Although the tradition is fairly new to me, Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village is one of my very favorite Michigan Christmas activities. The carolers, costumes, fireworks, and old-time setting are magical, allowing anyone who visits to escape the “real world” for a night. Each year, I discover something I’ve never seen before—so the experience is always far from monotonous. This year, I was able to continue that trend with the Holiday Nights dinner at Eagle Tavern, an on-site occasion that immerses visitors in centuries-past dining culture.
Upon entering the Eagle Tavern, I was immediately transported to the warm, 19th-century stagecoach stop I had been looking forward to. The air held a delicious, wood fire smell, and men in top hats and coats welcomed crowds at the door. My husband and I were seated at a candlelit table with six other people, an arrangement that was very common in the 1800s. As expected, cozying up to a group of strangers was a tad awkward at first, but our table mates were friendly and we quickly settled in to enjoy our meal.
We munched on cranberry relish and cheese for a bit before the Eagle Tavern “owner” appeared with a gruff voice and semi-sociable, no-nonsense greeting. The year, he reminded us, was 1850, and we were about to take part in a second annual holiday feast, organized by his wife and himself. The menu was already planned out—and with any luck, we’d all get to sample some carrot cake for dessert (that is, if it turned out better than the one from the night before).
According to the actor, we were also in for a surprise performance: a traveling singing group had derailed at the tavern for the evening, and planned to “sing for their supper.” Performing new (to the time period) Christmas carols, the singers opened the show with tunes like “Jingle Bells” (you know, that song where some fellow has trouble with his wagon).
Dinner kicked off, and the room filled with laughter and conversation. The first thing to come out was squash soup, dolloped into bowls by our server and passed around the table. The rest of the meal was served homestyle, with large dishes of pork and apple pie, cherry chicken, and roasted beef and vegetables making their way from person to person. Meanwhile, the “traveling singers” caroled their way from table to table, and we sang along while grazing on homemade bread and sipping creamy coffee.
Near the end of the meal, we were told by one of the lead singers that our table had been assigned to the “three french hens” portion of the “12 Days of Christmas.” When the moment came, we were to sing our part—loud and proud—for all to hear. Admittedly, this news created a bit of a grumble from my husband and a little skepticism on my own part, but of course we’d play along. After all, we were there to travel back in time, right? Might as well participate the best we could.
Our moment to shine came mid-carrot cake. While we munched our desserts, The carolers cued each table to perform their share of “12 Days.” At first, the scene sounded a bit like a room of confused five year-olds when the teacher is vying for attention. Pretty soon, however, people really started getting into their roles. By the end of the song, we had people beating on tables for “12 drummers drumming,” twirling like ballerinas for “9 ladies dancing,” and yelling like frat boys at a football game every time “2 turtle doves” rolled around. It was chaotic and hilarious, and I even forgot about my food for a few minutes as I laughed along with a room filled with people I had never met. What began as an obligation to participate was now an ice breaker activity, and I could clearly picture how similar establishments in the 1800s must have thrived when filled with crowds of travelers. By the end of the night, we were chatting with our fellow diners like they were old friends. It was a great time, and definitely worth trying at least once if you’re looking for an event with that warm, Christmastime feeling.
One important takeaway: if you plan to roam Greenfield Village and visit the Eagle Tavern dinner on the same night, remember to budget your time wisely. Our dinner ran from 8:00 to 9:30 (right in the middle of the evening), which wasn’t an issue since we had visited the village during Holiday Nights a few times before. This schedule, however, could possibly limit village browsing time for first-time Holiday Nights visitors. A couple of alternatives include booking an earlier time slot (there is a 5:00 dinner that starts before Holiday Nights begins each night) or reserving tickets for a second night (current season or next) to enjoy all of the other activities Holiday Nights has to offer. Either way, everything wraps up just in time for fireworks and caroling on the Village Green—and in my humble opinion, there’s no better way to conclude a perfectly-festive evening!
The Holiday Nights dinner at Eagle Tavern sells out quickly each year, but there may still be room available! Click here for more information on ticket pricing and availability.
Have you visited the Holiday Nights dinner at Eagle Tavern? What was your favorite part of the evening? Share in the comments below!