For some small American towns, the Christmas season comes with an invitation to light things up and throw a party. Colorful lights and festive décor set the stage for holiday parades, concerts, sleigh rides and cider tastings.
For those of you ready to step outside of your holiday comfort zone, consider spending some time in one of the following seven towns that take celebrating Christmas to a whole new level.
Christmas is clearly the most wonderful time of the year in the Bavarian-inspired village of Leavenworth. Each year this Cascade Mountain community heralds the holiday season with its Christmas Lighting Festival.
More than a half-million Christmas lights brighten the scene that includes a Bavarian-style Christkindlmarkt offering the best holiday shopping this side of Munich, concerts, strolling carolers, sleigh and dogsled rides, tubing, skiing and snowboarding.
Another little mountain town that does Christmas in a big way, Durango celebrates the holiday all December long. There are activities planned for everyone from the holiday traditionalist to the wild and crazy adventure seeker. Durango’s favorite family holiday activity is a ride on the Polar Express — a narrow-gage train that leads travelers on a 26-mile journey along the Animas River through San Juan National Forest to (where else?) the North Pole.
For the more active types, there’s dog sledding, snowmobiling and skiing the slopes at nearby Purgatory Resort.
Named after a local Native American tribe, Natchitoches (pronounced Nack-a-tish) is the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase Territory — and home since 1927 to the oldest community-based Christmas holiday celebration in the country.
Named a 2018 Top 20 Festival of the Year by the Southeast Tourism Society, the Natchitoches Christmas Festival is a lengthy affair, running from Nov. 23, 2019 to Jan. 6, 2020. Festivities include musical entertainment, arts and crafts exhibits, carriage rides and historic home tours. More than 300,000 Christmas lights and 100+ illuminated set pieces brighten scenic Cane River Lake and the Historic Downtown Landmark District.
Santa Claus, Indiana
The name gives away the fact that this little southeastern Indiana town of 2,400 folks (including elves) is all about Christmas. It celebrates it all year round, so you can bet it has you covered for Christmas-themed entertainment come December.
The Santa Claus Christmas Celebration takes place during the first three weekends of that month, featuring a fabulous display of lights and a host of holiday-related activities at the Santa Claus Museum & Village and the Christmas Store. The latter is loaded with unique holiday finds.
McAdenville, North Carolina
This mill town 20 miles west of Charlotte bills itself “Christmas Town USA” and, much like Indiana’s town of Santa Claus, it goes all out to create holiday cheer. There are so many lighted Christmas trees on display in this 64-year-old celebration that they outnumber the town’s households. There are 250 of them in the town’s common area alone and they are draped with nearly a half million lights.
Hundreds more trees ring the lake at Legacy Park where a two-mile tour route is expected to handle more than 200,000 cars this season for a slow-motion look-see at all the lighted trees — along with 160 homes decorated to the max by individual homeowners. Special events this year include the the annual Christmas Town Festival on the evening of Dec. 12, following the Yule Log Parade.
A stroll through Colonial Williamsburg during the holiday season is surely one of the most picturesque Christmas experiences to be found anywhere in America. The nation’s largest interactive history museum was recently named by Architectural Digest as the best town in America for Christmas celebrations.
Holiday activities got underway this year on Dec. 8 with the Grand Illumination — a night of fireworks, music and stage entertainment — marking the beginning of a month of holiday related celebrations.
The Christmas season brings out Colonial Williamsburg’s renowned holiday decorations and 18th-century seasonal programs. Beating drums, trilling fifes, theatrical programs and costumed interpreters take visitors back in time to celebrate Christmas as Virginians did centuries ago.
One of New England’s most popular Christmas celebrations takes place in the historic Vermont village of Woodstock. To best capture the holiday spirit, be sure to visit on Wassail Weekend, Dec. 13-15. During this festive weekend, the town comes alive with a Christmas parade featuring horse-drawn carriages loaded with revelers attired in 19th-century period costumes.
Swathed in garland and colorful lights, village boutiques tease shoppers with an array of fine fashions, curated home goods, antiques, locally made wares and sweet confections.
Another special holiday event awaits Wassail Weekend visitors who join the Billings Farm Experience, a Christmas program at an authentic farmhouse and dairy farm just outside the village center that replicates a 19th-century Vermont Christmas.