Tree lightings, theme celebrations, parades, artisan foods and crafts and holiday décor of all types can now be found in many cities throughout the United States. Some are elevating holiday festivals to the standout event of the year now, with celebrations lasting from November through mid or late January. And they’re more than just fun for the locals, these festivities can mean a huge draw for the town’s large and small businesses, from hotels and restaurants to independent vendors and crafters.
They can also be a draw for new residents looking to find a place that feels like home for the holidays.
Let’s see some festive holiday towns throughout the U.S. and see how they make the season bright.
The beautiful Central Washington State town of Leavenworth, in the Cascade Mountains, is already Bavarian inspired. Its restaurants specialize in serving German food and drink year-round. During December, the town really pours on the charm to create an Alpine holiday wonderland called the Leavenworth Village of Lights. Decorations include 21 miles of lights along shops, homes, fences, trees … you name it. Entertainment includes handbell concerts, harp music, and carolers. At the heart of the village, there are shopping and food booths and the traditional Lantern Parade
Branson, the Ozark Mountain vacation spot in Missouri and home to the Silver Dollar City theme park, decks its halls in holiday finery from Thanksgiving Day through New Year’s Day. Decoration driving tours include Let There Be Lights! Branson’s Gift of Lights and Trail of Lights to get you in the spirit. Silver Dollar City boasts more than 6.5 million lights for its old-fashioned themed décor. Other attractions include: two live holiday shows and 1,000 decorated trees, featuring a five-story special effects tree. One of the town’s major draws is Branson’s Scenic Railway’s Polar Express train ride.
The village of Woodstock, Vermont is the consummate New England town and every year it hosts a Wassail Weekend to get the holidays off to a celebratory start. The Woodstock Inn & Resort, a sprawling colonial hotel that dates back to 1792, is the center of the celebration and there you can find a cozy stone fireplace and traditional decorations throughout. A life-sized gingerbread house in the lobby is an annual draw. The events go from morning to night and include several concerts, craft fairs, holiday home tours, the Wassail Parade, and more.
The charming Danish village of Solvang, in Southern California’s Santa Ynez Valley, is known for its wine, beer, Scandinavian shops, architecture and restaurants. It turns its Old European charm up several notches during the holidays when it celebrates Julefest (Yule Fest) throughout the month of December. Attractions include light displays, a two-day wine and beer walk, holiday open houses, music, shopping, VIP candlelight tours, and the Julefest Parade and tree lighting.
McAdenville, North Carolina
Every December, the North Carolina town of McAdenville becomes a holiday wonderland, attracting as many as 600,000 visitors from across the country. The tradition goes back to 1956, when the McAdenville Men’s Club decided to use green, red and white lights to decorate the trees around the community center. Key figures in the town started getting involved and the practice great each year. Now there are almost 400 community trees decorated and all the homes are decked to the nines as well. Events start on November 30 and stretch through the season and include the annual tree lighting, the Yule Log Parade, and a town 5K run.
From the day after Thanksgiving through mid-January, the Historic Mission Inn Hotel and Spa is the center attraction for the city’s annual Festival of Lights celebration. The job of decorating the inn begins as early as mid-September so by the time the Switch-On Ceremony takes place the night after Thanksgiving, 6.5 million lights are in place in addition to lavish holiday displays, décor and animatronic characters. The Switch-On Ceremony runs from 4:30 to 10 p.m., with a state-of-the-art fireworks display marking the official opening of the festival. Attractions include: an ice-skating rink, a decorated Ferris wheel that allows you to take in the entire downtown area from above, live street and stage performers, artisan crafts, horse-drawn carriage rides in fairytale coaches, and food and souvenir vendors. The festival continues through the first week in January.