Looking to do something a little different this holiday season? Options cover the gamut. For example, you could visit the workshop in Vienna where the snowglobe was invented, enjoy holiday-themed theatre south of the border in New York state, visit one of the world’s most intriguing creche displays in Montreal, or salivate over a 5-ft-high chocolate Santa Claus in Las Vegas.
LET IT SNOW
The snowglobe, a ubiquitous souvenir that has entertained children for generations, was invented in Vienna more than a 100 years ago and continues to fascinate visitors to the Snowglobe Museum on the outskirts of the city.
The story begins with Erwin Perzy, a medical instrument technician who was asked to find a way to make the Edison light bulb brighter to help doctors performing surgery. He experimented with a glass ball filled with water that was used by shoemakers as a magnifying glass. Perzy added different materials to the water including a white grit to better reflect the bulb’s light. It didn’t work, but it reminded him of falling snow.
Around the same time, a friend asked Perzy to make a miniature model of an Austrian church as a souvenir, and he got the idea to put the church in a ball of water and add the white grit. The world’s first snowglobe was born.
Soon the globes were exported around the world, though they were particularly popular in the U.S. The family operation is now run by Erwin Perzy III, who won’t divulge the top-secret ingredient used to make the snow. Today more than 200,000 of the original snowglobes in various sizes are produced every year in Vienna with hundreds of scenes (all hand-painted) from which to choose. Check viennasnowglobe.at.
Visitors to New York’s Finger Lakes region this month can experience a Dickens Christmas when 65 Victorian-era characters reenact a page from the classic tale A Christmas Carol on the streets of the village of Skaneateles. It’s interactive street theatre at its best, with actors portraying Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present, among others. Shows run noon to 4 p.m., Dec. 22-23, with a shorter show (noon to 3 p.m.) on Dec. 24.
Other highlights include the Revels Live Christmas carol singalong at 2 p.m. every day at the gazebo; horse-drawn wagon rides around the village departing from Sherwood Inn; free refreshments, including roasted chestnuts and eggnog. Everyone is invited to borrow period costumes from the Chamber of Commerce on Jordan St., and join in the merriment. See skaneateles.com.
IT WAS A WONDERFUL LIFE
It has a Christmas theme, a unique setting, and a clever title. It WAS A Wonderful Life is a holiday show performed — appropriately — in the chapel of Buffalo’s historic Forest Lawn Cemetery, with actors playing the roles of famous residents who are buried there. Unlike the similarly titled 1946 Jimmy Stewart classic film — It’s a Wonderful Life — this show is narrated by the first person interred at Forest Lawn in 1850, an early Buffalo merchant named John Lay.
Played by Joseph Demerly — who also wrote and directs the show — Lay introduces us to the "new friends" he’s made in his 160-plus years at the cemetery. These include Dorothy Goetz Berlin, first wife of composer Irving Berlin (who wrote White Christmas and countless other songs); Frederick A. Cook, who claimed to be the first to discover the North Pole; and Al Boasberg, a Hollywood comedy writer who penned jokes for Jack Benny, Jimmy Durante, George Burns and Gracie Allen.
The characters (all portrayed by local actors) provide comical, nostalgic and poignant glimpses of Christmases past, when they enjoyed life on the "other side" of the Lawn. Shows run through Jan. 5 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 US per person. Reservations required. For details, contact Forest Lawn at 716-885-1600 or forest-lawn.com.
One attraction at Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is an internationally recognized collection of creches from around the world. At any one time, you’ll find a selection of 200 nativity scenes from over 100 countries, in addition to a section on the Creches of Quebec. This year, a Christmas exhibit is dedicated to The Animals of the Creche. Original paintings, sculptures, artwork and crafts illustrate the infant Jesus surrounded by wild and domestic animals, fashioned from ceramic, wool, wood and other materials. The exhibit continues through April 14, daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults. For more, check saint-joseph.org.
SANTA IN VEGAS
Las Vegas likes to put on a show, and the holidays offer an opportunity to get into the spirit with style. MGM Resorts, for one, has everything from classic yuletide songs around the fountain at its Bellagio hotel to a 5-ft-high chocolate Santa at the property’s Jean Philippe Patisserie, which took 104 kilos of dark chocolate and one month to create. There’s also a giant Grinch crafted entirely of sugar at the Patisserie’s ARIA location.
Meanwhile, the Bellagio’s Conservatory & Botanical Gardens has been transformed into a winter wonderland with a 13-metre-tall decorated shasta fir; floral creations including interactive polar bear and penguin families; live musical performances and a 1.9 metre-tall greeting card made entirely from flowers and surrounded by an elaborate frame, which makes for the perfect family photo opportunity through Jan. 1. Elsewhere, children can share holiday wishes with Santa in the shipwreck exhibit at Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. For more check mgmresorts.com.