Wonderful Regional Christmas Traditions From Around the U.S.
While American Christmas traditions—cookie decorating! caroling! day-after sales!—largely extend beyond state lines, there are countless ways each region puts a local spin on the festivities:
San Antonio, Texas
During December weekends, 6,000 paper lanterns called luminarias line San Antonio's famous River Walk. Symbolically, the lanterns are said to light the way for the Holy Family. Luminarias are popular throughout Texas and the Southwest, and if you're in Lubbock for the holidays, you can enjoy luminarias at the National Ranching Heritage Center.
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Instead of flying to Germany to visit a European Christmas Market, visitors to the Osthoff Resort at Elkhart Lake can enjoy Old World atmosphere in Wisconsin. The two million guests annually enjoy bratwurst, evergreen boughs, and gifts made by local and international artists.
Branson, Missouri, is famous for its shows, bling, and family-friendly traditions. Silver Dollar City, Branson's amusement park, features both thrill rides and craftspeople showcasing traditional wares. For Christmas, expect performances of It's a Wonderful Life and Dickens' A Christmas Carol, a living nativity, a five-story Christmas tree, a Christmas parade, and five million lights.
Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia
A holiday trip to Monticello combines American history with the spirit of Christmas. On the Historic Holiday Evening Tour, visitors will learn how Thomas Jefferson and his family celebrated Christmas, and get a rare chance to see the third president's home after dark.
New York City
GingerBread Lane at the New York Hall of Science in Queens keeps getting bigger. Already a Guinness World Record holder, this year's installment will cover 500 square feet and include more than 1,050 structures. And yes, it's all edible, from Eggnog Bay to Toffee Boulevard. Chef/artist Jon Lovitch is the man behind the sweet display.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Ever since Moravians—Protestants from the German state of Saxony—first founded Salem, North Carolina in 1753, they've celebrated lovefeasts. Now Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem hosts the New World's biggest Moravian style lovefeast. On the first Sunday in December, participants share a simple meal of sweet buns and creamed coffee while singing hymns. A handbell choir and beeswax candles add to the old-time feel.
Las Posadas, a nine-day ritual reenactment of the no-room-at-the-inn story is performed mostly in Mexico, Guatemala, and parts of the Southwest. The small border town of McAllen, Texas has staged an annual candlelight posada for more than 30 years, drawing tens of thousands of visitors.
North Platte, Nebraska
The famous scout, showman, and bison hunter William "Buffalo Bill" Cody also hosted epic parties. At Christmas, guests still visit the home he and wife Louisa shared in North Platte, Nebraska. Highlights include roasted chestnuts, hot cider, caroling, an actor impersonating Buffalo Bill, and a chance to see the barn where Cody staged his famous Wild West Show decked out with thousands of Christmas lights.
Resourceful decorators have always used materials on hand, and in Ilwaco, Washington, those materials are crab pots. Ilwaco kicks off its annual Christmas Market at the Port by lighting the world's tallest crab pot Christmas tree, accompanied by the world's shortest fireworks display. Vendors sell holiday sweets and crafts.
Folk artist "Auntie" Josie Chansky founded Kauai's most enduring holiday tradition by accident. For almost 40 years, first on Oahu and later on Kauai, Chansky invited the public into her home to see her elaborate Christmas folk art decorations. When she became too old to keep decorating what was known as "The Christmas House," artist Elizabeth Freeman took over, morphing the event into what's now known as the Festival of Lights. Visitors will see decorations created by Chansky, Freeman, and other Kauai artists.
In Sitka, locals and visitors celebrate Christmas in the Russian Orthodox style. All are invited to the community Christmas Feast, religious services, and caroling. Since Orthodox religions use the old Julian calendar, Christmas isn't celebrated until January 7. So visitors can enjoy Christmas lights and festivities for the whole first week of 2016.
North Pole, Alaska
For a real white Christmas, head to the winter ice park in North Pole, Alaska, 13 miles south of Fairbanks. Expect ice mazes, ice slides, ice art, and ice sculptors from around the world competing for top carving awards.
While the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens may have a dearth of blooms in December, they make up for it with tens of thousands of Christmas lights. Gardens Aglow brings festive light creations to the garden's 14 acres, plus holiday food, beverage, music, and shopping.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
In Santa Fe, people call paper lanterns "farolitos" and light them all along Canyon Road on Christmas Eve. Folks stroll between art galleries, enjoying Christmas carols, pinon bonfires, and hot drinks.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Depending on who you ask, the traditional bonfires Cajuns burn along the levee between New Orleans and Baton Rouge are to light the way for Cajun Santa Claus Père Noel, or to guide Catholics to Midnight Mass. Either way, the bonfires have long been a popular Louisiana tradition. Modern-day bonfires are built in the shapes of pickup trucks, Cajun cabins, or in the traditional tall, pyramid-shaped cones. Fireworks and gumbo may accompany the bonfires.
Palm Springs, California
Palm Springs was Hollywood's playground in the mid-20th century. Recapture the days when Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe lounged poolside by going on the annual self-guided Walk of the Inns. The lobbies and pool areas of vintage Palm Springs lodgings will be decorated for Christmas and welcoming visitors with food and drink.
Downtown Columbus will brighten with 200,000 lights and its famous life-sized nativity scene. But the city's most unusual feature is topiary artist's James T. Mason's rendition of "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" in the downtown Topiary Park. It's magical to walk through the snow-dusted topiaries and holiday lights.
Holiday shoppers flood the annual Pueblo Grande Indian Market, combing more than 100 booths for the perfect gifts, and visiting replica Hohokam dwellings and historic sites along an interpretive trail. Also in Phoenix, British artist Bruce Munro has filled the Desert Botanical Garden with light-based installations based on the Sonoran desert landscape.