An Old-Fashioned Christmas at Greenfield Village

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edison_workshop.jpgGreenfield 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 in the early 1900s during its annual Holiday Nights celebration.

Only a handful of the 83 historic buildings at Greenfield Village are open during Holiday Nights, but that didn’t put a damper on our holiday spirits when my family visited last year. On a recent long weekend family vacation, my husband and I took two tweens–a tough crowd if ever there is one–to see Holiday Nights. 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 fireworks 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.

Dress Warmly

greenfield2.jpgGreenfield Village covers more than 80 acres and the night we visited it was cold and drizzling. There are warming fires 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 houses to be handicapped accessible. And the rainy weather last December left huge water and mud puddles for us to traverse.


What to Do

Take a ride in a Model T or other historic transportation. It’s a short jaunt around the village, but it’s fun to get a feel for automobile transportation 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.

After the ride, we grabbed a cup of hot chocolate and wandered over to listen to a World War II soldier talk about his experiences, then followed our noses to a house where a woman was baking on a wood burning stove, marveling along the way the beautiful holiday decorations and listening to the strolling carolers.

We could have taken a spin on the ice rink (Bring your own skates or rent them there for $Xx.) , but opted instead for a ride on the turn-of-the-century carousel ($3). It was fun, but probably not worth the 40 minute wait (although it did give us a chance to get inside and warm up).

We watched several performances and joined in the Christmas carol sing-along at closing time. The final fireworks display sent us home with smiles on our faces.

henryford.jpgThe next day, we got up early and spent several hours at The Henry Ford Museum, one of my husband’s favorites. We’ve visited several times and always manage to discover things we never saw before. My fave: the Holiday Inn hotel room, circa 1960, complete with olive green shag carpet. I remember it so well from my childhood.

If you plan to do both Holiday Nights and The Henry Ford, buy a combination ticket to save money. There’s also a combo ticket that includes a tour of the Ford Rouge truck assembly plant. Much to my husband’s disappointment, we didn’t have time for that.

Where to Stay

We stayed down the street as guests of the elegant Dearborn Inn, a Marriott Hotel. The girls were taken with the beauty, but I was worried they would break something in the opulent lobby. (They didn’t.) The ornate Christmas decorations hit just the right tone of splendor without being overdone. The Dearborn Inn offers a special package that includes two tickets to Holiday Nights and two breakfasts starting $159.

There are a number of other hotels in the area that also offer package deals for Holiday Nights, many of them including four tickets to Holiday Nights and four breakfasts. The deals are listed on the Greenfield Village Web site. 

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About The Author

Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of She also is the mom of two terrific teens who have traveled with her since that first, fateful plane ride when one preschooler discovered a barf bag in his seat pocket and his sister, finding none in hers, demanded, “I want a barf bag too!” She has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, an editor at Chicago Parent and Catalyst Chicago and an instructor in the graduate school at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism.

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