The holiday season in Harrisonburg offers a diverse and exciting array of options that reflect the vibrant, multicultural character of the city itself. If your focus is on faith, the churches, temples and mosques of Harrisonburg offer you services and celebrations in many forms, faiths and languages. Many of these places of worship have long histories that reflect the dynamic historic nature of the town. And the town itself is full of wonderful opportunities for shopping, eating and celebrating the season in any way you might enjoy.

Are you looking for a Christian service in Swahili? We have one! Arabic? We have that! Korean? Russian?  Spanish? We have three options for you: here or here or here. We also have a very active Mosque and Reform Jewish Congregation. Local congregations host events of many kinds, including Eritrean Bible Study and multi-lingual youth groups reflecting the growing diversity of our valley community.

Just across from the Hardesty Higgins House, which houses our Visitor Center, is Asbury United Methodist Church which has a history that stretches back to 1778 with its first church building established in 1790. A prohibition on the slave trade was made part of the Methodist Discipline as early as 1798. In 1816 several prominent Harrisonburg Methodists liberated their slaves in their wills or by deed. This issue proved to be too great and caused the church to split in 1844. The congregation was joined again in 1866 to welcome the soldiers returning from the war. They met together in Andrew Chapel (built in 1851). Construction of their present church began in 1911, but the contractor abandoned the project and the building committee had to complete the final third of the construction themselves! They dedicated the building in 1913. Come and see the beautiful stained-glass windows and hear the Moller Pipe Organ, consisting of three manuals (keyboards), 31 ranks (sounds), and 2,000 pipes(!), which was installed in 1963. Some of the events they will be hosting in December include “Sounds of the Seasons” concerts at noon on Tuesdays: December 11 Violins and Vocals, and December 18 Piano and Cello. They are located at 205 South Main Street.

Looking for a less traditional form of worship? You might enjoy Trinity Presbyterian Church’s “Around the Table: Dinner Church.” Grounded in the sharing of an evening meal, Trinity’s Dinner Church takes an informal, discussion-based approach to building community around the table. Guided by one another, they seek to develop and discover new relationships with friends, neighbors, and God. Dinner Church meets at 5:00 PM on the first Sunday of every month. The next one will be January 7. All are welcome!

You might also try a nondenominational church like the Valley Church which makes faith both universal and local. Or sit in quiet contemplation with a Quaker congregation at Valley Friends Meeting. Aletheia Church offers worship that features Biblical and theologically sound contemporary music, including modern arrangements of classic hymns.

Whether your holiday celebration focuses on faith, family or fun, there are tons of things to do to make your time here memorable. On December 7, join the residents for the annual Holiday Parade. It kicks off at 7:00 and runs down Main Street in Downtown Harrisonburg. This year’s theme is “Capture the Magic!” Following the Parade, there will be a tree lighting ceremony in Court Square followed by a holiday concert performed by the JMU Marching Royal Dukes. Come early and fuel yourself with a lovely dinner along the parade route at Clementine, Jimmy Madison’s or Taj of India.

Christmas at Crossroads on December 8 at the Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center includes horse-drawn carriage rides, storytelling, treats from Father Christmas, Trissels Chime Choir, Flute Choir, instrumentalists in historic 19th century buildings and carolers along the lantern-lit walkways. You can also make pine needle sachets or clove and orange ornaments and take a candle-light tour of the multiple 19th and 20th century Mennonite-Brethren buildings at the Center.

On December 15 and 16, Weavers Mennonite Church, which has a history going back to 1825, will host a Bethlehem Walk-Through (outdoor live nativity) from 6:00 PM until 7:30 PM. Stroll the streets of Bethlehem the day Jesus was born: meet the wise men, shepherds, animals, townspeople, craftsmen, Mary & Joseph, and baby Jesus in a manger! Finally, end your experience in the Bethlehem Cafe with a hot drink and cookies!

Also on December 15, capture some of the magic of the season  when Harrisonburg Unitarian Universalists host Jim Scott, composer, guitarist, and singer in a “Gather the Spirit, Solstice Harvest Songfest” at 7pm. Honed through years with the Paul Winter Consort and world travels as a soloist, Jim’s guitar mastery, lyrical songs and his enchanting manner moved folk legend Pete Seeger to call him “Some kind of magician.”

Would the holidays be complete without a performance of The Nutcracker? Not in Harrisonburg! Watch the magical tale performed by the Rockingham Ballet Theater on December 15 or 16 and feel the transformation.

And how about some shopping?! In addition to the wonderful shops downtown that feature local crafts and items like Agora Downtown Market, Larkin Arts, With Simplicity and Oasis, there are craft fairs and events around town. Visit The Barn for their Christmas Fair December 8 and 9. or sip some wine while you shop at Brix and Columns Winery’s Christmas Market on December 9. Or make your own pet ornament at Larkin Arts in their workshop on December 16 (sign up here by Dec. 9).

And don’t forget New Year’s Eve! You can start your celebration at 5pm with the New Year’s Eve Glow Run 5K presented by Generations Crossing, a new out-and-back 5K  course that starts/finishes downtown and runs through JMU’s campus. Even better, all participants receive more glow paraphernalia than you’ll know what to do with and the course is lined with flashy lights and DJ’s. Wheelchair racers, strollers and leashed pets are welcome. Warm up and stretches led by Breathe Pilates at 4:45pm. Post-race celebration at Pale Fire Brewing immediately following! Or if you’re looking for something more sedate, the New Year’s Eve Culinary Adventure Dinner at Food.Bar.Food begins at 5. Four different cuisines are offered, and inspiring cocktails complement the menus.

Then, join in the fun with First Night Harrisonburg! Buy a button and be entertained for hours with music by The Walking Roots Band, Stone Rollin’, The Sachs Piano Duo and many more. Look to the stars in the John C. Wells Planetarium with their “Earth Moon and Sun” or “Magic Tree House: Space Mission” shows. Laugh with the comedy group No Strings Attached or be entertained by The Barefoot Puppets or The Magic of Brian Bence. Dance to the Acme Swing Mfg. Co. or make your own music with Mike Deaton’s Rhythm Playground! Stay to watch the ball drop at Court Square or end your evening with a bash at Hotel Madison! It starts at 8pm and doesn’t end until next year!

Spend the holidays in a city that welcomes you. We’re friendly by nature!

Written by Guest Blogger, Susan Facknitz. Susan is a Travel Specialist for Harrisonburg Tourism.