Crowded, fast-paced holiday celebrations can be daunting for a family that cares for a member with special needs. To help with that, a Northern Kentucky church is opening its popular community Christmas event an hour early just for families like ours.
From 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, First Church of Christ in Burlington invites special needs families to enjoy An Old Kentucky Christmas before the event opens to the general public. The early opening will allow families to decorate cookies, make candles and play games in the 1800s-era village amid smaller crowds and at a more relaxed pace.
“Our biggest hope is just to be able to give the special needs families the same opportunity to have those family traditions that so many who come into the village get to enjoy throughout the weekend,” said Alissa Lancaster, First Church’s ministry leader for An Old Kentucky Christmas.
For the whole family
This is the fifth year for the free event, created to evoke a simpler time and to bring families together. It has been so successful that last year more than 12,000 people attended over four days, Lancaster told me in a phone interview last week. For people with special needs, though, those kinds of crowds can be overwhelming.
So overwhelming, in fact, that some families have told organizers that they couldn’t bring children with sensory issues, autism and other challenges that may make navigating a crowd difficult. After conversations with families and the visit last year of a group of middle school students with autism, the church planned this year’s special hour.
‘They can really come and just enjoy it and not feel like they have to rush through or be concerned about the crowds.’
— Alissa Lancaster, ministry leader for An Old Kentucky Christmas
“We don’t want anybody to feel like they have to exclude a family member,” Lancaster said. “They can really come and just enjoy it and not feel like they have to rush through or be concerned about the crowds. … That should make it easier for everybody, the whole family, to come together and enjoy it.”
The church is offering the special hour this year with the hopes of expanding it next year. Organizers want to see what works and what more they could do to help special needs families share Christmas traditions and memories.
“We’re not sure where we’ll go with it from here,” Lancaster said, noting that possibilities included adding more time next year on Saturday morning or somewhere else in the event’s four-day schedule.
Pioneer Village fun
Over the phone, Lancaster walked me through a typical visit to An Old Kentucky Christmas, which takes place outside and inside the church at 6080 Camp Ernst Road in Burlington. Transformed into the Pioneer Village, the church offers a multitude of activities and demonstrations. Everything is free.
As guests enter the village, Lancaster said, volunteers in pioneer attire greet them at the welcome center. Here visitors can get a map of the village, a note card to mark each stop they make and a goodie bag to hold items they receive during their visit.
The main outdoor stops include Wicks and Wax, where families can learn how to dip a candle to take home. Next guests might visit Sweet Tooth Candy, where they can make a chocolate- and sprinkle-coated pretzel rod.
At Woodworks, visitors can see a demonstration of 1800s work-working equipment and decorate their own wooden ornament. At the village Petting Zoo, the bunnies are especially popular, Lancaster said.
Outreach letters to spread cheer
At the School House, guests can write and draw on an older style chalk board. Then, with charcoal pencils, they can sign letters of support and holiday cheer for people in the community including patients at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and local police officers, firefighters and nursing home residents.
Guests can mail their letters at a post office housed at the General Store. The store also will serve hot chocolate, which guests can drink to wash down the sugar cookies they make at Grandma’s Cookies.
At the Village Church, guests hear the story of the candy cane and make a candy cane ornament. Horse-drawn carriage rides around the village are also popular, Lancaster said.
Inside activities include dulcimer musicians playing Christmas music, quilting demonstrations and pioneer games such as checkers, marbles, tops and ring toss.
Family photos for everyone
One of the favorite indoor attractions, Lancaster said, is the family photo station. There a photographer takes a family photo against a pioneer backdrop. Each family gets a print of the photo at the event and an emailed copy later.
“It’s so special for everybody to be able to walk away with that Christmas photo of their family,” Lancaster said.
Christmas should be a time to experience fun with family, Lancaster said, but so many families don’t have the ability to attend costly holiday events. That’s where An Old Kentucky Christmas comes in, she said. “The biggest reason we do this is to provide a gift to the community.”
It seems fitting. Here’s an event created to celebrate the simple joys of the Christmas season. Now its organizers are taking time to offer an even simpler experience to families caring for members with special needs. No strings or ribbons or wrapping attached. Only wishes for a joyful experience for the whole family.
If you go
What: An hour at An Old Kentucky Christmas for special needs families only
When: Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: First Church of Christ, 6080 Camp Ernst Road in Burlington, KY
An Old Kentucky Christmas Schedule
Thursday, Dec. 8 – Village hours from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; performance by the Ryle High School choir at 7 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 9 – Village hours from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; candlelight service of music and inspiration at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 10 – Village hours from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.; candlelight service of music and inspiration at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 11 – Village hours from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.; candlelight service of music and inspiration at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
For more information, call (859) 586-4673 or visit www.anoldkentuckychristmas.com.
Top photo: A girl dips a candle at Wicks and Wax.
Share and inspire
How do you share the joy and meaning of the holidays with your family? I’m collecting ideas for a future article. Please send me a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can write me through the Contact section of the blog. Here’s a post I wrote to explain more about what I’m doing. Happy holidays!