Take a step back to Christmases past with the Ohio History Connection's Dickens of a Christmas event and State Auto's nativity display.

Dickens of a Christmas

Take a step back to Christmases past at the Ohio History Connection's annual holiday celebration inspired by Charles Dickens. Each year, 5,000 visitors wander through the Ohio Village as costumed interpreters share traditions and tales of life in 1890s Ohio, bringing the world of "A Christmas Carol" to life.

"When 'A Christmas Carol' was published in the 1840s, it was one of the first novels that really romanticized the celebration of Christmas," says Emmy Beach, Ohio History Connection's public relations manager. "At our Dickens of a Christmas event, we are recreating the magic of Christmas as it would have been celebrated in Ohio at that time, inspired by Charles Dickens and his famous stories." Dickens of a Christmas will be held Dec. 9–11 and Dec. 16–18, and activities will include craft demonstrations, carolers and a visit from St. Nicholas.

State Auto's Christmas Corner

While holiday displays in Downtown Columbus have come and gone over the years, one fixture has remained a holiday tradition for decades: State Auto's Christmas Corner, located outside of the insurance company's headquarters on East Broad Street.

Started as a Christmas card to the community by State Auto founder Robert Pein in 1931, the outdoor spectacle draws tens of thousands of revelers each year looking for an up-close opportunity to view the lifesize nativity display of more than 80 figurines and props, as well as other holiday trimmings, including large lighted wreaths, live trees and nutcrackers on the rooftop.

It's still a gift to the community and part of Columbus culture, says Jo Ann Huntwork, a nativity designer who's been working on the display since 2002. Huntwork is one of three designers who have overseen the display throughout its history, including her predecessor Nancy Elliot, and the first project designer, Gordon Keith, who was also the face behind many of Columbus' other notable installations, such as the Talking Tree at Santaland in the Downtown Lazarus building (see pgs. 45–46) and the Street of Yesteryear at the original COSI.

And as longtime holiday spectacles like Lazarus' have faded or folded in the last several decades, State Auto's Christmas Corner remains one of the last survivors for Downtown-goers, says Huntwork. "People share stories of going as a child and now bringing their children. It's become a tradition for them."

But bringing this tradition to the community year after year is no easy feat, and the entire process from start to finish requires nearly a full year.

Huntwork says hundreds of live trees and thousands of lights are brought in annually.

While staples like the holy family do not change, vignettes can be expanded depending on their placement within the park. "I usually like to change it up a bit each year," she says. That includes three-dimensional replacements to backdrops throughout the display to make them more lifelike.

The setup of the entire display takes two months, and a team of five to 12 people start the first week in October each year. When it is torn down at the beginning of January, the nativity set is inspected for damages and weather wear.

Preserving the past and adapting the display to the present are also factors, with newer updates, such as a cellphone tour allowing visitors to call in to hear more information about each vignette.

Aside from wandering through the park, other festivities, such as choir performances on weekends and a hot cocoa stand that donates all proceeds to the Manna Cafe in the Broad Street United Methodist Church across the street, can also be enjoyed.

Huntwork says it's great to be a part of a tradition that's so dear to so many people. "Seeing the joy it brings to folks year after year is in itself inspiring, which motivates me more to make it the best display possible."