Ready your tree-cutting axe and stock up on eggnog because Christmas is coming! The holiday season is in full swing, meaning you only have a few short weeks to get all your festive fun in before the new year.
Sure, you can Netflix and chill your way through December, but you should also get out there and experience all that your hometown has to offer. Lucky for you, we put together a handy guide chock-full of yuletide activities. So bust out your calendar and start making some plans, because these joyous events will come and go before you know it!
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Santa’s arrival at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade doesn’t just signify the start of the holidays, it also kicks off a whole lot of merriment in the Big Apple. There are the usual go-tos like ice skating at Wollman Rink in Central Park, checking out the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, browsing the 5th Avenue holiday window displays, and shopping in the Bryant Park Winter Village. If you’re up for a trek to the Bronx, don’t miss the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Model Train Show, showcasing half a mile of tracks and replicas of places like Grand Central Terminal made out of bark and leaves.
Though not as big as NYC, Boston still knows how to celebrate the season in style! Start with some frog pond skating in Boston Common, then pop over to the new European-style Holiday Market at City Hall Plaza where nearly 50 vendors sell specialty products and food out of Swiss-style chalets.
As far as trees go, the National Christmas Tree in front of the White House is one you won’t want to miss (it's lit each day from 4:30-10 p.m.) There’s plenty of sparkle at the National Zoo’s ZooLights. If history is more your thing, take a weekend candlelit tour at George Washington’s Mount Vernon — complete with 18th-century dancing and fireside caroling.
A-Town really knows how to do the holidays. Take Stone Mountain Christmas, a festival marked by millions of lights, an array of shows, a parade, fireworks, and a five-mile excursion on the Singalong Christmas Trains. More halls will be decked during "Garden Lights, Holiday Nights" at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. If you enjoy puppets, check out Rudolph at the Center for Puppetry Arts, which puts on an adaptation of the classic television special.
There’s only one thing more magical than Christmas — Disney World’s take on the holiday! Check out Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, which includes live entertainment, fireworks, and a holiday parade. Also, hit up Epcot's World Showcase for holiday traditions from around the globe. Universal Studios also has their own festivities, and if you have time, head to the town of Celebration for their “Now Snowing” spectacular that features an ice rink, Dickensian carolers, photos with Santa, carriage rides, and nightly "snow" flurries.
Daley Plaza is always worth a visit for the Christkindlmarket featuring hand-crafted goods and delicious treats. After that, take in the window displays at Marshall Field’s (aka Macy’s on State Street), a tradition since 1897, where you can also view the giant 45-foot Christmas tree in the store's Walnut Room. Get your fill of decorations at the Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World display, which includes more than 50 trees decorated for different cultures.
The Big D’s 95-foot Christmas tree in the Galleria's Ice Skating Rink is not to be missed, with 450,000 LED lights and 10,000 colored ball ornaments. If ice sculptures give you chills (in a good way!), walk-through holiday attraction ICE! features two million pounds of hand-carved sculptures and ice slides. Holiday in the Park at Six Flags Over Texas goes all out with treats, Frosty's Snow Hill, a parade, crafts, and sing-alongs.
The Gulf Coast’s largest holiday lighting event, Moody Gardens’ Festival of Lights, has a 100-foot slide, ice skating, and a mile-long trail filled with animated displays over Galveston Bay. Runners will love the Santa Hustle 5K and Half Marathon, where you dress as Santa and enjoy cookies and holiday tunes along the way. Of all the festivals, Dickens on the Strand is the most unique — a recreation of Victorian London with characters from Dickens novels, and entertainment and food from days of yore.
Christmas in the desert is at its best at Las Noches de las Luminarias, where garden pathways are lined with more than 7,000 luminaries and strolling mariachis. Channel your inner rock star at Alice Cooper's Annual Christmas Pudding, a holiday-themed concert that, this year, features Slash, Rob Halford, and Ace Frehley. More traditional skating fun is also an option at the CitySkate rink.
A plethora of LA theme parks get decked out for Christmas, including Disneyland, Knott's Merry Farm, Holiday in the Park at Six Flags Magic Mountain, and Grinchmas at Universal Studios Hollywood. If you’re not up for the crowds, take a drive out to Newport Beach and soak in the more tranquil views of the Christmas Boat Parades with festively-decorated boats parading along the SoCal coast.
There’s plenty to enjoy in the Bay Area this year, with the Embarcadero Lighting Celebration & Ice Rink and The Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party with roasted chestnuts, carolers, and seven stages' worth of live entertainment. Holiday-themed high teas are also plentiful in the city, including Teddy Bear Tea at the Ritz-Carlton, Holiday Gingerbread Tea at The Fairmont, Princess and Prince Tea at the Palace Hotel, and Holiday Tea at the English Rose in Pleasanton.
You must see the Gingerbread Village at the Seattle Sheraton, which uses approximately 1,200 pounds of dough, 800 pounds of icing, 250 pounds of white chocolate, and hundreds of pounds of candy. Fans of light displays will want to stop by the Woodland Park Zoo for Wild Lights or the Olympic Sculpture Park for SAM Lights.
Salt Lake City
Take in Temple Square’s 10 acres filled with a million lights and nativity scenes from all over the world. A quick trip out of the city to Snowbird Ski Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon is worth it on Christmas Eve. You’ll see their bonfires at dusk, the Torchlight Parade down the mountain (skiers with lights), and Santa rappelling from a Tram car. Top it all off with a fireworks show and candlelight service.
Animal lovers, listen up! The Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade encourages you to dress up your cats and dogs in festive costumes and flaunt them around town. Beer aficionados will prefer the Holiday Bar Crawl-iday, an ugly sweater bar crawl in Pacific Beach to benefit charity. More merriment can be had at Balboa Park’s December Nights with thousands of lights, live music, dance performances, museum shopping, and lots of food.
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The Cosmopolitan transforms its fourth-floor outdoor pool into an ice skating rink, and if you're sick of Christmas trees, check out the festive cactus garden at Ethel M Chocolates Factory, boasting half a million holiday lights. If you're looking to be a bit more charitable this year, Opportunity Village — which benefits local adults with intellectual disabilities — puts on an annual Magical Forest with interactive entertainment like an enchanted carousel, avalanche slide, and mini-golf. Of course, there's always the Great Santa Run, which gifts participants with a five-piece red suit when you register!