From the Galt House Hotel on the Ohio River in Louisville to Main Street in Bardstown to the quaint Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, it’s hard to find a spot in this area of north central Kentucky that isn’t making a deep bow to Christmas. Even an underground cave is adorned with holiday lights.
Christmas at Galt House
The Galt House Hotel is so decked out in holiday finery that I was shocked and a little disappointed to walk into my room and not find a Christmas tree ablaze in the corner.
There might not be a tree in every room, but there are plenty of Christmas trees and other holiday decorations around the public spaces of Galt House. In fact, it seemed like there was some bit of holiday finery tucked in nearly every corner. If it wasn’t ribbons on the lamp shades, it was elves strolling the corridors or Victorian-costumed carolers popping up randomly throughout the hotel. Santa Clause, gingerbread houses and dancing bellmen add to the charm.
The not-to-be-missed feature is the KaLightoscope display of giant illuminated lanterns housed inside a huge tent. The 2015 display tells the story of the Christmas Carol and Scrooge’s transformation from miser to benefactor with the help of the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future. (The story can be a little scary for younger, more sensitive kids. The 2016 Kaleidoscope will have a different theme.)
The lanterns are crafted in Zigong, China, a city known for its lantern artistry.
You don’t have stay at the hotel to partake of the Christmas spirit that infuses Galt House. You can spend a few hours walking through the Kaleidoscope lantern display, let your kids write a letter to Santa with the help of an elf, take a ride on the Peppermint Express train or visit with the Snow Fairy Princess all for one admission fee. Seeing Santa and having your photo taken are free. (Please note: There are optional add-ons strategically placed in a way that is sure to make your kids beg you to spend a little extra so they can get their faces painted or play Reindeer Ring Toss. Be prepared to distract them if you don’t want to spend more.)
Be sure to time your visit so you’re still at the hotel at 5pm. That’s when the Dancing Bellmen do their thing. The bellmen spend two months working with a choreographer to learn the steps (one lost 20 pounds during the training, which led one woman to suggest it as an exercise program). The dance ends with a bellman turning the page of an oversized book so everyone knows exactly how many days are left until Christmas. After that, bellmen happily mug for the cameras and pose for fun photos.
Also in Louisville
Before you leave town, take a little detour to Lights Under Louisville. (In case you’re wondering, the city name is officially pronounced loo-a-vull.) The lights are in Mega Cavern, the incredible man-made cavern that is an operating business that runs for 17 miles under Louisville.
Two of those 17 miles are adorned each Christmas with millions of lights. They are arranged in sections. Some remind visitors that Christmas should celebrate Jesus. One features the 12 days of Christmas. There’s even a Kentucky Christmas area that stars a tank shooting at the other Christmas decorations. No one was able to explain that to me.
Christmas on Main Street
Bardstown, Kentucky, is a tiny town that goes big for Christmas. Main Street is lined with local shops selling crafts, coffee, furniture and clothes. Every shop is dressed up for the holidays. I’m not much of a shopper, so I didn’t spend much time there (although I did buy some stocking stuffers and hostess gifts for shockingly low Kentucky prices).
Instead, I wandered a half block away from Main Street to the Jailer’s Inn.
Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a bed and breakfast fashioned from the former country jail. Most of the rooms are your standard B&B rooms—lovely beds with gentile decorations and a cozy feel.
But one room is in a former jail cell, complete with bars on the door. It can accommodate a family of four and if my kids had been with me, they would have clamored to stay there rather than the Hampton Inn where
re we had encamped for the night.
Of course, once they heard the whole story about the ghosts who haunt the jail, they might have changed their minds. I know I would have.
Also in Bardstown
If you’re into haunted happenings, however, head over to Wickland Estate. I’m not a believer (or a medium as ghost whisperers are sometimes called), so I didn’t see or feel any presence there. But we did spend some quality time with the divining rods that ghost hunters use to communicate with those on the Other Side. That was sufficiently creepy for me.
Downtown Bardstown is very walkable, so if meeting the ghosts helps you work up an appetite, head over to The Rickhouse. It’s just behind St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, in the basement of a building owned by the Diocese.
A rickhouse is the name given to the storage space for bourbon barrels. They are stored in a rack (or rick). The Rickhouse pays homage to the storehouse idea, with some terrific food to boot.
Christmas at Shaker Village
Chances are you thought of the Shakers as a severe religious sect that never wanted to have fun and eschewed all creature comforts. They certainly did eschew some—the members vow to remain celibate and they entertained themselves by singing, dancing and “shaking” off their sins. (The Shakers got that name from non-members who witnessed their displays. They called themselves Believers, which was short for the United society of Believers. They believed that Jesus had come to Earth for a second time.)
It turns out, though, that the Shakers loosened up a bit when it came to the holidays. They did decorate for and celebrate Christmas.
The gifts they gave one another might have been “a bucket of love” rather than a new toy, but they had Christmas trees. At least that’s what one of the passionate and committed young Shaker Village employees said.
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky today celebrates with holiday lights and several Christmas trees. Throughout the year, the village features costumed interpreters who demonstrate crafts such as broom making and weaving as Shakers would have done it. During Christmas, there are additional touches such as the Elf Shop where children can make Christmas crafts.