Note: This travel article is updated in the fall each year. In the meantime, the 2016 article will give you an idea of the holiday happenings that take place in the Horse Capital of the World.
In Lexington and the Bluegrass, you can experience the holidays in the light of your choice.
Be dazzled by tens of thousands of twinkling lights at the
state's largest animated light display - or bask in the glow of
candlelight at a historic house. Watch your children's faces light up
with excitement at a holiday parade, arts performance or Christmas
sing-along - and lighten the task of finding just the right gifts by shopping at Bluegrass craft shows and unique shops.
From mid-November through the end of the year, the calendar abounds with special exhibits, home tours, performances and family fun. Call the numbers provided to verify dates, times and prices before finalizing your travel plans
A Horsey Highlight
Lexington is the "horse capital of the world," so it shouldn't seem too surprising that the holiday season features some equine enchantment.
At Southern Lights: Spectacular Sights on Holiday Nights at the Kentucky Horse Park, horses of light "race" in front of a cheering crowd, clear a steeplechase fence, and graze in Bluegrass pastures. The unique horse scenes help make Southern Lights one of the most distinctive lights festivals anywhere and a time honored tradition among the locals. With tens of thousands of shimmering lights, it's Kentucky's largest lights festival.
You'll also enjoy animated scenes featuring Santa and his reindeer, elves, snowflakes and other traditional holiday characters as you drive along the four-mile route through the park.
Through December 23, you can park and check out the indoor exhibits and entertainment. Youngsters can pet reindeer and other creatures in the petting zoo and talk to Santa in the park's International Museum of the Horse, where animated figures and a model railway exhibit enhance the regular equine-related exhibits. You can also shop for handmade arts and crafts, or just enjoy cookies and hot chocolate while you listen to local choirs and other entertainers.
Catch Southern Lights nightly from 5:30 to 10 p.m. November 18 through December 31. Admission is $15 per car ($25 on Fridays and Saturdays), $30 per extended van, $50 per mini-bus, $75 per school bus and $125 per motorcoach. The indoor attractions are closed on Thanksgiving Day, and December 24-31, but the drive-through portion remains open every night through the 31st. (859) 255-5727.
Blue Note: This year Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park features the annual Southern Lights Stroll/5K Run to benefit several charities. On November 17, the night before opening to the public, participants will run, walk or stroll three miles along light displays. Back at the Visitor Center, awards and door prizes await. Call (859) 255-5727 for information.
The Glow of Holidays Past
Imagine what Christmas was like in the days before "hot toys" and artificial trees. At historic houses and sites in and around Lexington you can experience the sights, sounds and spirit of Christmas as it was celebrated in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Christmas on the Estate. This year the Henry Clay Estate will open its doors for A Kentucky Christmas at Ashland on Saturday, December 3 from 10 a.m. to 7:0 p.m. The illumination begins at 5:15p.m. and is free and open to the public. Enjoy candlelight tours after the illumination of the mansion for $5. Vendors will set up tents on the lawn of the Estate. (859) 266-8581.
Antebellum Christmas. At Waveland State Historic Site, you can see what the holiday season was like on a Bluegrass plantation. This year, relive Christmas of the past with scenes from the Dicken's classic, "A Christmas Carol". Follow from room to room as the drama plays out right in front of you. Santa will be in the barn each performance an hour before the first scheduled performance, for story time and photos.December 2 - 4 and 9 - 11. Adults $10.00, children over 6 $5. Reservations required: (859) 272-3611.
In the Region
Simple Gifts. The simple beauty of the Shaker celebrations takes on special significance during special holiday events at the restored Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg. Among the many special offerings, enjoy a workshop on Saturday, December 310and create a very special gift. Come to Holiday Reed Stars and learn how to weave the intricate star pattern using reed. Each participant will take home two reed stars. $35 per person includes Village admission. You can pack your lunch or make a reservation to dine at the Trustee's Office dining room. Ages 16 and up. On December 3, 10 and 17, it's Children's Tea Time with Mrs. Claus. At 12 or 3 p.m., enjoy spiced cider, cookies and sandwhiches made for little fingers. $12.95 per person. On Fridays and Saturdays in December, Illuminated Evenings feature caroling choirs, roaring bonfires, twinkling lights and special visits with Mrs. Claus. Closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. (800)734-5611.
Landmark Christmas. Visit beautiful Ward Hall for a Christmas Open House and Holiday Market. The second and third weekends in December are a special time to visit. Christmas candlelight tours are offered at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. This elegant Greek Revival home, built around 1855 is located on US 460, west of downtown Georgetown. (859) 396-4257.
Harrodsburg Holiday Homes. Six Harrodsburg homes from the 19th and early 20th century and an historic Mercer County church will open their doors for the 26th Annual "Come Home to Christmas" holiday homes tour, December 3 from 1 to 6 p.m. The event is sponsored by the Harrodsburg Historical Society. Purchase $15 tickets ($11 for Seniors) and begin the tour at the Historical Society's office, 220 Chiles Street. (859) 734-5985 or the Tourist Commission at (800) 355-9192.
Love a Christmas parade? Wave to Santa and other celebrants at the Lexington Christmas Parade, December 6, a Tuesday, beginning at 7:00 p.m. The state's largest holiday parade begins at Main and Midland, and proceeds along Main Street to Mill Street. Free. (859) 335-8640.
Light and lively! Lexington officially kicks off the holiday season with the lighting of the city tree - a local tradition that dates to 1913. This year the activities will take place during Holiday Live on Saturday November 26 at Triangle Park. Festivities begin at 2:00 p.m. and continue through the afternoon with food vendors, arts and crafts vendors, live music and more setting the mood for a delightful day downtown. The traditional tree lighting takes place at 6:30 p.m. Santa Claus will flip the switch. (859) 335-8640.
Glide and Slide. The Unified Trust Company Ice Rink at Triangle Park opens for the season each year in mid-November. Bring your own skates if you'd like, but skate rentals are included in the price. The rink is open from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Kids feeling chilly? Grab some hot chocolate at the cafe beside the rink. And no worries, there are plenty of places to sit and observe if you don't want to venture out on to the ice yourself. The rink will be open through January 10.
Bluegrass Note: For information on annual December Kwanzaa celebrations in Lexington, call the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center at (859) 257-4130. Celebrated by millions throughout the world, this African American and Pan-African holiday brings a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense.
In the Region
A Country Christmas. Renfro Valley (located off I-75, exit 62, about 35 miles south of Lexington) has something for all ages at its Christmas show November 18 through December 19. Christmas in the Valley features a large light display, Santa's workshop, strolling carolers and clogging elves, comedy and an original music performance. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. , plus matinees on Saturdays at 2:00 p.m.(800) 765-7464.
Holiday Express. Climb aboard the Bluegrass Scenic Railway's Santa Claus Special for a scenic holiday train excursion past holiday scenes, elves and Bluegrass countryside. The 45-minute excursions leave from Woodford County Park on November 26, December 10-11 and 17-18. Departure time is 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, with an added 11 a.m. excursion on December 10 and 17. Tickets range from $12 to $19. You can purchase tickets online at www.bgrm.org. (859) 873-2476.
Bluegrass Note: Many Bluegrass communities woo shoppers with unique shops, refreshments and entertainment during the holiday season. Enjoy carriage rides, marching bands and kids' activities at the annual "Downtown Frankfort Candlelight Tour" in Frankfort November10-13. (502) 875-8687. In Georgetown, explore shops during the 56th annual "Holiday Market" in December 3, 4, 10, 11. Call (502) 863-2547 for details. Pick up a piece of Kentucky heritage at the Berea College Crafts Holiday Sale on November 19 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (859) 985-3220.
If it's just not Christmas without the Messiah, we've got it covered! On December 10 at 8:00 p.m., hear The Lexington Chamber Chorale with The Lexington Philharmonic and guest solists sing excerpts from Handel's Messiah in the stunning setting of The Cathedral of Christ the King on Colony Boulevard. Selections from Vivaldi and modern masters will round out the program. Call (859) 233-4226 for tickets and reservations. Hear the holiday classic performed by The Lexington Singers on December 9 at 7:30 p.m. at UK Singletary Center for the Arts. Enjoy the 150-plus voice choir with special guest tenor Gregory Turay, deemed "one of the brightest natural talents to have emerged from the US in recent years," by the London Times. (859) 257-4929.
Winter Blast. Head downtown to the atrium of The Square on December 11. The UK Opera Theatre and Alltech Scholars will breathe new life into many Christmas standards at their annual Holiday Celebration of Song at 3 p.m. and at 5:30 p.m. Here's your chance to sing along with award-winning vocalists. Free. (859) 257-9331.
The Ghosts of Christmas Eve. Rupp Arena will host one spectacular show on Thursday, December 1 at 7:30pm. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) will perform one of the group's most beloved stories in its own renowned audio visual manner. Tickets $41 to $71. (859)233-3535.
Toe Tapping Family Fun. The Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra will perform side by side with the Lexington Philharmonic for the annual Candy Cane Concert on November 20 at 3:00 p.m at the UK Singletary Concert Hall. This year's program of holiday favorites also features a reading of Howard Blake's "The snowman". Tickets $12. (859) 233-4226.
Holiday Ballet Bonanza. It wouldn't be Christmas without "The Nutcracker." and Lexington offer's plenty of chances to catch this seasonal favorite. Start the season off at Transylvania University's Haggin Hall on Saturday, November 19 at
2 pm or 7 pm. Kentucky Ballet Theatre will perform this quintessential holiday tale.Tickets range from $18-$37. (859) 252-5245. At Singletary Center for the Arts, you can see Bluegrass Youth Ballet's one act interpretation of this holiday classic December 16 at 7:00 p.m. and December 17 at 3:00 p.m.. For ticket information call (859) 257-4929. See the Moscow Ballet's classic version direct from Russia at the UK Singletary Center for the Arts on Monday, December 19, at 7:00 p.m. For information call (859) 257-4929. Lexington Ballet's Nutcracker will be performed at Lexington's lovingly restored Opera House on December 10 and 17 at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and December 11 and 18 at 2:00 p.m. Sugar Plum Teas will follow the Saturday matinee performances. (859)252-5245.
Christmas with the Rock Stars of Opera. Get your tickets to the December 8th Home for the Holidays show at the Norton Center for the Arts in Richmond. Join Australia's rockstars of the opera, The TEN Tenors, as they amaze and enthrall with unique selections of traditional and contemporary seasonal favorites. Hear soaring versions of "Joy to the World," "White Christmas," "Winter Wonderland," "Feliz Navidad," and more. Have dinner before the show in the Black Box Theater before The TEN Tenors take the stage. Make your reservations online before December 2. (859) 622-7469.
Mannheim Steamroller Christmas hits Lexington Thursday December 22 at 3 and 7:30 p.m. The ultimate holiday tradition, this has been one of America's favorite holiday tradition for the past 30 years! Grammy Award winner Chip Davis has created a show that features the beloved Christmas music of Mannheim Steamroller along with dazzling multimedia effects performed in the intimate setting of the Lexington Opera House. (859) 233-3535.
Bourbon Traditions. On December 1 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort kicks off another holiday season. Come out to the gardens of Buffalo Trace for their annual Lighting of the Trace. While you are there you can visit the George T. Stagg Gallery featuring historic photos and bourbon artifacts and listen to the Kentucky State University Choir . And, of course, the Gift Shop! Arrive at 5:30 p.m. for a candlelight tour of the distillery. Santa will arrive at 6:30 p. m. Santa will stop by the Visitor Center on December 9,10 and 16,17 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in case you don't get a chance to tell him what you want on December 1! (502) 696-5930.
Oh, Christmas Tree! Looking for the perfect pine, the best balsam, the most fabulous fir? You can find it - already beautifully decorated, to boot - at the 30th annual Trees of Life: A Festival of Trees, November 18 through Christmas, downtown at The Shops at Lexington Center. On November 18, attend the grand unveiling of this year's trees at "Christmas Carnivale" at the Grand Reserve Event Center at 7:00 p.m. See this year's selection of beautifully decorated trees and the participants in the new Wreath Contest. There will be games, prizes, entertainment by Out of the Box, and food by Bluegrass Catering and Bonefish Grill plus samplings from other area restaurants. (859) 277-8259.
Shop for the Greater good. Locals look forward to the annual Holly Day Market presented by the Junior League. Proceeds help further many worthwhile projects. You'll find more than 70 vendors with fabulous boutique-style items unique to the Bluegrass Region. Vendors sell jewelry, toys, books, holiday decorations, art; food and clothes for women, men and children. It's held at the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park December 2-4. Admission is $10.
Simpler Shopping. Escape the hectic pace of mall shopping and drive to Shaker Village for the Pleasant Hill Craft Store . A village admission ticket is not required to shop in the two craft stores. After shopping and visiting with craftsmen, enjoy a meal or tea in the Trustee's Office dining room. (800) 734-5611.
Stocking Stuff-a-rama. Gift shops at Lexington's top attractions are great places to find that special something with a Kentucky connection. The gift shop at the Kentucky Horse Park, 4089 Iron Works Pike, has everything for the horse lover. Many items are Kentucky-made. Another haven for equine themed gifts is the gift shop at Keeneland Race Course, which carries items ranging from jewelry to kidstuff to Keeneland logowear. The Museum Shop at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate on Richmond Road, has julep cups, cookbooks, and a host of items relating to life in the Victorian Era.