This weekend, Jill and I traveled back in time to Amana, that erstwhile cluster of seven colonies on the outskirts of Iowa City founded in the mid-nineteenth century by German religious purists. For those keeping track, this is the same Amana Billy and I visited in October for caramel apples and… well, I forget what else. Saturday was the peak of their Prelude to Christmas festival and bundled together a whole cluster of holiday-themed activities.
We stayed about three hours and left all rolly-polly from sweets consumption — both visual and tummy-al. I was craving nothing but lettuce after decorating sugar cookies in the basement of the Ox Yoke Inn, splitting an entire bag of kettle corn, drinking both cocoa and cider, and voting for the best gingerbread houses at the general store. And there were some pretty spectacular offerings, like a farmhouse with frosting chickens, a American Indian teepee village with ice-fishing, Noah’s arc, and a treehouse with pretzel railings.
However, this appears to be where the Amanans’ locovore leanings get spent, because we couldn’t find a single locally made ornament all day. Or one that even said “Amana.” Someone has got to get their tourist chops up to snuff. The local church’s holiday bazaar was likewise disappointingly sparse, with not enough homemade kitsch for either of our liking.
But on the bright side, there was this too: the Tannenbaum Forest inside an unheated, restored nineteenth century wood-beamed barn. (A discovery! “Tannenbaum” means “fir tree” in German. The fir tree forest!) Each tree is sponsored and decorated by a local business: the woolen mill’s tree was covered in knit orbs, the Amana brewing company had dressed theirs in miniature beer vats, and so on, to at least fifty twinkling trees. We, of course, kept taking refuge under the heat lamps – but somehow the dark, sparse cold made the whole forest thing feel more authentic.
On our way out, we even glimpsed a special visitor who, okay, may have mixed up his dates and forgotten his hoofed entourage, but was welcome nonetheless.
So inspired were we by this bout of Christmas cheer that, the very next day, I went out and bought a faux tree, which Billy set up (by himself) that very night. Happily, it came with lights built-in, so between that, the snowflake lights on our dining room wall, tinsel around the front door, and gigantic red bow over the basement, we’re set for the season. Santa can come back anytime. We’ve even arranged a white Christmas for him.