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Holiday healing may seem like an oxymoron. Most times, media focuses on the draining, dysfunctional aspects of the holidays. However, healing holidays are possible.

Are seeking ways to recapture the magic of the holidays? Are dedicated to healing your trauma and reclaiming forgotten holiday joy and wonder? Here are two marvelous holiday destinations in New Jersey to ignite your love of tradition and nostalgia. In the process they will empower your self-healing journey. I’m a lifelong resident in the area and experienced these wonderful destinations countless times. Read on to discover new and joyful memories in the heart of South Jersey.

Quick Summary of Both Towns

The first festive stop on the list is the Historical Towne of Smithville. Just minutes from Atlantic City, Historic Smithville is a South Jersey gem nestled in the pristine NJ Pine Barrens. The quaint and bustling village offers delicious food, attractions, and magic of a bygone era.

Smithville sign showing holiday healing in NJ

The second enchanting destination is the seaside town known as Cape May. Located at the southernmost point of New Jersey, it’s accessible by one of two bridges that cross the canal that links the Delaware Bay to the Atlantic Ocean.

Cape May beach boat to show holiday cheer.

Both towns are served by Atlantic City International Airport. I always use Booking for cheap and easy flights.

The driving time from Smithville to Cape May is 51 minutes. Can you do both in one day? Yes! However, if you have the availability, I recommend making it a whole weekend trip or even two individual day trips. Better yet, why not book a room at one of the 30+ room Bed and Breakfast options within Smithville village? It’s an unforgettable way to experience a historical and traditional holiday season. If making a weekend of it, why not spend some time in nearby Atlantic City?

This can also benefit your mental and emotional health, since when practicing self healing and mindful travel, the best gift you can give yourself is time. Taking the time to appreciate the little things is a wonderful strategy to self-heal from trauma. It reduces stress and opens you up to the magical moment. So the more time you have, the better.

Self Healing With Holiday Mindfulness

As a lifelong New Jersey native, I have visited both towns and participated in their Christmas displays many times. However, because I didn’t start actively self healing my trauma until later in life, I can attest that the experience has changed over the years. That’s because once a person proactively chooses to heal themselves internally, the outer world shifts.

Colorful light show healing holiday Smithville
View from the bridge of Music and Light Show 5:30 – 8 pm daily.

For example, rather than feeling preoccupied about time, schedules, costs, etc, the focus of self-healing your trauma while in these settings is about being in the moment. Specifically, it’s about reliving the laughter and joy the season can bring. Of course this is what every Christmas movie ever made attempts to do! However, going out into your world and engaging in the festivities takes your healing to a much deeper level.

Smithville

As soon as you step into the charming historical town of Smithville during the festive season, you’ll be greeted by a world wrapped in holiday splendor. As you stroll down the charming cobblestone streets, the air is filled with the spirit of the season.

People in Smithville enjoying the holidays with roasting s'mores
Toast S’mores or just enjoy the fireside and nostalgia

Engage your five senses to begin your self healing. Hear the music with the ears of the child you once were. Go into that toy store and find something you used to play with (or purchase something you like!). Buy yourself a cup of warm cocoa and breathe in the sweet chocolate mist. Connecting to your physical body helps trauma survivors process old, stuck emotions.

Since Smithville is small and intimate, you can see all of it in one visit. Therefore, be sure to explore all the holiday attractions it offers. For example, interact with the talking Christmas tree, ride the whimsical train, and enjoy dazzling light and music display at nightfall. Better yet, ride the splendid carousel! Having fun is an excellent way to heal yourself.

talking Christmas Tree in Smithville for holiday fun

Shopping and Eating

After a day of holiday memory-making, enjoy a lunch or dinner at one of the 7 eateries in the village. My suggestion is to check in and make a reservation early (at least an hour in advance) during this busy season. Over the last forty years, I’ve enjoyed a meal in them all, and they’re all good. You’ll have lots to choose from depending on your mood and budget.

After a warm meal, immerse yourself in the unique boutiques and shops lining the streets, each with festive decorations. Shop in one of the 60 unique shops for that special gift. There’s even a shop featuring authentic Irish gifts which, believe it or not, on a trip to Ireland I met a man who was friends with the owner. Such a small world.

Holiday shopping here, you’ll find plenty of selections and options to choose from, for everyone on your list. It is possible to do all, or at least the bulk of, your shopping here (I’ve done it). In addition, when doing your holiday shopping in this cozy, distinctive atmosphere, normal stress levels that can come with holiday shopping are diminished. Frankly, I tested the theory…there were crowded stores and I intentionally observed if patrons were impatient or rude with the situation. I did 3 hours of shopping and encountered none of that.

historic picturesque saw mill Smithville
Historic working saw mill

Besides holiday fun, there’s also year-round Western style shooting gallery ($2.00/ 20 shots). And who doesn’t love pretending to be back in the old wild west? In the summer, you can rent paddle boats and play skee-ball in the small arcade. Another form of self healing is being able to appreciate the traditions that resonate with your young at heart child within. It’s actually a gift you give yourself. As you embrace the healing that comes with reclaiming your inherent joy before the trauma, give yourself a big holiday hug.

Parking and Directions

During peak holiday season, coffee, hot chocolate and toast-able S’mores for firepits are sold for a small fee. Amidst the chilly NJ weather, don’t worry about restrooms; the town ensures convenience at every turn. There is an old fashioned-style washroom centrally located near the common greens. There is another one with an outdoor water fountain located in the northeastern corner of the village.

Park your car with ease in the multiple, free designated areas. To reach the delightful town of Smithville in New Jersey, follow these directions:

From Philadelphia:

1. Head northeast on I-76 E.

2. Merge onto NJ-42 S via Exit 1B toward Atlantic City.

3. Continue on NJ-42 S, and then take the Atlantic City Expressway E toward Atlantic City.

4. Take Exit 7S for Garden State Parkway S toward Cape May.

5. Merge onto Garden State Pkwy S, and then take Exit 48 toward Smithville.

From New York City:

1. Take I-95 S and I-295 S toward NJ-42 S.

2. Merge onto NJ-42 S and continue onto Atlantic City Expressway East toward Atlantic City.

3. Take Exit 7S for Garden State Parkway South toward Cape May.

4. Merge onto Garden State Parkway South, and then take Exit 48 toward Smithville.

From Atlantic City:

1. Head northwest on Atlantic Ave toward South Carolina Ave.

2. Turn right onto Baltic Ave.

3. Merge onto Atlantic City Expressway W via the ramp to Philadelphia.

4. Take Exit 5 toward US-9 N/Smithville.

Once you reach Smithville, follow signs for parking areas and enjoy the festive charm of this historical town!

Cape May

One difference you’ll notice between Smithville and Cape May is the architecture. Much of the the charm of Cape May is thanks to its Victorian style homes, whereas Smithville is Colonial style. Some building structures in Smithville are actual originals, and had been relocated on trucks from other parts of the surrounding area. The stately homes in Cape May are authentic to the late 1880’s and historically preserved.

Another comparison is the the layout differences. While Smithville is a ‘self-contained’ village, Cape May has holiday attractions spread out through the town.

One such attraction is the free display showcasing an extensive Dept. 56 Dickens Village collection. Set upon muli-tiered tables, the figurines and accessories of daily life take place beneath the boughs of a gigantic Christmas tree.

Christmas healing in Cape May - a miniature display of houses
There’s also a toy train chugging around the Victorian era village

In addition to the multiple life size excerpts of A Christmas Carol by Dickens, there are 50+ miniature houses and figurines depicting turn of the century England. Having experienced London during the holidays I can confidently say Cape May captured the spirit of the English tradition.

Scrooge and Marley mini house
My favorite way to self-heal is to lean into the magical world of imagination and delight.

The display is in the Carriage House, adjacent to the Physic Estate. There is also a small gift shop and original family photographs on display. If you’re looking for quiet hidden gems, this definitely qualifies.

sign for the Physick Estate in Cape May

The Physick Estate Mansion holds wonderful tours that compliment the many other seasonal events throughout the city. I’ve experienced the tour and enjoyed learning from the guide’s extensive knowledge of community history.

If your legs start to get tired, you can combine a tour of the Physick Estate with a trolley ride through the town. There are options for including hop-on hop-off to tour the city’s Bed and Breakfasts. The entire event is run by volunteers, and the personalities onboard the trolley make the ride jolly and silly.

After you’ve enjoyed the holiday light displays along main street, head over to the Washington Street Mall to partake in the enchanting Christmas atmosphere.

Complete with strings of twinkling lights and strolling carolers, Washington Mall in Cape May will make you feel like you’ve been transported to a winter wonderland where history and holiday magic intertwine. If you feel so inclined, bring your journal along as a holiday companion and capture the moment in writing!

As you walk along the cobblestone path, remind yourself of your intention to self heal. Recall some of your favorite holiday traditions, foods, and songs from your childhood. Place your hand upon your heart and bask in the festive moment of your healing journey. Thank yourself for showing up for your healing. If it’s not too chilly, enjoy an ice cream cone!

Food and Shopping

Indulge your senses in the delightful array of restaurants offering everything from cozy fireside dinners to quick bites. There are over 20 restaurants along Washington Street Mall, and each atmosphere offers a special experience.

After a satisfying meal, explore the diverse shopping choices that line the streets, with boutiques showcasing unique treasures. On a budget? Cape May also offers a genuine Five and Dime store, complete with signs for Sofa Fountains and Counter seating.

Dellas Discount Store with old fashioned soda fountain in Cape May
Dellas 5 & 10 has been serving Cape May residents since 1947

Restrooms and water bottle filling stations are easily accessible, an important detail for us autoimmune warriors. From the iconic Cape May Christmas Candlelight House Tours to the festive sounds of horse-drawn carriages echoing through the streets, every corner proudly boasts the spirit of the season.

Old fashioned carriage and horse rides
Carriages sell out quickly, so make a reservation ahead of time

Parking and Directions

Although there is no free parking lot for Washington Street Mall, metered street parking can be found in designated areas near the heart of town.

Here are directions to Cape May, New Jersey, from a few common starting points:

From Philadelphia:

1. Take I-76 E toward Walt Whitman Bridge.

2. Cross Walt Whitman Bridge and merge onto I-676 S.

3. Continue onto US-30 E and follow signs for Camden/Atlantic City.

4. Merge onto Atlantic City Expressway S.

5. Take the exit toward Garden State Pkwy S.

6. Merge onto Garden State Pkwy S and follow signs for Cape May.

From New York City:

1. Take I-95 S and I-295 S toward NJ-42 S.

2. Merge onto NJ-42 S and continue onto Atlantic City Expressway S toward Atlantic City.

3. Take the exit toward Garden State Pkwy S.

4. Merge onto Garden State Pkwy S and follow signs for Cape May.

From Baltimore:

1. Take I-95 N toward Wilmington/Philadelphia.

2. Merge onto I-495 N via Exit 85 toward Port of Wilmington.

3. Merge onto I-295 N toward New Jersey Turnpike/Del Memorial Bridge.

4. Merge onto NJ-42 S and continue onto Atlantic City Expressway S toward Atlantic City.

5. Take the exit toward Garden State Pkwy S.

6. Merge onto Garden State Pkwy S and follow signs for Cape May.

Once in Cape May, follow signs for parking and enjoy your time in this charming town. Finally, if you fall in love with Cape May and want to visit again, why not come back in the summer and take a ferry?

Final Thoughts on Holiday Healing In New Jersey

Engaging in these joyful childhood activities serves as a profound healing journey and therapeutic opportunities. It reminds you to build bridges, not walls, with the innocence of the past. For a trauma survivor, this is easier said than done. There are no easy-buttons for healing, the process is long and painful. However, each choice you make to live your best life and reclaim the parts of you that were lost due to trauma is a step in the direction of self-love.

So as you embrace the festive traditions of Smithville and Cape May, go ahead and wind up that marching toy soldier, listen to that delicate music box play a familiar holiday tune a second time. You hold in your hands the healing power of resilience and renewal. The happiness it gives you become a catalyst for inner healing.

For more destinations, suggestions, and examples of how to travel mindfully and heal trauma, click here.

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