Christmas is the most magical and meaningful of holidays, with many towns across America hosting winter wonderland spectaculars to honor this special time. From magnificent twinkling light displays, mangers and gigantic Christmas trees to festivals, carnivals and other fun attractions that celebrate the birth of Christ and the glory of the holiday, there are plenty of places to go with your family to get in the Christmas spirit.
Here are 11 locales and events that serve up some amazing Yuletide joy.
Disney World (Orlando, Fla.)
The magic of Disney takes on a whole new dimension at Christmas time. America’s premiere family vacation destination holds several special holiday events including fireworks, dazzling light displays, a Mickey Mouse Christmas Parade, and a Jingle Jungle holiday-themed safari cruise to name a few.
The fabulous Candelight Processional is held nightly at the America Gardens Theater in Epcot, in which a celebrity narrator is backed by a 50-piece orchestra and choir to tell the biblical story of Christ’s birth in the manger. Another Epcot must-see is “Holidays around the World,” which features an international display of Christmas celebrations around the globe.
Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland (Frankenmuth, Mich.)
The small Bavarian town in Michigan boasts the world’s largest Christmas store, founded in 1945 by Wally Bronner. Situated on 27 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds, the world-famous store places an emphasis on “Christ” on its landmark sign. Millions of guests, celebrities and dignitaries have passed through Bronner’s from around the globe to browse more than 50,000 decorations and gifts.
A replica of Austria’s The Silent Night Memorial Chapel is on the grounds where plaques with the hymn “Silent Night” line the lamppost-lit walkway in over 300 languages. The chancel inside contains a hand-carved crucifix, a biblical account of the Christmas story, information about the hymn and composers and a replica of the original music score. The message of Christ’s birth, Luke 2:1-19 is shown in 30 languages. The chapel also marks the south entrance to the city of Frankenmuth which is transformed into a winter wonderland with lights, decorations, quaint shops and horse and buggy rides during the holiday season.
Christmas in New York / FAO Schwarz (New York, N.Y.)
New York City is one of the most magical places on earth at Christmas time with the annual lighting of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center ceremony ringing in the start of the season. Millions of first hand spectators and a captive global TV audience witness the 30,000 lights coming ablaze each year.
From sleigh rides through Central Park to ice skating at the infamous Rockefeller rink, New York is literally brimming with Yuletide activities. One of the most beloved and renowned toy stores in the world, FAO Schwarz New York, is a must-see Christmas stop.
The 150-year-old wonderland of fun is chock full of tantalizing toys for kids of all ages. Plus, the store opens each morning with three toy soldiers playing music and rolling out a red carpet to usher in shoppers. Who wouldn’t want a picture taken with a real-life toy soldier?
Festival of Lights (Branson, Mo.)
Branson, Missouri is located within the Ozark Mountains and is renowned for its multitude of theaters and live shows, as well as a bevy of resort hotels. Christmas in Branson features Christmas musicals, lots of fun-filled shops and the infamous Branson Area Festival of Lights. When the town is aglow with Christmas lights, you can take a one-mile drive along a path filled with more than 175 illuminated displays.
Mall of America (Minneapolis, Minn.)
Take in spectacular Christmas sights while crossing items off your shopping list at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The mammoth mall boasts 520 stores, an indoor amusement park and more than 4 million square feet.
All of this grandeur is transformed into decorative holiday delight with large scale trimmings like 10-foot diameter Christmas wreaths, 300-pound red bulbs and two giant Christmas trees in the rotunda that tower over four stories each. A visit to Santa always makes a magical memory and the huge entertainment extravaganza also hosts live holiday music performances, book signings and other exciting seasonal events.
Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari (Santa Claus, Ind.)
It’s Christmas all year long in the small town of Santa Claus, Indiana. The cheery city is bustling with Christmas-themed attractions including the Santa Claus Christmas Store, Santa’s Candy Castle, a Christmas Museum, and the world’s first theme park, Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, which features the world’s longest water coaster. Special Christmas celebrations include Santa’s Great Big LED Tree of Lights and Santa’s Land of Lights which tells Rudolph’s story in LED lights along a 1.2 mile driving journey at Lake Rudolph.
Polar Express Event of New England (White Mountains, N.H.)
Experience Christmas magic in an unforgettable journey to the North Pole aboard the Polar Express of New England. This spectacular event engages guests as if they were living the experience (pajamas and all) depicted in the beloved classic Christmas story by Chris Van Allsburg. Take a trip to the North Pole via the White Mountains in the two-hour train ride filled with treats and gifts, go on a walk to the North Pole Theater and visit with Santa. Event net proceeds fund a variety of Literacy Programs, including the Books in Character Outreach Program.
Christmas in the Windy City (Chicago, Ill.)
The busy metropolitan hub of Chicago offers a variety of holiday festivities at Christmas time. Must-sees include the lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Christmas Around the World Christmas tree displays from over 50 unique cultures at the Museum of Science and Industry, and the one million white lights and scores of dazzling decorations along the Magnificent Mile shopping district. Christmas in Chicago wouldn’t be complete without catching live productions of “The Nutcracker” and “A Christmas Carol” and ice skating in Millennium Park.
National Christmas Center (Paradise, Pa.)
This festive family attraction is located in Pennsylvania Dutch country. The expansive Christmas museum boasts more than 20,000 square feet of indoor exhibits paying homage to Christmas traditions past and present around the globe. Over 500 2-D and 3-D images depict Santa’s evolution and portrayal around the world, and a life-sized vignette pays tribute to one little girl’s true account of how her belief in Santa was restored after receiving a newspaper’s response to her question, “Is there a Santa Claus?”
Other attractions include an impressive O’ Holy Night nativity featuring 22 three-quarter life-sized figures and three camels which are over six feet tall. There’s also a fun electric train display, Santa’s North Pole Workshop and a realistic journey from “Nazareth” to “Bethlehem” that ends at Christ’s birth.
North Pole Christmas (North Pole, Alaska)
A white Christmas is pretty much guaranteed in the town that bears the same name as the one where Santa runs his magic workshop. North Pole, Alaska is filled with Christmas decorations all year long and the streets have fun roundabouts with candy cane street poles bearing Christmas names like Kris Kringle and Santa Claus Lane.
The Santa Claus House is a world-famous attraction and the origin of letters from Santa since 1952. The unique gift store brings in millions of visitors each year and North Pole’s Christmas in Ice festival features Christmas-themed ice art pieces, ice slides, a maze and indoor kid’s crafts.
Great Dickens Christmas Fair (San Francisco, Calif.)
Lose yourself in a Victorian London Christmas adventure at San Francisco’s Great Dickens Christmas Fair. The five-weekend holiday experience is staged like a grand holiday party with costumed players who perform and interact with you as you navigate over 120,000 square feet of Charles Dickens’ London.
Encounter characters from history and literature as you wind the streets filled with vendors, pubs, Christmas shops and music halls. Christmas can’t get any more magical than stepping into the world in which the iconic Christmas story A Christmas Carol took place and was penned.