At Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan Travel Ideas editor Barbara Morrow experiences an old-fashioned Christmas and reflects on the joys of holidays past.
As dusk settles on Crossroads Village, a re-created 1800s town in a wooded county park just north of Flint, 275,000 tiny bulbs wink on. The village opens in the evenings each winter for its annual holiday celebration, and I savor a unique glimpse of Christmases long ago.
Lights outline the businesses along the 19th-century Main Street and surrounding homes and shimmer in tree branches overhead. Dressed in flowing skirts and starched-collar shirts, park staffers and volunteers play their parts so well that I almost forget that they’re acting. I find myself hurrying along behind youngsters bouncing along unpaved streets, as thrilled to be out late as they are eager to have a look at Christmas past. Their excitement is infectious. I’m remembering vividly the can’t-even-sleep anticipation of my own childhood.
At the edge of town, a restored steam locomotive belches a plume of smoke skyward. The whistle shrieks, and the train lurches forward for a 35-minute tour through the park. At first, I’m a little impatient. But the train’s motion soothes that away. I join in the oohing and aahing over lighted holiday displays along the train’s route, and we all wave at a live Santa in front of his workshop.
Across from the depot, the three-story brick general store presides over Main Street. Inside, shelves stocked with everything from old-time lanterns and crocks to books climb to the ceiling. Clerks in prim, full-skirted shirtwaists demonstrate spinning tops and wooden pull toys, and punch sales into a clanging brass cash register. I try a top, wondering if any of the kids on my list would like something so simple. It spins and wobbles, and I can’t wait to try again. Yes, I decide, any child would love this.
A volunteer playing the part of an 1800s homemaker strings popcorn by lamplight in a modest frame home on the next block. “Mind now,” she tells children crowded into the kitchen to watch; “we must finish these popcorn strings and get to bed. It’s after 7 o’clock, and kerosene is expensive.’’
The popcorn will adorn a spindly spruce in a corner of the sparely furnished parlor. Even in a prosperous home in the mid-1800s, there wouldn’t have been much fuss over Christmas decorations. I can’t help but envy these simpler times, as I think of the decorating and shopping that seem to pull us apart more than they bring us together.
Down the street, visitors squeeze into wooden pews that fill the tiny, white-steepled church. It’s only fitting that choir practice should draw crowds. This church, unadorned except for candles and pine bows, would have been the center of a 19th-century town’s Christmas. Listeners spill from the church onto the walk out front. Deep mellow organ tones and clear, strong voices fill the frosty air: “It came upon a midnight clear . . .” Even the children are silent, as we all reflect for a moment on the holidays’ true meaning.
Holiday festivities at Crossroads Village run from 4 to 9 p.m. on December 17-20, 22-23, 26-27 and 29-30. Admission to the village is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and $8 for children. A combination ticket, including admission to Crossroads Village and a train ride, is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for children. Special “drive-thru” nights, when cars can drive through the park to see the lighted holiday displays, take place from 5 to 9 p.m. on December 7, 14, 21, 24 and 28 and cost $5 per vehicle. Order your tickets online or call (800)648-7275 to reserve your tickets in advance.
Barbara Morrow has written and edited travel articles for Midwest Living since 1989, including articles about every part of Michigan. Barbara also directs the editorial content and direction of Michigan Travel Ideas, the official Pure Michigan Travel Guide.