Making Merry: Annual holiday festival kicks off Nov. 24 at Conner Prairie


Twinkling lights to brighten the darkest months of the year are a big part of the winter holiday season, and Conner Prairie’s light display is no exception.

All those lights take a lot of energy, but the Fishers-based outdoor museum will use about 90 percent less energy this season after volunteers changed the bulbs from incandescent to LED.

It wasn’t a quick or easy task, said Conner Prairie Communications Manager Holly Pasquinelli. The process took about four years.

“A group of 10 volunteers have spent more than 2,000 hours converting them to LED,” she said. “It’s really a great step forward for us from a sustainability standpoint. That’s an exciting thing that guests will get to see these bright new beautiful lights that will light up the grounds of Merry Prairie.”

This is the first year that all of the lights, donated by Reynolds Farm Equipment in 2019, will have LED bulbs, she said. And because LED lights use so much less electricity, the daily maintenance needs are lower, too.

Volunteers Bruce Whitehead, left, and Dave Stelsel were among those who replaced incandescent lights with LED bulbs for the holiday light display at Conner Prairie. (Photo courtesy of Conner Prairie)

“Just from a facility standpoint and getting them all set up and turning them on and off every night, it’s going to be a much smoother process for us,” she said. “(That’s) on top of all of these energy savings and just better for the environment, which is what we are trying to do.”

Holiday lights are a big part of the annual festival, which runs Thursdays through Sundays, Nov. 24 through Dec. 17, and then two days — Dec. 21 and 22 — before Christmas weekend.

But there’s so much more than lights. Pasquinelli said 3D projectors at the William Conner House will offer a special presentation of “The Night Before Christmas” accompanied by music. There also will be a carousel, a new lights and music show and Selfies with Santa, which Pasquinelli said she appreciates because her son is terrified of Santa.

“But (with) Selfies with Santa, you’re not sitting on Santa’s lap,” she said. “You’re in front of him and it’s great because the whole family can get in the photo.”

The barn is decorated as Santa’s workshop, she said, complete with elves; and Prairie Town’s “residents” are home, celebrating the holidays like it’s 1836.

“I love it because it’s dark outside (and) it’s lit by candlelight,” she said. “All the houses are decorated and … the residents of Prairie Town are getting ready for the big Christmas celebration. So, their homes are decorated, the meals are on the table and guests can learn about Christmas traditions in the 1830s.”

Other activities include a “Polar Bear Plunge,” which is not a quick dip in cold water, but instead is a water-free tube that visitors use to slide town Conner Prairie’s big hill. There’s also a skateless skating rink — participants slide around on their socks — and a crankie show.

“It’s a way that stories were told back in the 1800s, and this one is about holidays from around the world and it’s just such a fun little thing that happens in Prairie Town,” she said. “The historic interpreters will take you on this journey and show you how this historic crankie works and tell you about different holiday traditions, which is a really fun way to include everyone in the celebration.”

The crankie involved two spindles holding a spool of fabric with scenes painted on it. Storytellers turn a crank to change the scenes, providing a visual backdrop as the story unfolds.

Pasquinelli said Merry Prairie is a popular event at Conner Prairie and suggests reserving tickets ahead of time. She added that special tours with American Sign Language translators are scheduled for Dec. 9 and 16 for people who are deaf or hearing impaired.

For more visit

The residents of Prairie Town, Conner Prairie’s living history museum, will celebrate Christmas like it’s 1836 during the Merry Prairie festival. (Photo courtesy of Conner Prairie)

Breakfast with Santa

Besides Merry Prairie starting Nov. 24, Conner Prairie has other holiday events planned through the Christmas season.

Pasquinelli said Breakfast with Santa is a popular event for families and includes brunch, Santa telling stories and an opportunity for kids to have individual visits with St. Nick.

Breakfast with Santa is set for Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 25 through Dec. 17 with different time options.

A sensory-friendly visit with Santa is scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. Dec. 9, according to the Conner Prairie website.

“Santa welcomes people to visit with him and tell him their holiday wishes, but at your own pace and comfort level,” according to the website. ”We will have fidget toys on the table as well as cookies to decorate and enjoy.”

For more and to make reservations, visit


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