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Carillon Tree of Light at Carillon Historical Park in Dayton Ohio at night

Ringing in the Holidays

A Carillon Christmas in Dayton features Ohio's largest musical Christmas tree.

The Carillon Tree of Light at Carillon Historical Park in Dayton

Ringing in the Holidays

By Damaine Vonada

Posted On: Dec 12, 2022

A remarkable array of seasonal experiences awaits you and yours at Carillon Historical Park in Dayton, where visitors of all ages delight in the sights, sounds, and even smells – think gingerbread and roasted chestnuts – of the holidays. During its A Carillon Christmas celebration, Deeds Carillon, the lofty limestone bell tower that is both the park's namesake and a beloved Dayton landmark is transformed into a 200-foot-tall Tree of Light.  

The Carillon Tree of Light at Carillon Historical Park in Dayton Ohio

Aglow and agleam with 20,000 white lights, it not only brings very merry and majestic version of a Christmas tree to the park's living history museum campus, but also rings out a repertoire of programmed songs and carols that includes "O Christmas Tree" as well as – you guessed it! – "Jingle Bells" and "Silver Bells."

"A carillon is a musical instrument that produces sounds by striking stationary bells, and because ours has 57 bells, it's the largest carillon in Ohio," says Alex Heckman, vice president for museum operations. 

aerial view of The Carillon Tree of Light at Carillon Historical Park in Dayton Ohio at night

The Tree of Light punctuates downtown Dayton's skyline like a luminous exclamation point, and because it's visible for I-75, Ohio's grandest musical Christmas tree also brightens the journeys of Yuletide travelers. That spirit of generosity would have pleased Dayton industrialist Edward Deeds and his philanthropic wife Edith, an early 1900s power couple who, respectively, loved history and music.

Combining their interests, they founded Carillon Historical Park and even commissioned the New York architectural firm responsible for Rockefeller Center to design its iconic, Art modern-style carillon. "Everything that Mr. and Mrs. Deeds touched," notes Heckman, "seems to have had a positive impact on Dayton."

Deeds Carillon was played publicly for the first time on Christmas Eve, 1941. It was just 17 days after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the nation into World War II, and heavy-hearted Daytonians congregated at the carillon for a performance that commenced with "O Come All Ye Faithful." 

As part of this year's A Carillon Christmas, the park is again conveying the comfort and joy of holiday music with live carillon concerts on December 16 and December 23. 

roasted chestnuts at carillon historical park in dayton ohio

Except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, A Carillon Christmas begins daily at 5PM through December 30. Festive lights throughout Carillon Park's 65-acre landscape adorn everything from lampposts to an iron bridge made in Dayton in 1881, and you can follow paved walking paths to historic buildings where costumed interpreters invite you to enjoy timeless holiday traditions such as the homemade gingerbread cookies and chestnuts roasted on an open fire.

Go to the park's 1890s one-room schoolhouse to watch a narrated puppet show based on the charming cat-and-mouse storybook – The Tailor of Gloucester – that Beatrix Potter published in 1903, which is also the year when those eminently inventive Dayton brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, famously achieved the first airplane flight.

kids and family inside old schoolhouse at carillon historical park in dayton writing letters to santa claus

Let the kids write their letters to Santa inside Dayton’s oldest building, the 1796 Newcom Tavern, or better yet, take them to the Heritage Center to visit the Jolly Old Elf in person and view an extensive exhibit of old-time toys that were made in Dayton. Be sure to look for Flips and Flops, an acrobatic clown toy patented by none other than Orville Wright in 1925. 

The Heritage Center also houses the Carousel of Dayton Innovation, a full-sized merry-go-round where you'll get a unique spin on the area's long and proud tradition of manufacturing and invention by riding hand-carved characters that include the Wright Brothers' dog Scipio, an NCR cash register, a Soap Box Derby car, and a pop-top soda can.

people riding mini Midnight Express train ride at night at carillon historical park in dayton ohio
The Midnight Express Train Ride

The entire family also can board the Midnight Express for a miniature train excursion around the park, but if you're more adventurous, head to Candy Cane Slopes for an exciting tube ride down the steep side of a moraine formed by a glacier in prehistoric times. The moraine overlooks the Great Miami River, and from the top, you can see for miles.

A Carillon Christmas' one-of-a-kind combination of history and holiday fun even extends to the park's on-site eateries. Culp's Café, which channels an early 1900s Dayton lunch counter, serves family-friendly finger foods plus hot chocolate and cider, while the Carillon Brewing Co. delivers a taste of history with authentic foods and drinks that Dayton's immigrant population savored in the 1850s.

It's the nation's only production brewery in a museum, and you can observe the brewery workers – who, of course, wear period garb – making English-style porter, pale Irish red ale, and Berliner Weiss wheat beer. 

Although the brewery produces Spiced Dunklelweizen, an effervescent German beer, throughout the winter, its Christmas special is Spruce Ale, an aromatic beer that George Washington gave to his soldiers during the bitter winter at Valley Forge. 
"Spruce Ale is very popular with our guests," says Heckman, "and the brewery uses real spruce tips to make it."

bridge and building decorated in white christmas lights at night at carillon historical park in dayton ohio

Tip: Since Carillon Historical Park charges an admission fee, maximize your visit's value by going early in the day. You have more time to explore its wealth of outstanding exhibits – including the world's first practical airplane, the 1905 Wright Flyer III – and shop for chocolates, coffees, and other made-in-Dayton items before A Carillon Christmas begins. Find information on things to do by visiting www.daytonhistory.org

For more things to do this #HolidaysinOhio season, check out #OhioFindItHere at Ohio.org.


*All photos courtesy of Carillon Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio.

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