I love the winter holiday season. I love the snow, the lights, the festivities. Things are a bit different this year, but I found that there are still ways to take in the joy of the holidays and even bring some of it back home with you.
In fact, we found that taking in the holiday vibes is easy to do when in the countryside of the Finger Lakes. There are no crowds, there isn’t any of the busyness of the big city, and no lines to even worry about.
Here are the highlights of our favorite experiences.
One of the things we’ve enjoyed the most about our life in Finger Lakes Wine Country has been our proximity to so many farms. The accessibility to good, fresh food and wineries at affordable prices has been such a life-changing experience for us. To be able to serve my family food right from the farm is not a trend here, but a lifestyle. And there’s no better time to take advantage of it all than when preparing for holiday meals. In fact, we headed to one of our favorites, Good Life Farm, home to Finger Lakes Cider House, where not only do they have incredible cider but also serve delicious food, much of it from the farm itself or locally sourced nearby. And during the holiday season, they sell organic turkeys. We had ours for Thanksgiving and it was one of the best turkeys we’ve ever had. They still have turkeys for sale, so if you are looking for a farm-fresh turkey for the upcoming holidays and don’t mind a road trip to pick it up, this is a definite must-try.
There are also so many great Christmas tree farms to choose from, each offering something unique for everyone to enjoy. We decided to stop at VanDerZee Christmas Tree Farm. We went earlier in the season, so the farm wasn’t covered in snow – though another thing we love about life in Finger Lakes is that it does snow during the holidays and a white Christmas isn’t a far-fetched dream, making everything quite lovely and picturesque in the process. VanDerZee, like most farms in the area, is family-owned. They have tons of trees to choose from, all pesticide-free, and cut your own. They also have wreaths and serve hot cider, cocoa, and soup for those extra chilly days, and on weekends you can the extra warmth of a fire to enjoy while taking in the beautiful farm scene accompanied by the sounds of holiday music in the background. Like a happy dream. For a list of different farms, including those that sell Christmas trees, visit the Finger Lakes Farm Country website.
THE LOCAL VIBE
Something else we discovered pretty early on when we were only just visiting the area and before we bought our house, was how different the vibe is in the winter from the summer. We love all the seasons in the Finger Lakes, but winter is when we actually get to connect with locals and get to have the region “to ourselves”. This year being an exception, most of the warmer months are busy and you don’t get to connect as much as you would like with the winemaker, or the chef, or the store owner, or the farmer. But during the winter months, seasonal businesses close, things slow down and we get to enjoy our favorite spots mostly by ourselves. It’s a fun, non-crowded playground.
We loved going to Elf in The Oak for lunch and catching up on what’s new from a more relaxed staff. We also enjoyed being able to make last-minute reservations to the popular Hill Top Inn Restaurant and enjoy dinner overlooking the city lights of Elmira – something that would’ve been a little harder to attain during the busier season.
We were able to enjoy the museums without the crowds, including the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira which is also hosting a holiday market featuring the work from local artists, some of which I couldn’t resist and brought home with me.
The point is, the pace is slow, the winter views are stunning, and it’s the best time to connect with our neighbors while also supporting their small businesses.
THE HOLIDAY LIGHTS
Every year my family and I take the train into New York City to see the holiday lights and windows on display. It is a holiday tradition we never miss. But, we are also creating new traditions right in the Finger Lakes. It is not an exaggeration to say that many of the small towns in the area have often reminded me of the picturesque settings seen in many Hallmark Channel holiday movies every year.
The first lights we wanted to check out were the ones displayed in Bradley Farms’ Twinkle Town. Turn on their holiday radio station (or stream your favorite holiday music), and take in over 200 individually lighted scenes from the comfort of your car. The entire display is a mile long and you can go at a slow pace so you don’t miss a thing.
We later headed to Corning, NY’s Market Street. The streets lined with trees wrapped in twinkly lights, the tree on Center Way Square, and all the cute holiday window displays are enough to soften the heart of even the worst Grinch.
For more holiday fun, The Rockwell Museum hosts an annual Gingerbread Invitational a gingerbread house competition for baking enthusiasts and community members of all skill levels. Museum guests are invited to view the gingerbread displays and vote on their favorite.
And of course, visiting the Corning Museum of Glass is a must for a chance to make your own ornament (due to COVID restrictions, the glass studio gets booked quickly, but it is open year-round and you can make your ornament or any other glass artwork at any time). They also have a beautiful glass ornament tree to not be missed.
Lastly, there are tons of holiday specials being offered by wineries, breweries, and distilleries in the region, as well as special holiday dinners from local restaurants. So if shopping small and local is important to you, and I hope it is, there are endless opportunities to do so.
This year may not be the year you get to experience the holidays in Finger Lakes Wine Country, but it definitely should go on your bucket list. And if you are a local, I hope this post reminded you of how lucky we are to call this beautiful place home.