Gettysburg is more than just a summer destination. Here are a dozen holiday activities that make Gettysburg National Park and its gateway community a good choice for a memorable getaway
Visit the Battlefield
Gettysburg National Military Park is a quieter and in many ways more interesting place when the summer crowds are gone. The park is open daily from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. from November 1 to March 31. The Museum and Visitor Center is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm daily during that period except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years Day.
Watch the Wreath-laying at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery
The Soldiers National Cemetery (Gettysburg National Cemetery) is located atop Cemetery Ridge and is open from dawn to dusk daily. It was here on November 19, 1863 that Lincoln presented his Gettysburg Address. The bodies of 3,700 Union soldiers were disinterred from hasty graves around the battlefield and moved to this cemetery. From the Spanish-American War to the Gulf War, the cemetery also received the bodies of more than 7,000 military casualties, honorably discharged servicemen, and their dependents. For a second year, the Sgt. Mac Foundation (named for a local war hero killed in the line of duty) will place hundreds of holiday wreaths on the grave sites of soldiers buried in Gettysburg. This year’s wreath-laying will take place on December 4.
Visit the David Wills House
The David Wills House on the town square in downtown Gettysburg is where President Lincoln stayed and worked on the final draft of his Gettysburg Address the night before he delivered it. This historic structure was added to the national park in 2001. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 to 5 during November, and Wednesday through Sunday from 10 to 5 during December. There is a modest admission fee.
See the 22nd Annual Gettysburg Christmas Parade
The Gettysburg Chamber of Commerce says that the town’s Christmas parade is “the perfect way to get into the spirit of the holiday season. Just two days after Thanksgiving on November 28, folks are still cheerily singing those holiday favorites and the sight of Santa still brings a twinkle in their eyes.”
Take in the Tuba Carol Fest
Hey, this is not your typical tuba band belting out holiday music in a historic town square. This is a by-gosh “bring your own tuba” event that’ll probably attract several dozen players. Anybody can play (they’ve had players from age 8 to 80, and from very accomplished to, well, “enthusiastic”). The day to circle on your calendar is Saturday, December 12. Don’t forget your tuba.
Spend the Holidays with Ike and Mamie
Throughout the month of December, the Eisenhower National Historic Site staff welcomes you to the Eisenhower home, which is decorated for the holidays in the1950s style. You won’t find LED lights and blowup yard ornaments here, only the best of the Eisenhower era -- Christmas songs, original decorations and Christmas cards, boughs of holly, candles, a big plastic Santa, that sort of thing. The Eisenhower farm home is located adjacent to the battlefield and is open 9 to 4 daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. To get there you have to take the shuttle from the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center. Check with the park for the shuttle bus schedule.
Take a Holiday House Tour
On Saturday, December 12, the inns of the Gettysburg area are hosting an open house tour that gives you a look inside many of the community’s holiday-decorated inns and businesses. If you stay in one of the inns, your tickets are free.
Feast at the Historic Fairfield Inn
Gettysburg’s historic (established 1757) Fairfield Inn, which has hosted presidents and celebrities galore, does the holiday feast tradition up in grand style on two weekends with two different themes. Slated for Friday and Saturday nights, Dec. 11-12 and 18-19, the holiday feasts include prime rib, roasted turkey breast, salad, soups, dessert, and lots of music and holiday cheer. There’s a B&B upstairs. The rooms are probably booked by now, but you can always ask.
Take a Shriver House Candlelight Christmas Tour
This Shriver House museum, one of Gettysburg’s most popular attractions throughout the spring, summer and fall, kicks it up a notch in December with special holiday tours from November 28 through December 19. Here’s your chance to learn how George, Hettie, Sadie, and Mollie Shriver marked the holidays in the 1860s and how the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg changed their lives. Start early with a Thanksgiving night tour. Adult tickets are ten bucks apiece.
Take in a performance at the Majestic Theater
Gettysburg’s historic Majestic Theater, which opened in the mid-1920s as a large vaudeville and silent move theater, packs the holiday season with lots of entertainment, including The Letterman Christmas Show, a Celtic Yuletide and Big Band concert on New Year’s Eve. Even if you’re just looking for a great excuse to see what $16 million worth of renovations did for this grand old theater, this is your chance. Seats 800+.
Shop in Downtown Gettysburg
Here’s how the Gettysburg Chamber of Commerce puts it in tourist promotion-speak: “Remember the days when Christmas shopping used to be fun? You weren’t scrambling for parking, waiting in long lines and dinner wasn’t at the mall food court. Gettysburg brings you back to that time with its collection of stores, galleries, antique shops and boutiques. While you’re here, grab a hot cappuccino or dinner at any one of Gettysburg’s fine restaurants.”
Spend New Year’s Eve in Downtown Gettysburg
OK. This is the last shot of promotion-speak. I promise! “Tired of ushering in the New Year from your living room sofa? Want your kids to enjoy New Year’s Eve in a fun, family environment? Gettysburg can do both. The streets of Downtown Gettysburg are filled with holiday fun like art, performances, music, contests and lots of food and entertainment. The night, of course, is capped off with fireworks, so go ahead, Google the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne” and come celebrate with us.”