Tuesday, December 6, 2016

10 Unexpected Places to Find Amazing Holiday Celebrations

Although 44% of Americans say they’d rather visit a dentist than an airport over Christmas, most families enjoy holiday travel, especially a drive to see over-the-top décor. 

Amazing Thompson House illuminated in Glen Allen, VA, c. TackyLightTour.com

This tradition is facilitated by TackyLightTour.com, a directory founded by Matt Burgess to help travelers find places with a minimum 10,000 lights within a 10, 25 or 50-mile drive. Imagine sights like the remarkable Thompson house in Glen Allen, Virginia, which glows beyond its lot lines. To enjoy 10 other unusual celebrations, plus dozens more starry lights displays, take a car, bus, train, boat or plane -- and an extra memory card – and we guarantee fun.

A Dollhouse at Winterthur, Delaware

Prep Kitchen in Dollhouse, photo courtesy Jim Schneck/Wintherthur.org
Explore an extraordinary dollhouse at the 175-room estate of Henry Francis du Pont in Delaware’s Brandywine Valley, now the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. Yuletide at Winterthur (Nov. 19-Jan. 8) includes "Currier & Ives Christmas,” jazz concerts, wine tastings and festive tours. The American decorative arts collection will premiere a six-foot, 17-room home with working lighting and needlepoint rugs handmade by former owner Nancy B. McDaniel. Marvel at more than 1,000 objects including miniature wreaths, trees and new toys for the toddler playing in the nursery. Strolling carolers, daily sing-alongs, and special performances take place in the Longwood Gardens Conservatory nearby.

A Boat Parade in Tempe, Arizona

Holiday Boat on Town Lake in Tempe, Arizona. Photo: courtesy Downtown Tempe Authority
The land-locked university town of Tempe, Arizona hosts an unexpected event Dec. 10, the Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade. Food trucks stand by as locals set up lawn chairs around Tempe Town Lake. The Santa boat is one of 50 illuminated, ornamented canoes, speedboats and sailboats parading at 7 p.m., accompanied by carolers and fireworks. Drive around to catch the glittery, spray-painted 25-foot-tall tumbleweed tree in Chandler (tree lighting Dec. 3); miniature 1880s Freestone Railroad in Gilbert; 8,000 hand-lit luminarias at Desert Botanical Garden; and the fun for kids ZooLights at Phoenix Zoo (Nov. 23-Jan.8).

Chocolate and Cactus Holidays in Nevada

Holiday Chocolate Tins from Ethel M. Chocolates, Henderson, Nevada
What happens at Ethel M. Chocolates' Botanical Cactus Garden in Henderson, Nevada doesn’t stay there – glittering lights and chocolate are a free treat Nov. 15-Jan. 1. Visit the redone chocolate factory, founded in 1981 by Forrest Mars after retiring from the famous candy company. A viewing aisle overlooks the production of preservative-free, gourmet chocolates; stop for a sample; then walk out to the three-acre Ethel M. garden, where 300 species of drought-resistant cacti and ornamentals are adorned with lights. The Nov. 15 lighting ceremony features several performers, and local choirs and Santa entertain each weekend.

Lights On and Around the Bay, Annapolis, Maryland

Jolly Express Reindeer Ferry in Annapolis Harbor; photo courtesy Sabrina Raymond
The colonial heart of Annapolis, Maryland exudes holiday cheer on water as well as land. From Nov. 22-Jan. 1, families love to drive by 60 animated and stationary “Lights on the Bay” displays, whose designs reflect on the gentle waves of Chesapeake Bay. Dec. 10 is the 34th annual Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade, when thousands gather at the City Dock and U.S. Naval Academy sea wall to watch intricately lit and decorated boats pass by. Downtown stores encourage the giving spirit till midnight Dec. 1, 8 and 15; offering live music and refreshments to passersby.

Parade the Tractors in Napa Valley, California

The Berryessa Best in Show Tractor at the Calistoga Tractor Parade, photo: Olof Carmel Gallery
Celebrate over fine food and Cabernet in Napa Valley before the Annual Lighted Tractor Parade, honoring Calistoga’s agricultural heritage Dec. 3. Dress warmly to watch decorated vintage and modern tractors, antique trucks and choral groups riding construction equipment. Nov. 26, Napa’s 50th Holiday Parade of ornamented residents and pets kicks off the free, hop-on hop-off Holiday Trolley service running weekends. The Festival of Lights occurs Nov. 25, and downtown Yountville remains Napa’s pilgrimage site for celebrity chef followers throughout the season.

Cruise New Mexico’s Pecos River to See Holiday Lights

The Pecos River "Christmas on the Pecos" festival; photo courtesy New Mexico Tourism
Residents of Carlsbad’s Pecos River waterfront celebrate the holidays by decorating backyards and boat docks seen only from the river. During the 25th Christmas on the Pecos (Nov. 25-Dec. 31), nightly ferries will do 40-minute guided tours of New Mexico’s biggest celebration. Carlsbad also boasts the Calico Xmas Market, an arts n’ crafts fair for shoppers; and the festive Main Street's Electric Light Parade, both held Thanksgiving weekend. The charming children’s book, “Rocko, the Christmas Bat” is a fun souvenir of your Carlsbad Caverns visit.

Layover in the Christmas Capital of Texas

A Vintage North Pole Express in Texas; photo courtesy Grapevine, TX C&VB

Grapevine hotels love holidays: the enormous Gaylord Texan has ice slides and a skating rink, and Great Wolf Lodge has an indoor waterpark and falling snow. Yet this Texas town is so close to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport that you can feel the spirit during a brief layover. More than 1 million visitors attend 1,400 events between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, including a scuba diving Santa at the local aquarium, light show on historic Main Street, talking reindeer at the visitor’s center, and the vintage railroad’s North Pole Express to Santa’s Workshop.

Lakeside Holidays in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Dragon Slayer Lights Display, courtesy: Coeur D'Alene Resort, Idaho

Join the Nov. 25 Lighting Ceremony Parade as it marches to the Coeur d’Alene Resort, whose floating boardwalk overlooks this lake, mountains, and the evergreen forests of Idaho. Visitors carry candles, sing carols and watch fireworks until the resort’s 1.5 million strong Holiday Light Show is illuminated. Be sure to get tickets for daily cruises past a soaring, animated floating Christmas tree and a fire-breathing dragon. On the way to Santa’s North Pole Toy Workshop, Santa recites the names of each “nice” child on board.

European Traditions in Manchester, England

The main Chistmas Market in Albert Square; photo courtesy Mark Waugh/VisitManchester.com

You may picture wreaths on Big Ben, but England’s real holiday cheerio is Manchester. The 350 vendors of Manchester Christmas Market are at 10 central sites, Nov. 10-Dec. 20. Albert Square Market is unmistakable, with pan-European food and drink stalls and a huge illuminated Santa in front of historic Town Hall. St. Ann’s Square features grilled bratwurst, hand-carved wooden ornaments and gingerbread – much of it brought in by German purveyors. There’s a French Noel and a World Christmas Market, too. Known as birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester’s edgy Ancoats neighborhood, IMAX Virtual Reality Centre, burgeoning foodie scene and nearby Lakes and Peaks Districts will keep holidaymakers busy.

26 Days of Christmas in Iceland

RVK Jolastemning Church, Rekjavik; photo courtesy: Ragnar Th Siggurdson, VisitIceland.com

Icelanders begin Christmas 13 nights prior to 6 p.m. Dec. 24, and celebrate 13 days afterwards. Advent wreaths with candles and triangular lights burn against the long nights. Shoes sit in every window, so 13 Yule Lads can leave nice children a gift and naughty ones, a potato. Reykjavik’s holiday ice rink and small Christmas Market light up Ingolfstorg Square. The Christmas Village in downtown Hafnarfjordur, open weekends through Dec. 23, offers live entertainment, handcrafted items and homemade Icelandic delicacies. See more of this tiny island nation by whale watching, skiing Akureyri, and looking beyond holiday decor for the spectacular Northern Lights.

Can you share your favorite places for holiday lights?

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