If you’re anything like me, this is your absolute favorite time of year. We watch all the Christmas movies, get a real tree and make it a whole family experience, the elf makes an appearance all month long and of course, we have matching holiday pajamas. With so many festive activities going on during the holiday season the one event that gets put on the top of our family’s Christmas list is the annual Christmas Past festival in West Branch!
This idyllic small town is located a short drive from Iowa City, just 6 miles east on I-80. It’s a welcoming community that is full of history and charm! In fact, the 31st President of the United States, Herbert Hoover, was born in West Branch. How cool is that?
Christmas Past will take place on Friday and Saturday, December 1-2, 2023.
Christmas Past is especially enjoyable for families with children who want to attend a wholesome holiday activity. It’s full of fun photo opportunities, holiday characters, festive treats, and more! Nearly all of the festivities are FREE which allows you to also visit and support the small shops and restaurants while you’re there. The full event schedule is online. Or visit the Facebook event here.
Christmas Past is two days full of nostalgic holiday activities, it’s like stepping into a Hallmark movie! Santa makes a grand appearance to kick off the festival on Friday night and he sticks around both Friday and Saturday evening for children to give him their Christmas lists and to get their photos taken (for free). Festive stops are sprinkled throughout the quaint 4-block Main Street district where you can walk around to eat, shop, and explore everything from a Festival of Trees display to an elaborate train display. This magnificent 144-square foot Lionel train collection will have your kids in awe! It feels like time stands still when you enjoy a horse-drawn wagon ride with your family and hear holiday carolers in the distance. You can stroll through the adjacent National Park (yep, right here in Iowa) and step back in history with a live blacksmith demonstration. Continue the fun by bidding on incredible gift baskets and experiences in the silent auction, sip on hot cocoa from the local coffee shop, enjoy homemade goodies from a church bake sale or soup supper, and roast complimentary hot dogs or marshmallows over an open fire.
- The local Boy Scouts serve up fresh-fried homemade donuts and they are 100 percent worth the wait! They are a mouth-watering, sugar and cinnamon confection of perfection.
- If you have school aged kids be sure to grab a Scavenger Hunt form when you arrive so you can do the Elf Hunt while you enjoy the event!
- If you have babies we recommend wearing them (instead of using a stroller), as some of the historic buildings have a step to enter.
- Be sure to make a stop in Heritage Square where you’ll find various selfie spots like Santa’s antique sleigh and some festive fa-la-la-la-llamas.
- Watch out for the Grinch . . . he’s been known to cause trouble during Christmas Past!
All of the local shops will be open and eager for you to shop and explore. Within their cheery glow, you will find something for everyone. West Branch is home to gift shops, boutiques, antique and vintage shops, candy & home decor store, and a beautiful quilt shop. The Main Street area also features various locally-owned eateries including a coffee shop and cafe, an ice cream shop, and two family-friendly restaurant/bars to enjoy pizza, wings, and cold brews.
It’s the perfect place to be this weekend so grab the family and make your way to West Branch to eat, shop, and explore Exit 254 during Christmas Past . . . or anytime, really.
Meet Our Guest Blogger:
Stacy Waters is a born and raised Iowa girl living in West Branch. She runs her own beauty business, is mom to four amazing kids, and the wife of a contractor. She’s a volunteer leader with Main Street West Branch and is passionate about history, family, service, and (obviously) Christmas.