by Mark Blackwell
New York City has its Rockefeller Center ice rink with an oversized Christmas tree and rosy-cheeked skaters. Indianapolis has its Monument Circle decked out with festive lights, oversized ornaments, and choirs of carolers. Christmas is special everywhere, but it is especially special in the hills of Brown County.
I am always delighted when driving into Nashville at Christmas-time and seeing this little village dressed up in its finest. I like the way the shops are all attractively decorated with good taste. And I like the quiet. The sidewalks aren’t barraged with loud rock ‘n’ roll music. Instead there is an aural space in which people are heard greeting each other with “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” and heartfelt wishes for a joyful New Year.
Hey, I’m not saying that there is nothing going on here to entertain folks—because there is plenty. On November 24 at 6:00 p.m., there will be an official Christmas Tree lighting ceremony over at the History Center with music and refreshments. And Santa Claus will be there, too, starting at noon.
And there is the annual Holiday Arts and Crafts Show at the Seasons Lodge and Conference Center, where folks from around the area display and sell their unique creations. That runs from 10 to 5 on November 24, and 10 to 4 on November 25.
Brown County folks love to entertain visitors as well as each other, especially around Christmas. I remember going out to the big musicals that Slats Klug used to organize. There were about a dozen or so local musicians performing original seasonal songs as well as the traditional carols. But times change and now Brown County folks are putting on a new show at the Brown County Playhouse called “Believe, a Brown County Christmas.” It runs from the end of November right up to Christmas.
Another tradition is the arrival of the Indiana Railroad Santa Train at Helmsburg. It is coming December 1, around 8:30 p.m. this year. You can come aboard and visit with Santa and his friends and give him your Christmas wish list.
For folks of a more active persuasion, Brown County State park is hosting their 18th annual “Reindeer Romp.” That is an 8K run and/or 5K run-walk through the park on December 2, starting at 1:00 p.m.
On December 3, you can visit the “House of the Singing Winds” for the Steele’s Country Christmas. It is Christmas done up 1920s style at the T.C. Steele State historic Site from 1 to 4.
There will be a Christmas sing-a-long at the Brown County Inn on December 9, at 7:30 p.m. I would go myself but with my ability to carry a tune I expect they would pay me to stay away.
And while I’m on the subject of singing, there will be a Christmas bird count at the State Park (where else) starting at 8:00 a.m. on December 16.
But Christmas in the hills doesn’t have to be real active.
For those who are lucky enough to live in Brown County, Christmas can mean driving a twisty, curvy gravel road through the woods at twilight. Around the last bend sets a cabin tucked up in the tall tulip poplars. The windows glow with the warm amber light of kerosene lamps and candles filtered through falling snow. It might belong to you or it might be a rental but if you’re one of the lucky ones you get to step up on the porch, stomp the snow off of your boots, and open the front door.
The pungent smells of cinnamon and pie crust waft in the air while the warmth of the woodstove calls. The cabin is decorated with pine boughs and pinecones and an evergreen tree decked out with Christmas baubles, candy canes, and popcorn garlands. Under the tree is a collection of presents wrapped in pretty paper, crowned with ribbon bows, and if you’re really lucky one of them might be for you.
But, even if you don’t get a present, you get to sit down to a feast of roast venison (if you got your deer) or turkey, mashed potatoes with giblet gravy, green beans cooked down with bacon grease and onions, cranberry sauce, and persimmon pudding for dessert. After that, it’s time for a nap in a comfortable chair lulled to sleep by the crackle and pop of a woodstove lullaby.
I always like to take a walk in the woods on Christmas. There is an amazing quiet and a tangible peace that is a fine way to experience the world on a special day deep in December—in Brown County.