Winter Events for Everyone
The season begins with a magical event
There are few sights prettier than a freshly fallen snow in the Amana Colonies. The snow crystals glisten from the street lamps and against the brick and sandstone building. The Colonies are a peaceful place and even more so on a snowy night. An early season snow can set a Christmas mood but snow or no snow come the day after Thanksgiving the Amana Colonies thrill to begin our 4-weekend celebration of the holidays with the opening of the Tannenbaum Forest. This is a magical time of year.
Imagine a century-old dairy barn filled with over 40 real decorated Christmas tree and the scent of pine in the air. Imagine the traditional German Christmas pyramid but 17′ tall. Imagine the sound of Christmas Carols filling this barn and imagine Santa Claus sitting on a vintage sleigh decked out in his complete red splendor welcoming children, of all ages, to whisper in his ear their Christmas wish. This is Tannenbaum Forest. This four-week-long celebration features a different theme each weekend but is all centered around the Tannenbaum Forest that is located in the Festhalle. Open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays this popular event helps families escape the commercialism of the mall and brings the Christmas season back to a much simpler time.
Local businesses, organizations, and nonprofit groups from the area all select trees and then decorate them uniquely to create this magical forest. As you wind through the lights and pines you’ll see the Kid’s Corner where children can write a note to Santa and slip it into his mailbox. Walk past the display of Ginger Bread Houses made by area school children and come upon the beautiful nativity that reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. On Children’s Weekend you’ll find the jolly old man himself, on his sleigh waiting for the next child. Make sure to bring your camera, this is a great photo op.
Amana Pickle Hunt
While visiting the Colonies during the time of Tannenbaum Forest you can also take part in the Amana Pickle Hunt. Based on the legend of the German Pickle Ornament it’s said that an old German Christmas custom was to hang a pickle ornament on the Christmas tree late on the evening of December 24th and the first child to find the pickle on Christmas morning would receive an extra gift. The Amana version will have you looking for Pickle Ornaments in each shop and when you find the pickle in 10 shops you are entered into a weekly drawing for a $100 Amana Colonies Gift Certificate.
The visit to the Tannenbaum Forest is free, however, we accept a free will donation with proceeds going to the University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital that’s just down the road in Iowa City.
The second weekend on Tannenbaum Forest is a magical weekend with special events and food/beverage sampling in the shops, carolers on the street, and the town decked out in Christmas finery. This is Prelude to Christmas in the Amana Colonies. The streets of Amana come alive with old world charm at no time more than Prelude to Christmas. The fences and storefronts sport pine boughs, there are red ribbons fluttering in the breeze, and an occasional melody from beloved Christmas Carols in the air. Christmas is a special time of year and no less in the Colonies where you can escape the hustle of the malls and the impersonal shopping of today’s online experience. In the Colonies, at Christmas time, you’ll be greeted by a cheerful “Merry Christmas” and a warm smile.
Grab a schedule of events (available at most businesses and our Visitor’s Center) when you arrive to plan the activities you would like to take in. Many people think of chocolate at Christmas time and our chocolate shop is hand dipping specialties as fast as they can. Step into one of our restaurants and you’ll find something seasonal and special on the menu and if you’re planning your own Christmas Eve celebration an Amana ham is perfect. You’ll find that and plenty of sausages at our meat shop.
At the Amana Heritage Society, you’ll find a glimpse into Christmases past as they present a special exhibit each year. You’ll see toys and dolls from the recent past and the very distant past. You’ll be able to tell and show your children about the toys of your childhood. They have something on exhibit that will trip a memory no matter how old you are.
An Amana Colonies holiday tradition is the Amana Church Society‘s annual Cookie Walk. Tables of homemade cookies baked by the communities church members are available on a number system. Go early on Saturday morning and get your number. Then return at your scheduled time and begin selecting from the thousands of cookies, bars, candies, and treats you want to fill up your box.
Villages of Amana Christmas Haus Tour
As a fundraiser, the Amana Arts Guild hosts their annual Villages of Amana Christmas Haus Tour where you will get a tour of 4 or more homes all decorated for the holidays. The homes vary each year with some being historic and others more contemporary but all get rave reviews for the attendees.
When night falls have a great meal at one of our restaurants, take a drive through the villages to see the decorations and Christmas light of the neighborhoods, plan to attend a live theater production at the local theater companies’ main stage or just head back to your B&B or hotel and relax. It’s Prelude to Christmas in the Amana Colonies and that means a slower pace and an escape from the mall, the crowds, and the hassles of today’s world.
Winterfest towards the end of January is the perfect way to get out of the house and embrace the season with a variety of both outdoor and indoor activities. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday in the Iowa Winter. The day begins with the Amana Freezer 5k Run/Walk from Amana to East Amana. This race takes off no matter what the weather beginning in front of the Amana Furniture Shop. Both expert runners and those of us who move a little slower take part.
If you are competitive but running isn’t your thing, we have a few contests that might invoke thoughts of the Olympics scheduled at the Market Barn area of town. You’ll find the Market Barns in the center of town or just follow your nose. It’s where our local fire department is cooking up some delicious Open Fire Chili. Grab a souvenir mug and settle in for some athletic competition.
The Winterfest Games feature the classic Winter Wreath Toss. Think of a discus throw but with a leftover Christmas Wreath. Maybe your game is strength and not technique. Try the Great Amana Ham Put, it’s just what it sounds. We’ll see who can put that Ham the farthest. For teammates, we have the 2 person Log Sawing Competition, a timed event. Practice up, there have been some fast times as this event takes a team effort. The strongest doesn’t win, it’s the duo that works best as a team that will take the prize. A more sedentary competition is the Best Beard Competition. You’ll want to start growing your beard now for that one. For the kids, there is Ice Fishing. Not the kind that you see on the lakes of Minnesota but on dry land. They’ll cast their line and see what prize bites on the other end.
If you’re looking for a little family competition head over to the Festhalle Barn where you’ll find a mini golf course. It’s a lot of fun as each hole is designed by a different business
Winterfest Wine Walk
Of course, all of the shops are open for you to browse and many have special events, demonstrations, or product specials so you’ll want to check that out. From 11am-4pm one of the mainstays of Winterfest takes place. It’s the annual Winterfest Wine Walk. Purchase a punch card for a very small fee then travel to each location for a sample. Once you’ve completed the walk turn your punch card in for a great Winterfest logo Wine Glass.
Wine and Dine
That evening enjoy a fantastic 5-course food and wine pairing meal known as “Wine and Dine” at the Ox Yoke Inn. You’ll have appetizers and wine followed by 4 more courses paired with wine for each course along with an introduction and stories about each course and the Amana Colonies. It’s a great event with plenty of award-winning wine from White Cross Cellars. We suggest you make lodging reservations in the Colonies.
Winterfest is a great way to warm up the season with a trip to the Colonies. Come join us.
While you will find much of Iowa covered with snow and it can be cold there or plenty of activities to keep you coming to the Amana Colonies. We suggest you come out and embrace the season here in the Colonies.