As soon as the sky darkens, Beverly Levine flips the switches that light up Koziar’s Christmas Village in Bernville, Pa. (pop. 955), transforming her family’s farm into a holiday wonderland for the 63rd year.
“It’s like a fairyland,” says Levine, 70, as she gazes at the 10-acre Christmas-themed attraction built around dairy barns, chicken coops, tool sheds, a grain silo and stone farmhouse aglow with 500,000 lights.
The charming scene is a testament to the creativity and holiday spirit of her late father, William Koziar, who began decorating the farm in 1948 to delight his wife, Grace, and their four young children. Outdoor Christmas lights and decorations were novelties at the time and attracted carloads of spectators.
“Every year, our father would add something,” says Levine, who remembers helping her father plug in the numerous strands of lights.
“There was only so much wattage, so we couldn’t put all the Christmas lights on until the milking was finished because we needed lights in the barn,” she adds. “We couldn’t turn on the television either.”
The Koziars’ home became known as the “Christmas House,” and each year motorists clogged the narrow road in front of the farm, parking haphazardly to marvel at the glowing lights. In the early 1950s, William paved part of a field to make a parking lot, set up a card table and began charging a dollar a car to visit Koziar’s Christmas Village. As visitors walked around the farm admiring the decorations, the Koziar kids served cups of hot chocolate.
Although her father provided the creative spark, the whole family created Christmas Village, says Sonia Ochroch, 72, Levine’s only surviving sibling.
“We’d sit down after Christmas and come up with all these ideas,” Ochroch recalls. “It kept our minds in a creative mode. Wherever we went, we’d come back with ideas.”
During the summertime, their father rigged a lighted Koziar’s Christmas Village sign atop the family’s Pontiac and drove in area parades to promote their winter attraction.
Year-round, he tinkered with decorations and hired local farmers, artists and welders to help create the designs that the family brainstormed—a giant U.S. flag shining with red, white and blue bulbs on top of the 65-foot silo, and lighted bells, candles, stars and snowflakes attached to the roofs and sides of the house and barns. They arranged their own dolls, ice skates and toy trucks for a “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” scene in one of the chicken coops.
“Everything here has meaning to us,” says Ochroch as she looks wistfully at a scene of an old-fashioned Christmas dinner on the enclosed front porch of the farmhouse. “Those are Mom’s dishes on the table and her Victrola. That’s Billy’s airplane in the corner,” she says, recalling her brother who died in 2007. Their sister, June, died last year.
In front of the 1870s farmhouse is the lake that their father dug and the source of sweet memories of swimming with friends and bundled-up ice-skating parties as soon as the lake froze over.
Today, the lake reflects thousands of shimmering Christmas lights from the first weekend in November through Jan. 1, as the two Koziar sisters keep the village glowing with the help of three year-round employees and several seasonal workers. For thousands of families, the gift from a loving father to his family has become a holiday tradition.
“Everything is so beautiful,” says Clara Casciano, 90, of Norristown, Pa., who has been visiting Koziar’s Christmas Village since the 1950s. “It just makes you feel alive.”
Accompanied by three generations of her family, Casciano makes her way along a lighted walkway with her daughter Sue Fontannay, 64, of Limerick, Pa.; Sue’s daughter, Danielle Fontannay, 36; and Danielle’s daughter Claire, 4, who can’t wait to have her photo taken on Santa’s lap inside Santa’s Headquarters.
As the family strolls, they’re delighted by Christmas displays in dozens of former farm implement sheds and other structures built for the village: a brick firehouse, one-room schoolhouse, post office, church and ice cream parlor. Pathways lead to a two-story fiberglass Santa Claus on Ho! Ho! Ho! Lane, a life-size Nativity scene, a bakery, and a gift barn stocked with nutcrackers and other holiday ornaments.
Sue smiles as she watches a model train zip around a miniature village. Further along the path, a “Kissing Bridge” is adorned with lighted wreaths and angels. The bridge is a popular spot for first dates and wedding proposals since the toll to cross is a kiss.
“This place makes you feel like Christmas,” Sue says.
Nearby, Connor Devlin, 2, of Exeter, Pa., stares wide-eyed at a display of Santa’s workshop and a white-bearded elf painting a toy soldier.
Connor’s father, Brian, 37, is as impressed by the glistening village as his toddler. “The best part is when you come over the hill and it’s like you’re looking into a snow globe,” he says.
’Tis the season
Wendy Fisher, 43, has worked at the village during the holiday season since she was 16, as have her two children.
“It’s part of my Christmas tradition,” says Fisher, a school secretary in nearby Bethel, Pa. “My first job here was typing up price tags, but I’ve worked everywhere in the village. This is my family.”
Although Koziar’s Christmas Village closes Jan. 2, it takes a month or longer to dismantle the elaborate displays. The decorations are refurbished and new ones planned before they are installed each August for the upcoming season.
“Everything around us has changed,” Levine says. “There aren’t a lot of farms anymore, but the Christmas Village is still here. It’s so miraculous.”