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A Local's List for the Holidays in State College

by on December 19, 2017 5:00 AM

In the three years I’ve been writing for I have used the last column of the year as a “list” column – my 12 favorite holiday songs in 2014, then cornucopia lists in 2015 and 2016. This year I’d like to offer a few tips for all the Centre Region folks who are sticking around Happy Valley for the holiday season and watching the Fiesta Bowl on TV instead of in the dry warmth of Arizona. A list of things to do around town while the students are gone and the local population dips by 40,000 or so. Also a time when the longest night of the year covers everyone in darkness.   

A quick aside for those already suffering vitamin D deficiency due to a lack of sunlight – the internet tells me the winter solstice occurs in State College on Thursday, Dec. 21 at 11:28 am EST. Which means we begin to get more daylight in just three days!

So as long as we townies have three weeks of “nothing-but-the-locals” until the spring semester starts on Jan. 8, these are some things you need to do while you have the chance.

• Drive down South Sparks Street between Westerly Parkway and Saxton Drive and take in the long-standing holiday tradition of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Park in a nearby lot (the high school) or on a side street and walk the block. All the while trying to remember exactly how many ladies dancing and lords-a-leaping there should be. Having the argument in the car while driving isn’t the safest way to travel.

• Wait for a snowfall and go for a jog on campus. The university has done a fine job over the last few years evicting townies from the Rec Hall jogging track and the Indoor Multi-Sport Facility track – favorite long-time haunts of those of us who need aerobic activity where our bodies actually move through space. Rather than space rolling along below us while our bodies stay more-or-less stationary. But one thing the university does really well is snow and ice removal. So when the weather covers the local bike paths and sidewalks with treacherous footing, head up on campus and take a scenic jog all around. It’s easy to get 3-5 miles in without retracing your footsteps and compared to most other places in the area, you won’t have to watch carefully where each of those footsteps lands.

• And as long as we’re jogging on campus, take time on the evening of Dec. 31 to run or walk in the First Night 5K. That’s right, run or walk. Not a runner? That’s OK. Plenty of people take a nice three mile evening walk on campus at a comfortable 15-minute-per-mile pace – leisurely enough that you’re not huffing and puffing but fast enough to keep you warm during a nice night with a forecast in the 20s. The race kicks off at 6:30 p.m. and you can sign up here until Dec. 30. Last year more than 700 people were there – plenty of company to ring in the New Year.

• As a long-time bar aficionado of State College, I highly recommend that during this holiday season you go downtown and enjoy some time in the All-American Rathskeller. The basement hangout -- which opened in 1933 just three days after prohibition was repealed and has been a place for good times for hundreds of thousands of customers -- will be closing on Jan. 27, 2018. A once-unthinkable happening has become a reality, and it should be a warning call to all other local long-time historical businesses who lease their space rather than own it.

Regardless of how you feel about the actions that resulted in this community heartbreak, the fact remains the longest continually operating bar in Pennsylvania will be shutting down. And if you want to have your opportunity to say, “I went to the Skeller,” this is your last shot. And while you’re there go upstairs and have a wonderful meal at Spats.

• The last thing on my list is one my wife highly recommends. Wait for a cold, crisp, clear, starry night and go take a walk. And most importantly, leave all your “technology.” We are surrounded by those who spend their entire days connected to their electronic devices. Walk downtown or on campus and look for the lone individual who doesn’t have earbuds in, headphones on, or a phone in their hands. Leave that behind. These are the darkest months of the year – no pun intended to “Star Wars” fans – and can be embraced for what they are. Go out into the night, listen for the silence of the dark, enjoy the spectacle of the stars, and breathe in the cold air. Take time to be silent and just be.

Happy holidays!



John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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