Annual holiday happenings begin in November

From the pages of the November edition of Urban Times, here’s the lowdown on Downtown-area holiday events which begin in November – at the Eiteljorg Museum, Indiana History Center, Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis Zoo, Children’s Museum, Indianapolis Repertory Theatre, Phoenix Theatre and Footlite Musicals.

Eiteljorg Museum / In 2010, the museum staff embarked on a dream of creating a new holiday experience that would become a family tradition visitors would return to, year after year. Mission accomplished, as Saturday, Nov. 18, will be opening day for Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure, a whimsical model railroad of G-scale electric trains that ramble over trestles and through tunnels along more than 1,200 feet of track.

For the 14th year, trains will pass artistic representations of the skyline of Indianapolis and iconic scenes of the American West — with all backdrops made from natural materials such as bark, twigs, leaves, nuts, pine cones, seed pods and other woodsy components.

As visitors enter Jingle Rails, they will encounter the sights and sounds of the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The model trains run through scenes of Downtown Indy, then past whimsical backdrops depicting sites such as the Grand Canyon andYellowstone National Park, before winding back to Indianapolis with the Indiana State Fair scene.

Several Jingle Rails-related events are scheduled at the museum; learn about them at Also check the website for extended hours in effect on selected dates from Dec. 16 to Dec. 30. Sponsored by Fifth Third Bank, Jingle Rails will run through Jan. 15.

Indiana History Center / More than 75 elaborately decorated holiday trees will star in the 10th anniversary Festival of Trees when it opens on Friday, Nov. 10, and continues through Jan. 6.

The trees – most often decorated thematically to fit their sponsors – represent individuals, families and organizations from around Indiana. The History Center’s Eli Lilly Hall also features a massive, 30-foot centerpiece tree that is viewable throughout most of the building.

Attendees are also invited to take part in Caroling Through the Holidays, and also view a display from the iconic holiday movie, A Christmas Story, based on the short stories of Indiana native Jean Shepard.

Other elements of the holiday season include:

– Twilight Tuesdays, with extended hours (5 to 8 p.m.) for those who wish to see the trees by night.

– Visitors can also participate in scavenger hunts for the Elf on the Shelf or the Weihnachtzgurke (10 pickle ornaments hidden in trees throughout the building).

While Festival of Trees tickets may be purchased at the door, buying advance tickets is strongly encouraged.

Indiana State Museum / The Museum’s annual holiday festival – Celebration Crossing – will begin Friday, Nov. 24, when Santa Claus makes his grand entrance by helicopter at 11 a.m.

The program which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. will include Santa and Mrs. Claus welcoming all indoors and sharing a delightful holiday story. Santa will begin his visits with children, an event which will continue through the holiday season.

Celebration Crossing will also feature the Snowfall Express, a train ride through holiday scenes, as well as Santa’s Front Yard and the Reindeer Barn. Opening day will also feature entertainment, games and activities.

Indianapolis Zoo / Sunday, Nov. 18, will be opening day for Christmas at the Zoo – an event the Indianapolis Zoo has hosted since 1967 when it because the nation’s first zoo to hold a holiday lights event.

Under the Bicentennial Pavilion, visitors will discover Santa’s Village featuring:

– Extra Opportunities to Visit Santa: Meet Kris Kringle in Santa’s Study from 5 p.m. until close. Or escape to the tropics to see Vacation Santa from 3 to 9 p.m. at Flights of Fancy. With the help of his flamingo flock and some holiday magic, the Jolly Old Elf can be in two places at once to greet even more children this year. Visits with Santa continue through Dec. 23.

– Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen:  Visit with Mrs. Claus and help decorate cookies through Dec. 30.

– Santa’s Barn: See Santa’s sleigh and a few of his reindeer through Dec. 30.

– Polar Pathway: A glittering tunnel will surround visitors in glowing lights.

– Storytime with Sprinkles & Holly: Meet new holiday characters, Sprinkles and Holly, and enjoy their nightly storytelling outside of Cafe on the Commons.

– Penguin Encounter: Get up close to these winter-ready birds from 6 to 8 p.m. (animal and weather dependent).

– Tinsel Tavern: Featuring holiday-themed cocktails including Hotel Tango spirits and wines from Daniel’s Vineyard.

Christmas at the Zoo runs from 5 to 9 p.m. through Dec. 30, until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The Zoo will be closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Children’s Museum / The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has redesigned its winter adventure – now called WinterFaire and running from Saturday, Nov. 18, through Feb. 11.

The seasonal event is being described as a “magical indoor world featuring a festive, carnival-like atmosphere, fun-filled games, loveable critters, and hands-on activities.”

The attractions include a chance to zoom down the WinterSlide, with “snow” on either side lighting up as children race toward the bottom. Museum staff invite visitors to play, laugh, and make lifelong memories together in this one-of-a-kind indoor winter experience.

Santa will arrive at WinterFaire on Friday, Nov. 24, collecting water from the frozen fountain to help power his sleigh and reindeer, gathering gifts from Artisan Square, and posing for photos.

Five “creatures” will welcome visitors to their enchanted winter home. They are Ember, a fluffy red fox; Indigo, an elusive chameleon; Flip, a harbor seal; Storm, a “daring ice phoenix;” and Gerty, a wood-working beaver.

Footlite Musicals / Opening Friday, Nov. 17. Conceived, directed, and choreographed by Rick and Chris Barber, A Footlite Family Holiday is a brand-new holiday production set within a traditional winter Christmas scene. The show features a large diverse cast of actors, singers and dancers performing many holiday favorites.

The production will run three weekends through Sunday, Dec. 3, at the Hedback Community Theater. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

The cast of 27 includes Anya Andrews, Zach Bucher, Renee Callahan, Molly Campbell, Nico Carlucci, Jeremy Crouch, Leo Daunhauer, Aprille Goodman, Claire Gray, Bailey Rae Harmon, Jarred Harris, Jen Kaufmann, Nancy Laudeman, Logan Laflin, Caroline Lynch, Nicole MacLean, Libby Munson, Paige Penry, Leigh Query, Megan Raymont, Grace Rehmel, Lydia Rivers, Danny Roberds, Lindsey Schaecher, Ashley Sherman, Tyler Swinford and Amelie Zirnheld. 

Produced for Footlite by Susan Bott, the production has musical direction by Jill Stewart, scenic design by Rick Barber, scenic decorations by ML Lich, lighting design by Maria Matters and costumes by Vicki Tewes.

Phoenix Theatre / Opening Saturday, Nov. 25. Claire Wilcher and friends have cooked up The Return of A Very Phoenix Xmas, described as a festive and irreverent production which promises to take the audience back to the old Phoenix basement for good-hearted mockery of Indy’s favorite holiday traditions. On the Basile Theatre stage through Dec. 23.

Indiana Repertory Theatre / Opening Saturday, Nov. 18. One of the city’s perennial holiday favorites, CHARLES DICKENS’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL, will run on the OneAmerica Mainstage through Dec. 24. The holiday classic adapted by Tom Haas shines a light on the power of kindness and love in the uplifting tale of one man’s journey to redemption. Through Dec. 24.

Advisories: ASL-interpreted, audio-described and open-captioned performances are available on select dates; recommended for fourth grade and above; due to content and length, children under four years of age are not permitted to attend; contains mild profanity and depictions of ghosts and other imagery and effects that might frighten young children.

PHOTO ABOVE: Jingle Rails is an extravagant exhibition of trains running through an array of thematic scenes at the Eiteljorg Museum. ZACH DOBSON PHOTOGRAPHY