Olde Tyme Christmas

Harpers Ferry brings the simple splendor of the holidays back to life.


Photographed by Douglas Pettway Photography

Every year, this tiny historic town in the Eastern Panhandle is a haven for people looking for more than the flashing lights and bargain deals of the holiday season. Thousands of people travel to Harpers Ferry annually for the Olde Tyme Christmas events, walking the cobblestone streets to see merchants and volunteers—and even Santa and Mrs. Claus—dressed in period costumes. “It’s a family tradition for people to come here,” says Jane Murto, who presided over the festivities for many years and works as the manager of Westwind Potters. “I’ve seen people come as children who are now bringing their own children. This is a beautiful little escape.”

Olde Tyme Christmas celebrates its 42nd year during the first two weekends in December 2012. Puppet shows, horse and buggy rides, balloon animals, carolers, church programs, nativity scenes, and a Living History program—November 30 to December 2 and December 8 and 9 will be packed with activity for all ages, says Gary DuBrueler, president of the Harpers Ferry Merchants Association, which partners with the National Park Service (NPS) to put on the events. A group of tuba players, Tuba Christmas, perform songs each year and several area high school choirs and jazz groups come to town to play music, too. Gary says the Olde Tyme Christmas tradition started more than 40 years ago when a Harpers Ferry woman, Shirley Dougherty, came up with the idea. The merchants association has kept the events going, and the fun festivities help bring people to town to shop.

Gary says Harpers Ferry stores offer many one-of-a-kind gifts—like pottery made in America, books from the NPS bookstore, handmade jewelry, wrought iron home décor, art, wine, baked goods, and even old-time candy. Charming bed and breakfasts, river and mountain views, and museums that cover everything from the industrial revolution to black history and the Civil War also keep people comfortable and entertained during their visits to the small town. “Harpers Ferry is a special place any time, whether it’s Christmas or not,” Gary says. “There is always a lot to do.”

PARKING: Organizers ask visitors to park at the National Park Service visitor center and take the shuttle bus to the historic area.


While You're There

  • Visit the John Brown Wax Museum. Learn the story of John Brown and the raid on Harpers Ferry. $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for children ages 6 to 12, children under 6 years old are free.
  • Hike the Appalachian Trail. It weaves right through Harpers Ferry.
  • Take in the view from Maryland Heights. This hike from Harpers Ferry is difficult in areas and takes you across a footbridge over the Potomac River. View town from the overlook.
  • Visit nearby Antietam National Battlefield, approximately 30 minutes away. The Battle of Antietam ended the Confederate Army of northern Virginia’s first invasion into the north and led to Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
  • Visit Shepherdstown. The oldest town in West Virginia is just 12 miles away.


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