Get Away: Fire & Ice Festivals

Winter is festival season in many mid-Atlantic small towns. Go outside and play.


As darkness falls, I am reminded of the German tradition of the volksmarch (“people’s march”), which compels townspeople of all ages to get outside for a brisk walk. Everyone seems to be out and about, admiring the glimmering sculptures while filling their bellies with a smorgasbord of street food. Some 20 food trucks are lined up, hawking everything from strudel and burgers to batter-fried cheese curds. Families roast marshmallows over fire pits in the middle of the street, and the local restaurants and watering holes are hopping, the sounds of live music emanating from several corners into the night air.

Downtown Lititz at night during the festival. Photo by Amy Spangler

Outside of the Lititz Mutual Insurance building, with its lovely limestone clock tower, we stop to watch one of the artists from DiMartino Ice Co. at work on a Pegasus sculpture. Many of the sculptures are pre-carved at the company’s office near Pittsburgh and hauled to the site, owner Ernie DiMartino explains, but the team always saves a few larger pieces to carve on location with a variety of power tools—chainsaws, chisels, sanders, and finally, a blowtorch to add that finishing shine.

DiMartino credits social media with the growing popularity of ice festivals. “Everybody’s got a camera now,” he says, “and something about ice makes it popular in pictures.” Indeed.

Shoppers on Main Street. Photo by Amy Spangler.

Continuing our stroll, we stop at Olio and sample a dozen or so of the 104 olive oils and vinegars in shiny vats. (Pro tip: The bittersweet-chocolate-orange balsamic vinegar is irresistible, as is the apricot in white balsamic.) The store feels like Willy Wonka’s factory for those whose taste buds lean sweet-sour and savory. It offers handy 2-ounce bottles for sale, along with an attractive array of Italian pottery.

The next morning we walk back into town, making note of ice sculptures we missed in the dark the night before. Every other storefront, it seems, offers some sort of culinary treat, while those in between showcase stylish and warm home furnishings or clothing.

The town’s annual chili cook-off. Photo by Amy Spangler.

After some window (and real) shopping, we walk the few blocks to the official “fire” part of the festival. Inside the high school, a chili cook-off is raising funds for area nonprofits. For $10, we can taste more than 20 types of chili—everything from a white chicken stew to a Philly-cheesesteak-style chili, complete with a dollop of Cheez Whiz on top. We surrender after about six samples and go in search of water bottles, passing an eclectic mix of local vendors and a children’s carnival.

Back outside, the midday temperature has peaked at a sunny 40 degrees, causing the ice sculptures to glisten and drip a bit. It’s short-lived. Soon, the mercury drops once again, and to our delight, fluffy snowflakes begin to fall, gracefully frosting the town. Grateful for our hats and gloves, we revisit our favorite ice sculptures one last time, basking, like kids, in the joy of fresh snow.


Categories: Travel