The Greatest Christmas Display in the U.S.A.


During our Pennsylvania trip to Hershey Park, I deliberately made sure our last night would be spent at Koziar's Christmas Village in Bernville, PA.  Koziar's Christmas Village has been dubbed, "The Greatest Christmas Display in the U.S.A.," and as a fan of the Christmas holiday and Christmas lights, I made sure we would someday go to this place, especially while Lewie was still young.

Koziar's Christmas Village has a website, which describes the attraction, but I honestly didn't understand what it would be like until we went there.  I had questions.  Did the Christmas Village have stores?  Did people enjoy the light display while going into little shops and restaurants?  Would there be rides?  I was so used to commercialized attractions that I thought this one would have the pomp and circumstance of a mini theme park.

I couldn't have been more wrong.  The Christmas Village started in 1948 when a young couple, William and Grace Koziar, began decorating their farmhouse for their four children.  They ran a farm, Koziar's Spring Lake Dairy Farm, and back in those days, they "had to wait until the cows were milked to turn on the lights as [they] did not have enough electrical power to do both at the same time."   Each year, more and more lights were added to the farm so that it became a local attraction called "The Christmas House."

As "The Christmas House" attracted more and more visitors, the narrow road leading up to the farm was no longer safe.  The Koziar family added a parking lot and then started turning their chicken coops into mini houses with different Christmas themes for people to see.  For example, there are small buildings like "The Old School House," "The Post Office," "Santa's Workshop," and "Christmas Under the Sea" that people can peer into to see different scenes.  (Many of these displays were created by the Koziar children themselves.  They donated their own toys, which adds to the charm and authenticity.)

Soon, "The Christmas House," came to be known as "Koziar's Christmas Village."  With all the lights and mini houses on display, the Koziars then started adding train displays, "the Kissing Bridge," a refreshment shop (which is more like a stand), and a gift barn.   Today, it is just like this.

We pulled into a grassy parking lot, paid for our tickets at a little booth, and then followed the path of lights, which brought us to the train displays, mini houses, wooden displays, and "Santa's Headquarters."  It was a little chilly but not too bad.  "Lewie, do you want to meet Santa?" I asked.

He looked at the line and responded, "Mommy, I know that's not the real Santa in there.  You know there are many Santas."

How could I argue with him?  I felt lucky that this nine year-old still believes in Santa.  I could never try and convince him that this particular Santa was "the real one."   He knew we were at a former dairy farm--not the North Pole.

We proceeded to follow the path that led to more little houses (chicken coops), the refreshment stand, and the gift barn.  With both Little Lewie and my husband not being fans of shopping, they voted to leave me at the gift barn while they went back to the car to warm up.  There were tons of ornaments and Christmas decorations for sale--I was in love with a few of them.  Still, keeping to my budget, I bought a Koziar's Christmas Village ornament and a little book that discusses the history (which has helped me with this blog post).

Inside the gift barn...there were tons of Christmas decorations for sale.

Koziar's Christmas Village attracts many people, but it is not commercial.  It is a former dairy farm with classic decorations from the 1940's, 50's, and 60's.  The allure is in its history and in its replica of a simpler time--a time when children played with rag dolls and wooden toys; a time when children spent days using their imagination; a time before TV, the internet, and cell phones.

I'm glad we went.  There is no question that the most amazing part of this place was the light display seen from a distance.  The description is captured well in the book: "Driving through the darkened countryside and coming over that last hill on the unlit road is like driving into a fairyland.  Suddenly you find yourself in a dazzling valley set aglow with more Christmas lights than you've ever seen before."

We stopped on the windy, narrow road, so I could get this last picture of "the Christmas Village."

The Magic of Christmas (2017)


Where do I start?  This month has gone by quick in the wake of our quick Thanksgiving vacation and then getting prepared for the holiday.  I can bore everyone with the mundane tasks of work, school, budget planning, and holiday shopping, but instead here are the highlights of our December and Christmas weekend!

In the second week of December, we decided to get our Christmas tree from a local horse farm instead of a Christmas tree stand.  The farm offered free horse and carriage rides, and it had the cutest little dog that joined us on the ride.  It was pretty scenic since it had just snowed the day before...

During the third week of December, we went to our church's children's mass.  (During the mass, all the CCD students put their handmade decorations on the tree.)  As we prepared to leave, Lewie's CCD teacher asked us if Lewie could play the role of Joseph during our church's 5 p.m. Christmas mass.  She said that she noticed he was a good reader, and he likes to volunteer.  Considering the fact that just two years prior, Lewie was placed in Tier I reading intervention at school, I was awestruck.  (All my days of working with Lewie on his reading paid off!!)

Little Lewie spent the week practicing his lines, and in the end, it was Mommy that was shaking from nervousness, not Lewie!  He read his lines perfectly and was complimented by so many of our friends and neighbors for his clear pronunciation and enthusiasm.  (My son can be a little actor!)  They placed a microphone in front of him every time he spoke, so it was fun to hear his young, high-pitched voice booming from the speakers.  I felt proud and honored at the same time.

On Christmas morning, we woke up to this view of our yard...

It was beautiful!!  Lewie woke up at his usual 6 a.m. and woke me up, so he could begin opening Santa presents.  "Santa came, Mommy, and Daddy's awake," he announced.

I sat upright, "Daddy's awake?" I asked in wonder.

"Yes, it's a Christmas miracle," he replied.  (I love Little Lewie's humor.)

We came downstairs, and my husband was fast asleep in the recliner.  So much for him being awake!  Lewie still opened up his gifts, and I took a few pictures, which didn't come out so great in the dark.

Still, Christmas had that special magic this year...partly because we were able to celebrate it with friends and family (who still have their health--thank goodness), partly because Lewie still believes in Santa Claus, partly because Lewie had the honor of playing Joseph in the church, partly because it snowed on Christmas Eve, and partly because I woke up this morning, after celebrating another Christmas, feeling so incredibly grateful for being alive.  Even without all the presents and fanfare, the beauty is in God's grace--the love, friendship, warmth, kindness, and the rising sun.  Sending blessings to all my friends (of all different faiths) this holiday season.

After planning for two years, we finally got our Christmas Jammy photo this year!  I'm so grateful! 

A Hershey's Chocolate World Christmas


Right after our Thanksgiving dinner, Lew, Little Lewie, and I packed our bags and drove for four hours to Hershey, PA--"the sweetest place on Earth."  We had been to Hershey Park and Hershey's Chocolate World before, but we thought it might be fun to "experience" it at this time of year. 

The park transforms into Christmas Candylane with festive decorations, colorful lights, and an opportunity to meet Santa and his reindeer.  (Plus, fifty rides are open.)  After a day at the park, Hershey also has a drive-thru light exhibit called Hershey Sweet Lights.  Here you can drive on your own or make arrangements with the Hershey Trolley Works company to tour the two miles worth of light displays.  (Our favorite was The Twelve Days of Christmas--there were actually twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords are leaping, etc. etc. all on display in a big open field.)

On that Friday after Thanksgiving, we chose to ditch Black Friday and go to Hershey Park.  At night, we took the trolley to see their Sweet Lights tour.  Then on Sunday, we did a Chocolate and History Trolley Tour along with a visit to Hershey's Chocolate World.  The entire town of Hershey was busy with visitors, but I didn't think lines were much longer than those during the summer.

When planning this trip, I made a promise to myself to do the historical tour again.  I was so inspired by Milton Hershey's story and his philanthropy that I had to hear it again.  (I would suggest a quick read here:  The man went bankrupt twice but succeeded his third time thanks to the financial help of his aunt and a loan officer.  His first fortune was in caramels, but he spent years trying to figure out a way to make chocolate less expensive, so he could sell it to everyday people--and not just the rich.  He succeeded when discovering he could use milk in his chocolate, which was the inspiration for his Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bars. 

Now, of course he would have been my hero just because he invented the Hershey Chocolate Bar and the Hershey Kiss; however, during his lifetime, Mr. Hershey spent his fortune helping others.  While rich tycoons of his time (early 1900's) bought mansions and hoarded money for themselves, he spent his money building "schools, parks, churches, recreational facilities, and housing for his employees."  Perhaps his greatest contribution was establishing The Milton Hershey School.  He put all of his money into a trust, so the school could continue serving orphans and/or students that come from poverty.  Today, the Milton Hershey School is a boarding school known for its academic rigor as well as its emphasis on teaching classic family values.  Students don't have to pay a dime to attend and live there, and they are given a stipend for college once they graduate.  What an incredible way to give back!  I'd personally love to work there and continue the mission!

While in Pennsylvania, we took a few more side trips, but I'll save those adventures for another post.  It was a fun four days, which ended as we drove home on Monday.  I'm almost certain I gained a few pounds off of eating one too many Hershey's Kisses.

Best Friends


Over the years, I've had the great privilege and stroke of luck to be reunited with my best friends from grammar school.  It's hard to describe our friendships other than to say that it's destiny that brought us together and destiny that helped us find each other after a decade (or two).

My bestie, Jen, came into my life during the summer of 1984.  We were both dropped off to spend a half day at summer camp (rec) each morning from 9 a.m. until noon.  There we did art projects and then reluctantly went to the field to play such games as kick ball, softball, Red Rover, and Steal the Bacon.  Neither of us had any athletic ability, which left us being the last ones to be picked for teams; we were a match made in heaven.  Our friendship blossomed over Elmer's Glue, beads, paint, and markers.  While making crafts, we often talked about our favorite subjects: music, boys, Barbies, dancing, and modeling. (For anyone growing up in the 80's, these were the days when models like Cheryl Tiegs and Brooke Shields were household names.)  Our friendship meant "play dates" of going over each other's houses to dress in costumes and pretend like we were famous dancers.  We'd twirl and leap all over my living room as Madonna's "Like a Virgin" blared in the background.

In high school, we rode the bus together, met up on Friday's at Roller Magic, and even had some double dates.  When boyfriends and love interests came and went, we consoled each other, and when some adolescent days were just too much to bare, we lifted each other up with compliments and compassion.  High school was a tough time, but our friendship made all the difference.

My bestie, Debbie, came into my life in middle school--sixth grade to be exact.  Our two elementary schools merged into one middle school, and soon new classmates were telling me I had a twin.  Although we didn't have any of the same classes together, Debbie and I spotted each other right away as we did look alike--tall, thin, long blond hair.  Although we both had different circles of friends, we'd often chat at recess, and Debbie came to my sixth grade bowling birthday party--my aunt still has pictures for proof.  This is when my cousin Vincent decided to embarrass me by giving me a "Nose Picker of the Year Award" as my birthday present.  When keeping score at the bowling alley, he'd also stick a pencil up his nose and taunt all of my friends with it.  Now, I think I know why this might have been my last friend birthday party...

After high school, we all went our separate ways.  Jen married her high school sweetheart, Chris, and moved to a military base in Germany.  Debbie went off to college, and I went off to a different college.  Years went by without a single phone call or letter (and there was no such thing as Facebook or social media to keep in touch).  If Divine Providence didn't exist, we all would have lost each other--for good.   Losing each other, however, was not in the cards.

Jen and I reunited when she returned back to our hometown--now both a wife and a mother!  (I was in grad school at the time.)  Then, when Jen moved to another town, she reunited with Debbie.  Debbie and I rekindled our friendship when we both started teaching writing at the same college.  (Not only do we look alike, but we both earned our graduate degrees in English!)  At this time, all three of us were married with children. 

The goal, now, was to schedule a time for our three families to meet.  If our husbands and children liked each other, we'd be able to schedule "family play dates."  We'd celebrate birthdays together and holidays together and maybe even go on a vacation one day...

That first meeting time was eight years ago...  Our three families have become a family in itself.  Our children act like cousins, and my two girlfriends are like the sisters I've never had...  We share "mommy tips," "wife tips," our feelings, and our secrets.  While our children (and our husbands) keep us busy, we are there for each other, and our hearts feel renewed when we meet (even if it's only for a few hours...)

Last Sunday was one of those days that was good for the soul.  We planned a last minute get-together and decided to all eat at one of our favorite restaurants and then take a walk afterwards.  It was a cold, gray November day, but spending it with friends gave it warmth and color.  Jen, Debbie, and I did what we do best. We laughed, we played, we inspired, and we made more plans...  The time together is just what I needed.

Jen, Debbie, and me

Our "family"