Experience a 19th Century Christmas & More in Rochester
December 11, 2019
New York State provides an idyllic winter wonderland as the background to any holiday festival. So it should come as no surprise that Rochester, New York is home to many Christmas festivals and events. From reenacting celebrations from the 19th century to bringing the holiday villages of Manhattan further west, Christmas in Rochester is a magical time.
Thank you to Visit Rochester for hosting me during my stay. Don’t worry, readers – all opinions always have been and always will be my own.
Yuletide in the Country
The Yuletide tour at the Genesee Country Village & Museum is one of the most unique holiday celebrations I’ve ever experienced. GCVM is the largest living history museum in New York State. That already makes it awesome, but the holiday celebration takes it to another level. While it is typically open from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, the village reopens twice during the winter for special events: the Yuletide in December and the Maple Sugar Festival in March.
To give you a little background, the Genesee Country Village & Museum brings visitors back in time to the early days of settlers in New York State. The houses and shops that make up the village are filled with actors who reenact what life was like in the 19th century.
Yuletide in the Country in held every weekend in December leading up to Christmas (Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays). Visitors can book tours through the village to watch reenactments of the holiday celebrations the settlers brought with them from their home countries. It’s magical! Your tour guide will take you house to house as you watch each family reminisce about Christmas back home. Complete with period-appropriate clothing, furniture, and accents, you will be transported back in time.
This year the museum has added special tours for the mobility-impaired and with sign language.
The Holiday Celebrations
The family from the Netherlands will read you a portion of “The Night Before Christmas” while comparing Santa Claus to St. Nick.
At the church you’ll learn about Second Christmas, a celebration from Germany.
The bakery was my favorite! The family from Norway slaves away in the kitchen to make traditional Christmas cookies and tell stories of the “nisse” gnomes. Even better, you’ll get to try one of the cookies!
I felt right at home with the family from Poland as they celebrated the Wigilia, the traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner. They’ll also share some opłatek with you.
Not all families celebrate Christmas, though! The Jewish couple is ready to teach you about the history of Chanukah and lighting the menorah.
In the town hall you’ll sing and dance with the other townsfolk while sipping on some hot spiced cider. It’s a warm welcome from the cold outside.
The last stop on the tour brings you to the Christmas celebrated by the museum, with Christmas carols and a candle-lit tree.
After the tour, you can choose to add-on a traditional Yuletide dinner at the museum. Ham turkey, soup, mashed potatoes, desserts, and more await you! After dinner, get yourself a cup of hot cocoa and get cozy by the fireplace.
ROC Holiday Village
Have you ever celebrated Christmas in New York City? Many people have, and they’ve fallen in love with the Christmas village in Bryant Park. Holiday shops, local food, and ice skating make this a magical experience – and one that Rochester wanted to be a part of! Hence, the ROC Holiday Village. Inspired by the NYC counterpart, the holiday village comes complete with everything you’d expect – ice skating, a large Christmas tree, photo opps, local merchants, visits with Santa, and more!
Located in Martin Luther King Jr. Park during weekends in December, it’s the perfect place to get into the holiday spirit. Visit with the local pop-up shops and restaurants to finish up your Christmas shopping – and get a bite to eat while you’re there. You can find local brews – like the Christmas Ale from Rohrbach – and spiced wine in the large tent that is heated and furnished with couches. It’s the perfect spot to take a break from the festivities. If you want a more private experience, reserve a ‘cozy igloo’ for your group!
As you’d expect, there’s usually a crowd to see Santa, so be sure to get in line and put your name in – you’ll get messaged when it’s your family’s time to visit! Santa’s workshop is also home to a kids’ craft area and cookies.
Holidays at the Market
The Rochester Public Market is fantastic – and open year round! But Sundays in December are a special experience. The market takes on a holiday persona with hay rides, visits with Santa, Christmas trees, and more! It’s another great place to continue your holiday shopping and entertain the kiddos.
If you’re looking for a Christmas celebration that’s a little more offbeat, you have to check out the lighting of the keg tree at Genesee Brewery. An annual Rochester Christmas tradition, the keg tree lighting has become an event for all ages. This year’s event included several food trucks and a special release of their Cinnamon Cream Ale. I have to say, the unique beer was quite delicious, and served with a cinnamon stick! Families can also take advantage of the giant Christmas sleigh outside for photo opportunities.
Other Christmas Highlights in Rochester
You don’t need an entire festival in order to celebrate Christmas in Rochester. You can find hints of the holiday season in all of Rochester’s favorite attractions! The Lamberton Conservatory has a room filled with poinsettias, with a poinsettia tree as the shining centerpiece. The George Eastman Museum is home to a gingerbread display and competition. Local breweries and distilleries have seasonal beers and cocktails… There’s a little holiday magic everywhere you go.