was decked out in finest tinseled detail and featured a gingerbread house village, complete with snow-dusted “brick” walkways crafted from sticks of cinnamon chewing gum.
The best part: free shuttle service to Greenfield Village. We didn’t have to pay to park, nor did we have to battle the traffic jam at the end of a long evening. Instead, we called the hotel, ordered the shuttle and waited 3 minutes for the warm van to pick us up and whisk us back to the hotel.
Our king suite room included a pull-out sofa and plenty of room for a family. The bathroom had a full bathtub, which is always a welcome find when you’re traveling with little ones. Or when you’ve been chilled strolling around Holiday Nights. Soaking in a hot tub feels like a real luxury.
Download the Marriott Bonvoy app before you go. You can check in right on your phone and order special requests — like the additional pillows I ask for and was so happy to see on the bed when we got to our room.