Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, comes alive with a joyful energy at Christmas. Wreaths hang on streetlights and entryways around town while giant nutcrackers, snowmen, and nativity scenes create backdrops for family photos. White lights glow on businesses and historic homes, some of which have been here since the Civil War. Festivity seems to be everywhere—in decorations and in the great events in Gettysburg that happen during the season. From shopping for treasures to attending annual concerts and performances, a Gettysburg Christmas is truly something special. Here’s a look at some of the great options in town during the holidays.
Sing along at the Tuba Carol Festival
The annual Tuba Carol Festival is a hallmark of Christmas in Gettysburg. For over 20 years, tuba players from around the Gettysburg area and beyond have gathered on the second weekend of December to play together on the steps of the Gettysburg Hotel. The concert is equal parts holiday spirit (thanks to the hot chocolate and carols) and kitsch (thanks to the costumed performers and decorated instruments). And every bit of it is fun. We loved singing along with the crowd to the carols and taking in the festivity of the entertaining event.
Shop till you drop
Gettysburg is for shopping any time of the year but especially at Christmas. Around Lincoln Square and the streets that radiate in all directions, the buildings are beautifully decorated for the season. Inside are unique decorations like the gourds turned into Santas at Gallery 30 and the antiques that Gettysburg is known for. One of our favorite spots is Lark, a shop with a little bit of everything from jewelry to decorations to scarves and funky socks. The shop is particularly welcoming at the holidays.
Visit the Shriver House Museum
The Shriver House Museum is dedicated to telling a part of the Gettysburg story that is sometimes overlooked—the lives of the town’s residents during the famous battle. At Christmas, the 4-story home that dates from 1860 is embellished in holiday finery from their patriotic Christmas tree to gorgeously scented pomanders and mistletoe. During the candlelight Christmas tour, a guide in period dress tells the story of George and Hettie Shriver and their two young daughters—a typical family whose lives were changed by the battle that came to their doorstep. Learning about their Christmas traditions, experiences, and family life during the tumultuous time puts a unique spin on the Civil War story.
Sit with Santa
Perhaps one of the sweetest parts of a Gettysburg Christmas is a visit to Santa’s Shanty in Lincoln Square. Every year from just after Thanksgiving until right before Christmas, Santa sets up shop in the heart of downtown ready to hear the wishes of every good little boy and girl (and some that are not so little, too). Even nicer: a visit with Saint Nick is free.
Explore the Eisenhower Estate
The big white house at the end of the Norway Spruce-lined drive is the only home ever owned by President Dwight Eisenhower and his wife Mamie. Customized to their needs, the house was a place for family, friends, and festivity. Now, as the Eisenhower National Historic Site, it looks much as it did when the President’s family lived there. At Christmas, a tree decorated with bright ornaments shimmers in the corner, poinsettias fill every empty space, and the dining table sits ready to welcome the next guests. A visit here is laidback (tours are self-guided) and informative, thanks to the National Parks Service representatives on-hand, providing a glimpse into the remarkably normal life of the 34th President of the United States.
See A Christmas Carol
One of the best annual Christmas events in Gettysburg is the production of A Christmas Carol at the Majestic Theater. The play—complete with moving scenery, elaborate costumes, and fantastic musical talent—far exceeded any misguided expectations we had community theater. We loved every minute of the Charles Dickens holiday classic and were impressed by the excellent performances during the matinee for a packed house.
Visit the Christmas Haus
We’ve loved all things German since we visited the Christmas markets of Munich and Nuremberg several years ago. The Christmas Haus brings a touch of that festivity to Gettysburg. Featuring handmade specialty decorations from artisans in Germany, this cute shop is not for run-of-the-mill lights and wreaths. Its nutcrackers, smokers, ornaments, and other decorations are full of hundreds of years of history, making them family heirlooms to be treasured. As a bonus, you can even try a cup of traditional mulled wine like you would find in the markets.
Where to Stay for a Gettysburg Christmas Visit
The Gettysburg Hotel couldn’t be more ideal for a visit to this historic town. Right on Lincoln Square, it’s within walking distance of numerous great shops and restaurants. Plus, the Tuba Carol Festival happens on the front steps. The Gettysburg Hotel has 119 rooms, including awesome suites with fireplaces and jacuzzi tubs. Is also has a great on-site bar and restaurant featuring amazing crab macaroni and cheese. This is the place to be for holiday cheer.
Photo of A Christmas Carol courtesy of Destination Gettysburg. We were the guests of Destination Gettysburg. All opinions of the festive and fun are our own.