A Merry Prairie Holiday Returns to Conner Prairie
Last year Conner Prairie launched its first-ever winter festival, A Merry Prairie Holiday, which offered magical winter evenings throughout the month of December featuring charming lights, fun storytelling, carnival games, festive treats, and quality time with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
“We knew it would be something special, but it ended up being something really, really special and immediately became a new tradition for a lot of families, much like our Headless Horseman Festival we have in the fall,” says Christine DeJoy, director of public affairs for Conner Prairie. “People told us that they were eager to come back and do it again this year.”
The Conner Prairie staff was excited to bring back A Merry Prairie Holiday, but then COVID-19 happened and questions were raised about safety concerns.
“We are a cultural institution that gives opportunities for a lot of families to come out and explore our grounds and participate in these festivals,” DeJoy says.
The staff disliked the idea of stripping away those wonderful opportunities. Thankfully, Conner Prairie is largely an outdoor museum, and while this will likely change in the future, for now it’s a huge plus.
“When we got the OK from the City of Fishers Health Department that we could put on the Headless Horseman, we knew we’d be able to do A Merry Prairie Holiday,” says DeJoy, noting that the staff followed state and city mandates for mask wearing, capacity limits and sanitation. “We always make sure we are in line with what the community wants.”
This year Conner Prairie is requiring advance ticket sales ($20 for guests 2 and older, and $10 for members). This way attendees can select the day they want to come, and enjoy a walking experience from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. through the park. Buying tickets ahead of time means the staff knows when they have reached capacity for the night, and keeps families from potentially being turned away at the gate.
A Merry Prairie Holiday starts on Black Friday, November 27, and runs through December 23. The biggest change from last year is that there is no longer a wagon ride through the lighted Winter Wonderland stations, each of which have a theme such as “The 12 Days of Christmas” and “Candy Cane Lane.” The change, which results from the difficulty in cleaning and sanitizing as guests would normally load and unload from the wagon, has its advantages according to DeJoy.
“The thing about the wagon ride is that it’s easy to miss things that are situated on the other side from where you are seated,” she says. “Now when you walk through, you can take your time and take it all in. It’s an Instagram lover’s dream.”
Families will have plenty to do during their four-hour stay. Activities include the 150-foot Polar Bear Plunge dry tubing hill, festive rides on the Kringle’s Carousel, and holiday shopping at the Conner Prairie Store. The Reindeer Games, which include Gingerbread House Chimney Toss, Hi Striker and more, have all been reconfigured to be COVID-safe. There are also performances by local musicians at Blitzen’s Bandstand scheduled, fire pits situated throughout the grounds, and cool historic experiences such as “Letters Home: Holidays and the Civil War.” The event will also include holiday treats like hot chocolate from various vendors.
Kids can enjoy watching Santa and his elves busy in their workshop making gifts, preparing for the big night. Instead of hopping onto Santa’s lap and getting a photo with the family gathered around, selfies with Santa will be offered – a safe way to keep this age-old holiday tradition alive.
“We can’t risk Santa getting COVID,” DeJoy says.
To help with social distancing, Conner Prairie will have markings on the ground as well as signage that encourages guests to be vigilant about keeping masks on and staying with their group.
Given the various difficulties of the year so far, the community is grateful to have something to look forward to this holiday season.
“We’ve gotten lots of positive comments, starting with the Headless Horseman,” DeJoy says. “People thank us for still doing these two festivals. In fact, they are even more excited about them than usual since so many things this year have gotten cancelled. They say, ‘We like having something to look forward to at the end of the year.’”
Conner Prairie is located at 13400 Allisonville Road in Fishers. If you have questions about COVID-19 safety precautions at Conner Prairie or would like to purchase tickets to A Merry Prairie Holiday, visit connerprairie.org or call 317-776-6000.