Getting into the holiday spirit is easy while traveling around the region -- every town, village and hamlet is decked out in its finest seasonal garb.
Urban centers sparkle with giant Christmas trees and glittering lights, and historic houses are dressed in their holiday best. And in some places, the long-forgotten joys of past celebrations bring back memories of simpler pleasures.
You can travel to the Appalachian settlement of Fort New Salem, tucked into the foothills of West Virginia, to find the Spirit of Christmas in the Mountains, today and next Saturday and Sunday. Reconstructed as a frontier settlement of the 19th century, the 20 log buildings are simply dressed with sprays of greens.
On the fort's central green stands a Christmas tree, and each day it is lit with hundreds of hand-dipped candles as choirs sing carols.
Traditional craft skills of the mountain folk continue to be practiced here at the shops of the blacksmith, woodworker, printer, spinner and weaver. Adding to the celebrations are a visit from Der Belsnickel, a mischievous German Santa; hot wassail and sweets; and the music of fiddlers, dulcimer players, an old-fashioned string band and other musicians. The settlement is on U.S. 50, 12 miles west of Clarksburg, W.Va. Call (304) 782-5245.
Interested in the Civil War? Visit an Old Tyme Christmas, which recalls holiday celebrations of that era, today and Friday to next Sunday in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Activities begin with the lighting of the yule log. Each shopkeeper lights a candle from its flame as it is carried through the street.
A Civil War encampment and a sutler's camp occupy one end of town, and in another area a children's tent offers old-fashioned fun. Musical entertainment, period costumes and Old St. Nicholas are other attractions at the celebration. Call (304) 535-2729.
More than 1 million people visit the Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights in Wheeling, W.Va., annually, making this event the state's biggest tourist attraction. Two hundred acres at Oglebay Park are transformed with lighted exhibits, representing the 12 days of Christmas, the nativity, cathedrals of the world, snowmen and wooden soldiers.
There is no charge to drive through the park. The festival runs daily from dusk until 11 p.m. through Feb. 2 and weekends through March 1. Oglebay Mansion is also open for tour daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The 16-room mansion is decorated for Christmas and features a train display. There is an admission charge to tour the mansion. Call (304) 243-4000.
A Williamsburg Christmas
Across the border in Virginia, a Grand Illumination launches the season in Colonial Williamsburg today. The music of the fife and drum corps is followed by 18th century-style fireworks at the Governor's Palace, Magazine and Capitol, a signal for the traditional lighting of candles in the homes and shops of the Historic Area.
During the evening, musicians and entertainers will perform on four outdoor stages. Admission is free. The season continues through New Year's with candlelight concerts and recitals, holiday lectures, films and decorating workshops, tours of the Historic Area, plays, banquets and other programs. Call (800) HISTORY.
For the first time in several years, the National Historic Landmark Village of Waterford, Va., is holding a holiday celebration, Christmas in Waterford, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today.
The village lamplighter and town crier bring news of the day, as carolers and holiday musicians stroll the village streets and ponies are decked out with bells and ribbons. In the village center you can watch as candles are hand-dipped over an open fire or see herbal wreaths being made while sipping hot mulled cider.
To reach the village, take U.S. 15 south, turn west on Route 7 for 5 miles past Leesburg, then right on Route 9 for 1 mile and right again on Route 662. Call (703) 882-3018.
The annual Christmas Candlelight Tour is scheduled in Old Town Alexandria, Va., on Friday and Saturday from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The tour begins at the Ramsay House Visitors Center, 221 King St., with a bagpipe performance, a reminder of Alexandria's Scottish heritage.
The tour proceeds to the Carlyle House, the Boyhood Home of Robert E. Lee and the Lee-Fendall House, where madrigal singers, instrumentalists and other musicians will perform. The evening concludes with light refreshments at Gadsby's Tavern Museum. Tickets cost $12 for adults, $5 for ages 6 to 17. Call (703) 838-4200.
Belle Grove Plantation in Middletown, Va., will hold Christmas Candlelight Tours Dec. 14-22. The house will be decked with live greens for a traditional Victorian Christmas. Each evening a musical group or storyteller will entertain in the upstairs parlor, and guests will be served complimentary spiced tea and cookies.
Hours are 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily, 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $3.50 for adults, $3 for seniors, $2 for ages 6 to 12, free for under 6. Belle Grove is on U.S. 11, south of Middletown. Call (703) 869-2028.
Capitol holiday display