Breaking news from the National Christmas Center

Unlike The Pond’s Institute, The National Christmas Center is a real place. You don’t need a fancy undergraduate degree in skin rejuvenation to get in, though you do have to pay $12.50. Trust me when I say it’s well worth it, especially since The National Christmas Center will close its doors forever on January 7.

When I heard it was closing, I knew we had to go one last time. I wondered if it would feel anticlimactic or disappointing. Was it as magical as I’d remembered? I am happy or sad to report I feel new levels of anticipatory grief, which is maybe not surprising since Christmas is built around anticipation and nostalgia.

I had to describe nostalgia to my nine-year old daughter because she didn’t understand what it was. My teenaged daughter understands it and has for some time, so maybe it first occurs naturally between the ages of 9-13. It becomes a sweet, sad burden we alternate between trying to ditch at every turn and cuddling to sleep at night.

I viewed a lot of our final visit to The National Christmas Center through the screen of my phone. I know this is sad, but I wanted to preserve every last wax curmudgeon and animatronic weasel. One day I will hopefully have grandchildren and we will hover around a screen so I can show them pictures of their mother making a non-camera ready face around the Belsnickel exhibit.

(Unlike Santa Claus and Krampus, Belsnickel can go either way depending on whether the child was good or bad. He carries cakes and candies in his pockets, but also birch switches. I’ve been thinking about him lately when I look at my childrens’ wish lists.)

One thing about nostalgia is no two people wear it the same. It also fits us differently over time. I used to be more nostalgic for things I never experienced. This is why a place like The National Christmas Center appealed in the first place.

One room is set up to look like a Woolworth’s from the 1950s, two decades before I was born. I never owned a wind-up monkey or menacing marionette. For awhile I used to buy toys from my own childhood on eBay to feed nostalgia. Then I realized I could go to antique malls and take pictures on my phone and it would bring as much satisfaction and require less storage. This is around the time I started becoming nostalgic for people and places.

Photo credit: Joe

In my late 30s, I began having terrible pangs of loss for grandparents and other family members who were long gone. Still, the nostalgia wasn’t always personal. I missed spinning the lazy susan on my grandparent’s kitchen table and how it was always sticky from spilled sugar and King’s syrup. I missed the big rock in their front yard that I used to sit on for what felt like hours for no other reason than it was there. Did I miss the rock or my grandparents? How well did I know them anyway?

The next phase of nostalgia involved scanning a box of slides from my dad’s side of the family. My husband’s family had another box of slides, so we combined them for a bulk rate and to confuse whomever scanned them.

My family’s slides captured the wholesome ’50s with Gee Whiz smiles and party dresses. Joe’s family slides were early ’70s in every sense and included what looked like ragtag pirates but were actually hippies on a sailboat. His parents were hippies. I swear I never realized until I saw those slides. I’d be more jealous but my grandparents once hosted a luau in their Baltimore row home, as well as a series of odd costume parties. I have the baffling photos to prove it.

Hippies on a shipA couple of dumbbells

I am entering a new phase of nostalgia in my 40s. The pain is unfamiliar so a bit exquisite. I am nostalgic for the things I haven’t done or that I did do but would probably still do or not do again. It is not the same as regret, but more aligned with that than anything else. I’m nostalgic for the way my teenager and I used to get along just last year, even though I know she had to grow up and often that means apart. I am sad to know the same thing will happen with my still-cuddly nine-year old. I miss the days before my husband and I had kids because I remember more time and less weight, both literal and figurative. If I could go back in time, would it feel that way? As Joe said long ago, nostalgia is a liar. This is what I remember, anyway.

The National Christmas Center will close its doors, probably forever, on January 7, 2018. They are looking for a buyer, but I can’t imagine the price. The collectible value of its contents alone must be over a million dollars, plus it brings in literally busloads of patrons in Christmas sweaters year round. Each room will be probably be divvied up and sold at auction or else a reclusive billionaire will buy it to know what it feels like to live inside Christmas’ belly. I wish I was a reclusive billionaire.

One thing I enjoy about life is how you constantly get to reinvent yourself. The older I get, the less anyone seems to care how or why I do this. Time lends a gentle cloak of invisibility, which leads to its own kind of freedom in how we remember and honor the past. I don’t mean we should make shit up or distort the facts, but why not write a short story about a billionaire recluse who sleeps in a fiberglass burrow formerly occupied by a rabbit in a striped nightshirt? A useful byproduct of nostalgia is creativity.

Some of us feel compelled to preserve and even mold the past to make some sort of sense out of it. I like to think this will help future generations do the same. They may one day pour over photos and screens or memory scans and wonder who were those hippie pirates and who took all the pictures of wax figures inside The National Christmas Center. And what does it all mean?


If you can’t make it to The National Christmas Center before it closes and aren’t a billionaire, here’s a 360 google tour. God bless the internet, every one.

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10 thoughts on “Breaking news from the National Christmas Center

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  1. Farewell, good store. Old traditions leave, new ones emerge, hopefully. Although, the new tradition seems to be nothing but chains and cheap alternatives. At least, there was The National Christmas Center once. Thank you for capturing its dying breaths.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re right about new traditions. After our visit, my girls and I played a game whereby we stuck our ASK ME ABOUT THE NATIONAL CHRISTMAS CENTER admission stickers on each other’s backs and then snickered until the victim figured it out. If those stickers weren’t now collector’s items, we’d probably still be playing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. well your post will be a great resource for future readers besides sharing withthe family.
    and love the “nostalgia is a liar” line
    also – when I read “undergraduate degree in skin rejuvenation” – I also thought some folks have ongoing skin rejuvenation (implants, chemical shots, etc.) so the writing provided many overtones to take with us. and laughing at the way you led into the “why not write about….” part –

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m glad you posted this – -three of my grandparents were from Pennsylvania, but none from the Lancaster area, and I never knew this place existed. Even if I had seen a sign, I might have avoided it, like those “Relive the Fun Days of the Civil War” places around Gettysburg. But the ’50’s Woolworth’s looks worth the price of admission by itself.
    I’ve scanned a few of my parents’ slides, too, and couldn’t figure out how to correct the colors, because of lot of their clothes were apparently dyed in shades unknown to nature or art. I usually photoshop it to sepia, it kind of underscores how ancient they are.
    One of my grandmothers used to talk about the Belsnickel – – her mother was Penna. Dutch, and a family friend would dress in ragged old clothes, sooty face, a bit different that the figure in your photo, but definitely with the birch switches, and would chase her around the house, because she was the worst-behaved of the kids. I’m glad my family stopped doing that particular custom.
    I like this post, thank you! RPT

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you shared your family’s Belsnickel experience! I’m sad to hear it wasn’t passed down though understand your relief. I’d misremembered the museum and told my youngest they had a Krampus exhibit. She was disappointed with Belsnickel though I thought his switches were pretty scary. She’s obviously never been chased around the house with one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a cool place! I’m glad I got to virtually see it before it went away. I loved “nostalgia is a liar.” My worst/best moments of nostalgia come when I look at pictures of my kids when they were little. Frozen in time on the page, they are precious and I remember holding them in my arms. Reality is, I’m too old to keep up with little ones and love my grown daughters the way they are.

    Liked by 1 person

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