Seek and ye shall find new holiday traditions

For better or worse, holiday festivities soon will consume many of us. Whether it’s a Santa in every parade, a candy cane in every stocking or a fruitcake on every guest list, December can be an extraordinary example of magic, generosity and tolerance.

So, what’s it to you – a month of annoying ruts, comfortable routines or painful recollections? That may well depend upon how you’ve weathered the year.

Here are a few ways to help change the pace, traditions or spirit of the upcoming holidays without venturing far from home.

Does Santa make an appearance at House on the Rock? You betcha. The house, an odd and renown haven of kitsch, will have more than 6,000 Santas – from simple to ornate, miniatures to life-sized renditions – on display in December.

Wisconsin’s most eclectic attraction is near Spring Green and open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, until Dec. 21, then daily (but not on the holidays) until Jan. 4. For more, call (800) or go to www.thehouseontherock.com.

My guy and I will be at Madison’s Wisconsin Union next week, for the 70th annual Tudor Holiday Dinner on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. It is a popular event that is big on English pageantry, strolling minstrels, mulled wine and spirited dining. From boar’s head to figgy pudding, this is a taste of history as well as nontraditional dining.

Call (608) 262-2201 or go to www.union.wisc.edu/tudordinners, but most of the Dec. 3-10 dates already are filled to capacity.

Why tease you? Another fun option, which is along the same line, is the Wassail Dinner Concerts at the Old Rittenhouse Inn in Bayfield. The grand feasts, accompanied by the music of the Rittenhouse Chamber Singers, begin this weekend and end Dec. 21.

For more, call this grand Victorian inn at (800) 779-2129 or go to www.rittenhouseinn.com. A two-night, Friday-Saturday stay that includes breakfasts on two days and the dinner concert on one night is $425 to $640 per couple, depending upon the type of room booked.

A few tickets for just the dinner and concert also are available; the cost is $30 for a luncheon presentation, $60-75 for the night meal.

On a more modest budget? Bring a couple of bungee cords and stay at the Algoma Beach Motel for as little as $70 per night, before Dec. 23. The rate will include a coupon for a Christmas tree – precut, or cut by you – that can be hauled right on home.

For more about the motel and the nearby Harbor Walk Condominiums, call (888) 254-6621 or go to www.algomabeach.com. Some of the Harbor Walk packages include dining certificates and shopping discounts. The properties are on Lake Michigan.

One of the more pleasant gift shop owners that I’ve met in recent years is Jane Tremaine, proprietor of The Weather Vane, on a farm that is near Oconomowoc.

“Merchandise comes from all directions of the world,” she says, to explain the shop’s name. The former stay-at-home mom used an $8,000 inheritance to start the business in her family’s garage 26 years ago. “We needed a lot of things on the farm at the time,” Jane recalls, “but I used the money to buy my first inventory.”

Arts, crafts and memorabilia from Nova Scotia and New England were the majority of her merchandise, at first. Then a daughter became a foreign exchange student in Germany and Jane began accumulating handcrafted “smoking men” – incense burners that the Germans use to bless their homes.

Jane contends her assortment of 250 types of smoking men is the largest in the United States. She also has Russian nesting dolls, pottery from Poland, Raku items from Japan, German pyramids, nutcrackers, music boxes, ornaments, miscellaneous collectibles – and weather vanes.

New this year are “electric candle arches,” called schwibbogens and used to decorate windows. Since Jane’s husband retired from teaching, the couple has diversified their stock even more, as they love to shop while traveling all over the world

For more about The Weather Vane, call (800) 873-4413 or go to www.weather-vane.com. Orders can be placed at the store or online.

Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry is a melting pot of cultural diversity during this time of year. “Christmas Around the World” and “Holidays of Light” are global celebrations that began as a United Nations Day tribute in 1942.

There are more than 50 ethnic holiday trees, plus an explanation of customs and traditions. Ethnic music, dance and sports performances are scheduled each weekend. The salute ends Jan. 4.

This also is a good venue to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight, which is Dec. 17. “Adventures in Flight” includes photos, flight simulations and airplane artifacts.

For more about the museum and its exhibits, call (773) 684-1414 or go to mischicago.org.