When it comes to the holiday season, some towns pull out all the stops for Christmas celebrations. From parades to elaborate Nativity scenes to Old World shopping markets and visits with Santa Claus, these are the top 25 cities and towns across America to gas up the car and visit this December.
To compile this list of Newsmax’s Top 25 Christmas Destinations in America, we specifically chose towns that celebrate the Nativity as part of their holiday celebrations, as well as places that offer a range of events and lodging options.
1. Leavenworth, Washington — When winter arrives, the charming Bavarian village of Leavenworth, Washington, transforms into “Christmas Town, USA.” With more than a half-million LED lights strung throughout the town, Leavenworth sparkles during the first three weekends of December when more than 25,000 visitors descend upon the town (with a year-round population of just 1,900) for sleigh rides, sledding, caroling, chestnuts, and spiced wine. Don't leave before dark. The Christmas lights turn on at dusk after the town sings “Silent Night” together in the village center, followed by a live Nativity presentation. Leavenworth also celebrates with a weekend-long Christmas market.
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2. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — Christened "Bethlehem" on Christmas Eve in 1741 when missionary Count Zinzendorf of Saxony, Germany, visited a two-room log home that housed both people and animals, today this eastern Pennsylvania town goes all out for the birth of Jesus. At the center of Bethlehem’s holiday celebrations is Christkindlmarkt. In the style of a traditional German Christmas market, it is held over three weekends in December and features more than 125 artisans and craftspeople selling everything from handmade pottery to jewelry inside heated tents. Other holiday events include the Bethlehem by Bus tour and the Holiday Putz Trail, which stops at four miniature recreations of the Nativity story.
3. Solvang, California — Just two hours north of Los Angeles, Solvang, California, is famed for having some serious Christmas spirit. Often referred to as California's "Little Denmark," Solvang lights up the holiday season with its month-long Julefest celebration, which kicked off Dec. 2 with a Community Tree Lighting Ceremony in Solvang Park and continues through Jan. 6. This year's theme is "Celebrate Together" and various events take place each weekend. Don't miss the Nativity Pageant on Dec. 10 at the Solvang Festival Theater. It features a choir, actors in traditional costumes, and live animals on stage that all come together to act out the story of Christmas. There are two free performances with seating on a first-come, first-served basis.
4. Colorado Springs, Colorado — At the base of Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, is a wonderful family Christmas destination. From train rides with Santa to visiting The North Pole, there is no shortage of kid-friendly holiday activities. Take a trip to Santa's Workshop, which is a Christmas-themed family amusement park where young ones can meet Santa and his elves and ride more than two-dozen unique rides. The Royal Gorge Route Railroad Santa Express Train is a favorite with local families. Running through December, children are encouraged to wear cozy pajamas for the panoramic ride through the Royal Gorge. Santa's elves serve cocoa along the way and tell holiday stories.
5. Thomasville, Georgia — Head to southwest Georgia to Thomasville the weekend of Dec. 8 for the historic downtown's Victorian Christmas Festival. Carriage rides with jingle bells and twinkling lights set the stage for a family-friendly weekend celebration that includes a live Nativity performance, along with street theater performances, stilt walkers, and seasonal food stalls. Live demonstrations showcasing skills in making candles and candy, hand-printing, blacksmithing, knitting, and more are another unique aspect of this event.
6. Grapevine, Texas — Known as the "Christmas Capitol of Texas," Grapevine gets into the spirit each season with more than 1,400 Christmas events in a 40-plus day period. The town's main street is lit with thousands of twinkling lights and enormous decorations and shops stay open late throughout the season. Head to the Gaylord Texas Resort before Jan. 1 to experience ICE! It's an elaborate, dramatically lit display of life-sized ice sculptures, including a Nativity scene as well as ice slides and ice monuments carved from nearly 2 million pounds of ice.
7. McAdenville, North Carolina — Discover more than 375 decorated trees, 200 lit lamppost wreaths, and 450,000 lights decorating this little town just 20 minutes outside of Charlotte. Each December, it transforms into Christmas Town USA, when more than 600,000 people descend upon this town of 650 to stroll its wonderfully decorated downtown that includes a central life-size Nativity scene and a 75-foot-tall fountain that pulsates with colored lights. McAdenville has been putting on a show for some 60 years now. Celebrations kicked off with the Tree Lighting Ceremony on Dec. 1 and conclude the day after Christmas.
8. Bardstown, Kentucky — The small town of Bardstown is another top Christmas town pulling out all the stops for the holidays over seven festive weeks featuring 25 different activities that begins with a tree-lighting ceremony on its historic court square. Other events throughout the season include a parade, holiday home tours, candlelight tours, Santa-themed train excursions, and more. This year marks the 36th year that the Bardstown Baptist Church has put on a live portrayal of the Bethlehem manger scene. The event takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18.
9. Gulf Shores, Alabama — For those who’d rather keep warm this Christmas. Alabama's 32-mile stretch of white sand beaches between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach might seem like more of a summer than winter destination, but this region actually puts on quite a show for Christmas. The vacation hot spot runs a series of events, known as Coastal Christmas, to propel families into the holiday spirit. One Christ-specific event takes place at the First Baptist Church Gulf Shores between Dec. 1 and 12. Called "Miracle in a Manger," it displays Nativity exhibits from around the world that have been passed down from generation to generation.
10. Sierra Madre, California — You will get a rare glimpse of Southern California snow with a visit to Sierra Madre, just a few miles east of Pasadena, around Christmas. The town imports snow from the San Bernardino Mountains to create a giant snowman in its main square each December. Depending on the temperatures, the snowman doesn't last through the entire season, but there's still a lot of Christmas spirit to be had. Homes and businesses go all out in the lights and decoration department; there's a life-size Nativity scene to check out; and even a road lined with 154 Christmas trees.
11. Kirtland, Ohio — With more than 620 loaned Nativity crèches on display, along with thousands of twinkling lights and sacred Christmas music playing in the background, the Historic Kirtland Nativity exhibit inside the town's Visitor's Center is an impressive sight. The hundreds of Nativity displays are loaned by area residents and represent up to 30 different countries, providing an in-depth representation of how cultures around the world celebrate the birth of Christ.
12. Frankenmuth, Michigan — Known as Michigan's Little Bavaria, Frankenmuth, in Saginaw County, is home to the world's largest Christmas store. Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland is absolutely massive, and it attracts tens of thousands of visitors each season. The store boasts more than 6,000 styles of Christmas ornaments and 400 different types of Nativity displays. Beyond the shop, the town features holiday celebrations that include meet and greets with Santa, carol sing-a-longs, and horse-drawn carriage rides over snowy meadows and through covered bridges.
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13. Ogunquit, Maine — This quaint, coastal resort town in southern Maine fittingly calls its December holiday celebrations "Christmas by the Sea" and features a calendar packed with old-fashioned activities. Throughout the month, families participate in hayrides, bonfires, caroling, craft markets, and an opportunity to view a living manger Nativity scene. For brave souls, there is an even a Polar Bear plunge into the cold Atlantic water to benefit charity.
14. Paradise, Pennsylvania — In the heart of Pennsylvania's Amish Country, about 60 miles west from Philadelphia, the aptly named Paradise is home to a 20,000-square-foot museum dedicated entirely to preserving and sharing Christmas memories from across the ages and the world. The National Christmas Center has 15 different exhibits including 500 unique Nativity scenes and some 10,000 Santa Clauses on display.
15. Pine Mountain, Georgia — Pine Mountain is known regionally for going all out for Christmas, and the town's population grows exponentially during the holiday season when visitors pour in to experience Callaway Gardens’ Fantasy In Lights — now in its 25th year. The drive-through holiday-light-and-sound extravaganza feels like Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride and is quite impressive, using more than 8 million lights as well as narration to transport visitors into a number of different Christmas stories, each lasting about 10 minutes. During the Nativity story, for instance, visitors watch as blinking lights and voice narration booming from invisible speakers tell the story of the birth of Christ.
16. Zoar, Ohio — Take a road trip to Zoar, located around 40 miles south of Akron, to experience an old-fashioned Christmas complete with walking tours that trace the historic village's history back to 1817 when a group of 200 German separatists sought refuge from religious persecution in their homeland. Today, the tiny town (population 169) has been meticulously preserved or recreated, and visitors can shop for unique Christmas presents by local artisans in fully operating traditional blacksmith and tinsmith shops.
17. Portland, Maine — For a classic New England Christmas town, head up to Portland, where holiday lights cast a festive glow on the snow-covered streets. The First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church here has been hosting a Nativity pageant continuously since 1926 and many of the participants are from multiple generations of families.
18. Santa Claus, Indiana — Located in southern Indiana about three hours south of Indianapolis and one hour west of Louisville, Kentucky, “America’s Christmas Hometown” throws quite a party for the three weekends before Christmas. Visitors will want to take a drive through Christmas Lake Village, which features nine miles of decorated houses, and also hosts a live Nativity during its Festival of Lights. There are also Christmas-themed businesses to explore from Santa's Car Wash to Santa Claus Hardware and Frosty's Fun Center.
19. Red Wing, Minnesota — Located on a bluff above the Mississippi River, Red Wing kicks off its holiday celebrations on the Saturday after Thanksgiving with an annual Holiday Stroll festival. It begins with a pancake breakfast then continues throughout the day to include a parade, photo ops with Santa and Mrs. Claus, cookie decorating stations, real penguins and baby reindeer, and a live Nativity.
20. Natchitoches, Louisiana — For a Creole-style Christmas celebration, head to Natchitoches, which has been celebrating the birth of Christ along its river downtown since 1927. Drawing more than 100,000 people over the holiday season to the town of 18,000, it features more than 300,000 lights, fireworks, carriage rides, a Nativity, and live performances, among other displays. If you've seen the movie "Steel Magnolias" you may recognize the festival, which was featured in one scene. Throughout the month of December, the historic foundation hosts tours of preserved homes decked out for the holidays. Also, Natchitoches is one of several cities on the Holiday Trail of Lights; the trail connects eight, merry-making Louisiana cities all within driving distance of one another.
21. Skaneateles, New York — You'll be transported back to the world of Charles Dickens’ beloved novel "A Christmas Carol" when paying a holiday season visit to Skaneateles in upstate New York. What's special about this celebration is that it includes a 70-person cast wandering the streets in character to create a live, interactive street-theater performance experience for the 20,000-plus visitors who visit on weekends from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. The high point of the festivities is the Dickens and Friends Dinner at the Mirbeau Inn and Spa, where guests enjoy a performance of “A Christmas Carol” in their midst.
22. Santa Fe, New Mexico — Santa Fe is a beautiful destination to spend the holiday season. The city offers dozens of unique events in the month leading up to Christmas that are closely tied to its centuries of diversity, history, and culture. During this time, the entire town is lit up with traditional "farolito" lanterns on rooftops, windows, and walkways everywhere. Nativity scenes can be seen in hotels and many of the northern New Mexico city's beautiful churches. The most famous event, however, is the world famous Canyon Road Christmas Eve Farolito Walk that draws up to 40,000 visitors on the night before Christmas alone. Another popular event in Santa Fe is “Las Posadas,” a centuries-old tradition stemming from the city’s Spanish influence; the one-night event winds its way through downtown Santa Fe as a re-creation of Mary and Joseph’s fateful search for accommodations.
23. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee — Just a stone's throw from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the small town of Pigeon Forge is home to Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park, which throws an annual Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival each year. The festival features an “O' Holy Night” show which tells the story of the Bethlehem manger in an outdoor venue. The Smoky Mountain Opry also produces several family-friendly shows to celebrate the Christmas season, boasting “the area’s largest living Nativity.” For extended stays in the area, there are several mountainside cabins at Dollywood and around Pigeon Forge, where families can experience a rustic but luxurious Smoky Mountain Christmas.
24. Woodstock, Vermont — The charming New England town of Woodstock kicks of its Christmas celebrations with Woodstock Wassail Weekend, an annual event now in its 25th year. Rooted in 19th-century Norse culture, the picture-perfect spectacle features a parade of horses and buggies around the snow-covered village green. There is also a tree-lighting ceremony, Yule log, sleigh rides, carolers, and more.
25. Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin — For nearly three decades, this quaint small town with a population of 13,000 turns its 300-acre public Irvine Park and Zoo into a Christmas wonderland with more than 60,000 lights, Nativity displays, and even a miniature Victorian village. The Christmas Village opens with the lighting ceremony on Thanksgiving. For revelers looking to burn off that extra stuffing, Irvine Park hosts the nighttime Run for the Lights 5K and 1 Mile Walk two days later, where participants are routed through the decoratively lit park. Seasonal festivities in Chippewa Falls include a parade, sleigh rides, holiday home tours, and community-wide caroling.
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