It started in some places well before Halloween. And by now, almost everywhere you look, Christmas is trying hard to outdo itself — with bigger trees, brighter lights, more high-tech sparkle and magic than ever before.
But not at Heritage Farm Museum & Village in Huntington.
The sprawling, 500-acre complex of several dozen more-than-century-old log structures is gearing up for its annual Christmas Village, the kind of low-tech celebration the original occupants of these vintage wooden cabins would have enjoyed back in the early to mid-1800s.
“It’s a step back in time for a traditional Appalachian family Christmas,” said Rebekah Perry Franks, the Heritage wildlife education director, as well as granddaughter of founders Mike and Henriella Perry, and the oldest daughter of the current executive director Audy M. Perry Jr. and manager Laura K. Perry.
“There’s no laser light show, there’s no inflatables, not anything like that,” she added.
There’s a jingle wagon ride, craft demonstrations, a live nativity — complete with a camel, new this year — along with roasting nuts, carolers and a Santa’s make shop where children can work on crafts to give as gifts and meet with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
There is an impressive light display, but not for driving through.
“You actually get out and you walk around through,” Franks said.
“We’re really about time with the family,” she said. “We want you not to just sit in your car, teenagers on the phone and the car’s silent just driving through looking at lights. We want the family to interact with each other, form Christmas traditions, memories, decorate cookies together, watch the live nativity, sing carols together on our jingle ride.”
Christmas Village, Franks said, is an extension of the farm’s year-round celebration of Appalachian life.
The log buildings — including the church, the cabins, the blacksmith shop and the country store — are all original log structures relocated from all around Appalachia, part of the founders’ vision to “convey an appreciation for everyday life in Appalachia from the 19th century to the present.”
“Our village itself is created to be like an Appalachian log village in the mountains of West Virginia would have been,” said Franks.
New this year, in addition to the camel, is an antique Christmas decoration display: candles adorning the tree, an antique miniature village on the mantle and hearth, wooden toys and live poinsettias in place of ornaments.
Like any other working farm, there are animals — horses, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, even Marco the bison. Unlike most other farms, here there are also artisans who specialize in traditional crafts. During the Christmas Village, they will be on hand for live demonstrations.
“We have artisans that are making crafts, from potters to a bread oven to our blacksmith, a tinsmith, a weaver, a bunch of different things like that, that they will be making and selling,” Franks said.
The Christmas Village is a celebration of Appalachian life, past and present, she said. It’s also perhaps a rare opportunity for families to step back from the hectic pace of the holidays and enjoy each other.
“We want it to be a family bonding experience for the holidays,” Franks said.