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Clark Griswold Had Nothing On Koziar’s Christmas Village

14 December 2010 No Comment

When I was a kid and we lived in suburban Philadelphia, there was a man near Willow Grove who really went all-out with decorating his house every Christmas. My parents would take us over to see the place and it was lit up with an enormous number of lights and moving figures that included Frosty, Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, Rudolph as well as other displays and favorites, including, of course, the Big Guy.

I never knew who the home owner was, but he was clearly a couple decades ahead of the Clark Griswold syndrome of going to town on Christmas decorations. His neighbors, apparently, were also decades ahead of the NIMBY syndrome. I heard years later that he eventually pulled the plug on his great display because neighbors complained about the traffic.

It’s probably a good thing that Bill Koziar didn’t have any neighbors back in the late 1940s when he began decorating his house in Bernville, Berks County. Actually, Koziar’s Christmas Village doesn’t have any real close neighbors today. It’s still out in the hinterlands somewhere between Reading and Hershey, but Koziar’s old dairy farm has become an annual stop for hundreds and thousands of visitors each year who make the trek out Interstate 78 and into the country to see this magical display.

Koziar's Christmas Village brings a little bit of the North Pole to Berks County. (Photo courtesy of Koziar's Christmas Village)

Begun pretty much as a hobby in 1948, Bill and Grace Koziar started by decorating all of the windows in the farmhouse, then expanding to wrap lights around the house, then the dairy barn, then the stable, then anything else that stood still long enough to be wrapped. Surrounded by high hills and fronted by a pond, the farm became known as “the Christmas House” to nearby residents and eventually evolved into the Christmas Village.

Sonia Koziar, daughter of Bill and Grace, still helps run the farm and the display every year with her siblings.
“It really was just a hobby and it kept growing and growing,” she remembered one recent cold December evening as hundreds of fans wandered the multi-acre display that now includes more than a half-million lights. “People would drive up the dirt road – and it was dirt at the time – and stop to look at the display, and my dad eventually added a paved parking lot and charged a little bit for people to come in a see it.”

Clark Griswold had nothing on Bill Koziar, who began decorating his home in 1948 and provided fun for generations children. (Photo by Anthony Skorochod)

The popularity of the display grew with its constantly expanding size, and eventually it became a year-round operation for the Koziar family. “We would sit around after every Christmas and think about what we could do next year,” Sonia said. “As children we were told that wherever we go, we had to bring back ideas.”

The first major expansion was a display of “The Night Before Christmas” and eventually Santa’s Workshop – still a perennial favorite – was added. There are storyboard for “The Nutcracker” and “A Christmas Carol.” “The Kissing Bridge” is another favorite stop and has been the site of numerous wedding proposals and even the weddings, she said.

Santa, of course, is always on hand to listen to wish lists and there are indoor gift shops complete with massive model train displays. The farm has graced the cover of the book “Christmas In America” and has been named several times to the list of top 10 travel destinations in America.

Jamie Shaffer, who visited recently with his friend Shira Steinfurth and her daughter, Alana Sink, said he made her come to see the display he has visited numerous times. Even though Shira lives only minutes away, she had never seen the Village, she admitted.

“I made her come,” said Shaffer. “I think it’s a great thing for the kids. The best part is coming up over the hill and seeing all the lights.”

Sonia Koziar said the glee on the faces of visitors keeps the family going. The Koziar property is still a working farm, though not a dairy farm, anymore, and all of the decorations come down after the Christmas season and go back up in time for the next year. Each year something new is added.

“It’s a 12-month a year job and we’re only open for two months,” she said. “But the letters we get, the joy it brings, makes it all worthwhile. We have people who have been coming here every year for 50 years.

“It’s sort of like the “Field of Dreams,” and although it wasn’t built for people to come, they certainly have come. I love it. People always ask ‘don’t you get tired of Christmas?’ I say, no way.”

What To Know: Dress warm. The Christmas Village is an outdoor display and takes an hour or two to walk through, depending on how much time you want to spend looking at each display. Hot chocolate and coffee are available at indoor refreshment stands.

If You Go: Koziar’s is open from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Take I-78 west to Exit 23 and follow Route 183 south. Look for the signs that lead to Koziar’s Christmas Village. For more information, prices and directions, go to http://www.koziarschristmasvillage.com/home.html.

Facts: As you pass the different displays such as the Raggedy Ann’s Ice Cream Parlor, Santa’s Workshop and others, look closely at the old toys and clothes on display – most were the actually toys and gifts owned by the first generation of Koziar children and were donated to the display to add authenticity.

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