NDIANAPOLIS — As Christmas draws near, it’s not too late to add holiday experiences to the Christmas lists of your friends and family. Here are some ideas sure to create as warm as hot chocolate and a blazing yule log.
Why take the little ones to see Santa at the mall when you can take them to any number of area attractions for a personal visit with the season’s favorite elf along with a huge helping of holiday trimmings?
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, 3000 N. Meridian, offers an ever-changing schedule of events and activities for a full day of holiday fun. In addition to photo ops with Santa, children can enjoy ice skating in their socks, a castle climb and a larger-than-life interactive snow globe. The pièce de résistance at the Children’s Museum is the Jolly Days Yule Slide overlaying the stairway in the Sunburst Atrium. Check the schedule on the website (childrensmuseum.org) to join in a sing-along in the atrium with the Mistletoes. Museum admission is free on Christmas Eve, but note that 2 p.m. is closing time Dec. 24. The museum also is open New Year’s Day. Visit childrensmuseum.org for more information on admission, Santa’s hours and the daily activity schedule.
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The Indiana State Museum, 650 W. Washington St., is home to Christmas nostalgia. Anyone who grew up near the city of Indianapolis should enjoy revisiting the recreation of the Ayres’ department store Christmas window displays or riding the Santa Claus Express train ride around Toy Mountain. The holiday-themed Celebration Crossing features a new mural created by local artist M.K. Watkins. Families can “make a day of it,” with lunch in the L.S. Ayres Tea Room restaurant and or spend some time in Santa’s indoor playground. The Indiana State Museum Santa is joined by Mrs. Claus for visits and photos. For an additional $12, visitors to the museum can take in Christmas at Peewinkle’s Puppet Studio on the first floor of the museum. The museum is closed Christmas day. Celebration Crossing closes Jan. 7, but check the website at indianamuseum.org for ticket information and dates and times of other exhibits in the museum.
Indianapolis’ Christmas at the Zoo was recently ranked in the top ten of zoo light displays by USA Today. Described as “stepping inside a glittering snow globe,” guests can discover holiday magic in Santa’s Village, a new feature of Christmas at the Zoo, now in its 49th year. Open through Dec. 30, families can enjoy activities at the Pavilion, decorate cookies in Mrs. Claus’ kitchen and meet Santa himself in Santa’s Study. Visitors can walk through the tunnel of lights to see the animals of winter, including penguins, sea lions and reindeer. Visit indianapoliszoo.com for information about open hours, admission prices and holiday activities.
Forest of the trees
The Indiana Historical Society in the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center at 450 W. Ohio St. once again hosts the Festival of Trees through Jan. 6. The display of more than 80 trees is topped off by a 30-foot tall tree in Eli Lilly Hall. Additional activities include a scavenger hunt for 10 pickle ornaments hidden throughout the trees — a tradition known as Weihnachtzgurke, where the first child to find the pickle on the tree would receive an extra gift from Santa and good luck in the year to come. The ubiquitous Elf on the Shelf also hides somewhere waiting to be found, and visitors can join in the daily singalongs in the Cole Porter Room. Hours at the center are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. The center is closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Admission prices range from $5 to $9. For more information, visit indianahistory.org.
A small world after all
Visitors may find themselves wishing they were small enough to hitch a ride on one of the nine model trains for the best views of Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure, but they’ll have to be content with viewing the scenarios from above, around and even under. Jingle Rails at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, 500 W. Washington St. features trains crisscrossing through the recognizable western landscapes of Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, an aspen ski resort, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge, among others. Trains also ramble past Indianapolis icons such as Lucas Oil Stadium and Monument Circle. New this year is a recreation of Hollywood and famous film industry locations featuring the mountaintop Hollywood sign, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with handprints and footprints of the stars, the Paramount Studios gates, the Warner Bros. water tower, a Western-movie studio set and the Griffith Park Observatory — all in miniature. The dioramas, designed by Paul Busse and company, are all created out of natural materials including bark, acorns, tree roots and honeycomb. Last year, more than 41,000 people viewed the exhibit, which was chosen as one of the 10 best Indianapolis holiday attractions by USA Today. Ticket prices range from $7 to $13. The museum is closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Visit eiteljorg.org for more information.
A galaxy far, far away
“Star Wars” is becoming as much of a holiday tradition as any, with the science fiction series putting out a December release in 2015, 2016 and now “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in 2017. The film — playing in standard format, 70 mm IMAX and in IMAX 3-D — features Mark Hamill reprising his role as Luke Skywalker and Daisy Ridley returning from “The Force Awakens” as Rey. If you haven’t seen it yet, the trick will be to avoid spoilers until showtime as the film opened Dec. 14. Ticket prices range from $6 for a matinee at the Legacy to $17.00 for a reclining seat at an IMAX theater.
Venture north out of the city into rural Hamilton County to experience Conner Prairie by Candlelight on Friday and Saturday evening at Conner Prairie, 13400 N. Allisonville Road. The family-friendly 90-minute walking tour takes visitors back in time to 1836 Prairietown, where it’s the night before Christmas. Celebrate with several Prairietown families and learn about holiday traditions during the days of the pioneer. Tours begin at 6 p.m. and run every 12 minutes until 9 p.m. Admission ranges from $11 to $16. Conner Prairie hosts the annual Gingerbread Village through Dec. 31, where gingerbread houses created by amateurs and professionals are on display during the day. The Gingerbread Village is included with the price of admission. It’s not too late to schedule breakfast with Santa on Dec. 23 or lunch with Santa on Dec. 22 or 23. Meal prices ranges from $9.95 through $25.95 and include breakfast or dinner and a reading of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Santa Claus. Conner Prairie is closed Dec. 24, 25 and Jan. 1. Visit connerprairie.org for more event and admission information.
Under the lights
In addition to Christmas at the Zoo, numerous other light displays vie for holiday attention at this time of year. Lights at the Brickyard, 4790 W. 16th St., runs seven days a week through Dec. 30. Following a two-mile route through the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield and along the front stretch of the track, the display features more than 2.5 million lights. Ticket prices range from $25 to $100 depending on the date and the type of vehicle. For more information, visit indianapolismotorspeedway.com/events/lights.
Newfields, the new name for the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 4000 N. Michigan Road, begins a new family tradition with Winterlights at Newfields. The 90-minute outdoor walking tour takes visitors through a winter wonderland of more than a million bulbs. S’mores, cider and hot cocoa are available at wood-fire warming stations along the route. Tickets range from $12 to $25; discount tickets are available on line at discovernewfields.org/calendar/winterlights.
On your way to Lights at the Brickyard or Winterlights at Newfields, don’t forget Indianapolis’ original light display at Monument Circle, 1 Monument Circle.
The Indianapolis Ballet and students from the Indianapolis School of Ballet partner to present four performances of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” on Dec. 21, 22 and 23 in the Murat Theatre of the Old National Centre, 502 N. New Jersey. The cast features members of the professional company in the ballet’s lead roles, along with dozens of young dancers and RTV6 reporter Rafael Sanchez with a cameo in the opening party scene. The Indianapolis Ballet Orchestra will accompany the dancers with live music. For ticket information, visit indyballet.org.