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Christmas Celebrations and Events

With two busy kids who are actively involved in school and community activities, it can be challenging for us to find a good time for family travel. Although it’s expensive to travel during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, sometimes it’s one of the few good options that families have. If you are thinking of traveling at all during the holiday season, there are a variety of Christmas celebrations and events that are perfect to travel to. We asked some family travel bloggers for their favorite Christmas Celebrations – and have listed them below (along with our own favorites). These are some of the best Christmas vacations for families. Did we include your favorite? If not, leave us a comment!

Disclosure: Some of the items featured below many have been experienced at no cost by the bloggers listed. Please see the individual posts for details.

Christmas celebrations and events for family travel, including events in Virginia, Massachusetts, Texas, and Chicago.

Christmas Celebrations and Events: Best Christmas Vacations for Families

The Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls Canada is a free event that runs from mid-November to mid-January. The annual festival transforms 8 km along the beautiful Niagara parkway into a winter wonderland. Besides wrapping everything in lights, there are also 3D displays, and several buildings are illuminated including the Skylon Tower. To heighten the experience, there are added events such as laser works display, weekly fireworks, sound and light shows and Festival of Lights concerts. It is possible to experience the entire event as a driving tour. Or, you can park your car to walk through the displays. It has been a treasured holiday tradition for over three decades. The Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls is a magical way to spend a winter’s night. As a bonus, when attending the Winter Festival of Lights you can experience the majestic Niagara Falls, which is just across the road. The Falls are also illuminated nightly.

Read more about Niagara Falls here.

Even if you aren’t a roller coaster fan, you’ll enjoy Holiday in the Park at Six Flags Over Georgia. The park is lit with millions of LED lights, including a tunnel that glistens and dances to holiday music, and a winter white forest where you’ll find Santa. Add in holiday shows and strolling carolers, plus a little snow on Main Street and the scene is merry and bright. And as a little holiday gift, those giant roller coasters have shorter lines than during the summer months.

Holiday Events at the Gaylord Opryland

The Gaylord Opryland in Nashville Tennessee features a number of family-friendly Christmas events, including ICE! ICE! is a huge, separate ticketed event that includes beautiful ice sculptures. You’ll be handed a poncho to go through the event hall, since the temperature is kept at a very low level to keep the sculptures frozen. Each year, there’s a different theme, so the sculptures are always different.

In addition to ICE!, there are other events as well, including a holiday show next door at the Grand Ole Opry, beautiful holiday decorations, and a Christmas gift show.

Read more about the Christmas events at the Gaylord Opryland here.

There is no better time of year to visit the Disneyland Resort than during the holidays. This year starting November 9th, 2017 Disneyland and California Adventure Parks will begin transforming into a wintery wonderland. During the merriest of seasons the parks are decked out with sparkling lights, wreaths, and garland, plus the characters are adorning their most festive holiday attire. At Disneyland you can check out the famous towering Christmas tree erected at the start of Main Street U.S.A., see Jack Skeleton’s renovations at the Haunted Mansion Holiday ride, wave hi to your favorite characters (and catch a glimpse of Santa) at A Christmas Fantasy Parade, rejoice in world coming together (the Small World that is) as you ride It’s a Small World Holiday, then end the night with a magical snowfall while watching Believe… In Holiday Magic Fireworks.

Over at California Adventure, Radiator Springs invites families to “yule up” where you can check out their auto-themed decorations and festive light displays. Or head to Buena Vista Street and be transported back in time to a nostalgic winter wonderland where you can take part in the whimsical 50-foot tree lighting ceremony. You also won’t want to miss World of Color- Season of Light with heart-warming scenes from your favorite Disney films are projected onto a towering wall of mist to the tunes of classic holiday tunes. Aside from the many attractions at the parks you can also take advantage of seeing Santa Claus, dining on special holiday menu items, there is a special Holiday VIP Tour, and Christmas inspired treats, goodies, and merchandise too.

Read more about Disneyland here.

Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, one of Michigan’s treasures, is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Every holiday season, they offer the Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World. From November through early January, over 50,000 people visit this exhibition each year. What will you see? 40+ international holiday trees, decorated with cultural traditions from around the world, carolers, over 400,000 lights, visits with Santa, rooftop reindeer, and a model railway that runs through an indoor garden decorated with local buildings. The trees are my very favorite, and include the Germany tree, adorned with handmade glass ornaments and homemade springerle cookies, the England tree with antique Christmas cards and mistletoe, the Africa tree (a baobab!), and the beautiful Eid ul-Fitr display, celebrating the end of Ramadan. You’ll wander through and get inspired to explore cultural traditions around the world, at home or via travel. Since we started visiting the exhibition when our daughter was young, we’ve incorporated more global cookie recipes, international ornaments on our holiday tree, and reading stories of holiday traditions from around the world.

See more on Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park here.

The Nantucket Stroll

Nantucket Christmas Stroll, Nantucket, MA

Each year, for one weekend, the island of Nantucket is transformed for the annual Christmas stroll. During this popular event, you can see a festival of trees at the Whaling Museum, a talking tree at the top of Main Street, and individually decorated trees along Main Street. In addition, you can greet Santa and Mrs. Claus as they arrive at the island via a Coast Guard ship.

A long time San Jose tradition, Christmas in the Park is a two-acre holiday winter wonderland of colorful lights, snowmen, holiday characters, and over 400 Christmas trees decorated by local school children, businesses, and community organizations.  Carolers, gingerbread houses, elves, and a holiday train mingle among the festive decorations.  Kids may even spot the cast of Shrek among the lights!  There are also opportunities to go ice skating, enjoy carnival rides and meet Santa himself!  
Read more about the Christmas in the Park here.
The theme park capital of the world pulls out all the stops for the holidays with shimmering castles, special parties, over-the-top decorations, and characters in festive garb.  At Walt Disney World, Queen Elsa transforms Cinderella’s Castle into a glistening ice palace, and the Magic Kingdom also hosts Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.  Epcot highlights holiday traditions around the world plus a Candlelight Processional with celebrity narrators.  Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, holiday projections take place on Sunset Boulevard while the “Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!” combines projections, fireworks, special effects and Christmas music in a Prep & Landing themed extravaganza.  Universal Orlando Resort offers the first-ever Christmas celebration at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade in 2017.  The Harry Potter holiday promises special decorations, themed food & drink, and a Christmas projection show on Hogwarts Castle.  In addition, the Macy’s Holiday Parade takes place daily at Universal Studios theme park, and the Grinch takes residence at Islands of Adventure for Grinchmas.  SeaWorld Orlando’s Christmas Celebration offers a Sea of Trees dancing to holiday music, ice skating shows, and special appearances by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and friends
Located in the Distillery Historic District, the Toronto Christmas Market brings a little old world charm to the big city. Within these little canvas huts nestled among the old Gooderham and Worts Ltd brick buildings you’ll find unique gift ideas, seasonal entertainment, delicious holiday treats as well as drinks to warm your body and soul. Even Santa can be found in his home away from home, waiting to hear your child’s secret Christmas wishes. A perfect way to start the holiday season.

A Speedway Christmas, Charlotte Motor Speedway

Each holiday season, Charlotte Motor Speedway celebrates a Speedway Christmas. Guests are invited to drive along the track, viewing the 3 million lights that are on display. From Thursday-Sunday, there’s a Christmas Village, featuring a petting zoo, photos with Santa, and more. In addition, guests can watch traditional Christmas holiday movies on the big screen on the nights that the village is open.

Learn more about a Speedway Christmas here.

After the fall foliage, the holiday magic brightens the streets of Denver when the city turns on millions of twinkling lights. But that’s just the beginning as the Mile High City also welcomes holiday themed theatre, shopping, special events and more.

Plan your perfect Denver holiday getaway with a mesmerizing night enjoying the theatre as Denver Center for Performing Arts welcomes The Nutcracker and The Christmas Carol to the stage. Plan a family outing to Denver Zoo Lights when the creatures come to life. Or grab your ice skates and spend an afternoon skating for free at Southwest Rink at Skyline Park in downtown Denver. Be sure to check out these free things to do in Denver in the winter.

Bundle up for downtown Denver’s signature holiday event, the 9NEWS Parade of Lights. Warm up with hot chocolate or a hot toddy as your family is wowed with the sparkling lights, marching bands, ginormous balloons, fancy floats, and local characters – including Santa Claus.

Make it a weekend getaway to Denver with Mile High Holidays discounts on hotels, offered by Visit Denver.

Winter visitors to Chicago shouldn’t miss the city’s traditional German holiday festival, the Christkindlmarket. Inspired by the original Christmas market in Nuremberg, Germany, this annual event brings vendors from around the world to celebrate the holiday season. Over the course of five weeks, locals and visitors alike flock to downtown to devour sausages, sample the strudel, and join in the fun. The wooden stalls and decor are the spitting image of the German markets and vendors will travel from Germany and beyond to participate in this event. Kids will love the live music, market trinkets, Santa’s house, and the Christkind (a beautiful angelic woman who represents the Christ Child) who strolls through the market greeting them. It’s something unique to Chicago and an annual tradition our family wouldn’t miss.

Read more on Kids Are A Trip

Bundle up for a Jolly Trolley ride, or drive your own car through more than 8 million lights at Fantasy In Lights at Callaway Gardens. Named one of the “Top 10 Places to See Holiday Lights” by National Geographic Traveler, Callaway Gardens glistens with custom-built scenes echoing the magic of childhood. Get your tickets early, plan to spend about an hour driving through, and dress warm for the occasion.
Learn more about the Fantasy In Lights here.

The Christmas Capital of Texas, Grapevine, TX

Grapevine, Texas, located between Dallas and Fort Worth, transforms into the “Christmas Capital of Texas” during the holiday season. You’ll find a number of fun family Christmas celebrations and events in Grapevine, including ICE! at the Gaylord Texan, Snowland at the Great Wolf Lodge, a Parade of Lights, the North Pole Express, and so much more.

Read about the Christmas Capital of Texas here.

Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia, is one of the premier botanical gardens in the United States and for the holidays, it transforms into a winter wonderland. During a Longwood Gardens Christmas, you will encounter organ sing-alongs, carolers, a miniature train village, and even a colorful fountain light show in time to holiday tunes. The Gardens also showcases over 6,000 seasonal plants including colorful poinsettias, a range of roses, and more. Longwood Gardens is situated over 1,000 acres, but many of the seasonal plants are on display in the gorgeous greenhouses, which are also decorated for the holidays. There is truly something for all ages!

Read more about Longwood Gardens Christmas here.

Advent in Zagreb takes over most of Croatia’s capital city with its lights, music, vendors, and festive atmosphere. It was awarded “Best Christmas Market” in both 2016 and 2017 for a reason. From ice skating in King Tomislav Square, to drinking spiced wine at one of the many mini-markets around the city, to wandering through 3-D installations accompanied by music and projections in a WWII tunnel/bunker, to shopping for a iconic “Zagreb heart,” the market allows you to explore the city in an unconventional way.

Omaha’s Holiday Lights Festival Downtown Omaha is more than six weeks of live music, outdoor ice skating, and 40 blocks of holiday lights in downtown Omaha. Family-friendly events include the tree lighting ceremony on Thanksgiving night, the Wells Fargo Family Festival on the first Sunday in December, and the New Year’s Eve Fireworks Spectacular. Holiday carolers perform in the Old Market every Saturday evening. Holiday Lights Festival events and activities are free, except for the outdoor ice skating rink.

Busch Gardens Christmas Town, Williamsburg, VA (Recommended by Fairfax Family Fun)

Oh, the pressure! What do you do when you have been called “the most beautiful” for many years? How can you top that? Why, accessorize, of course! Busch Gardens Williamsburg, a theme park for all ages, has been named the “World’s Most Beautiful Amusement Park” by the National Amusement Park Historical Association for 27 years running now. You would think it would be hard to top that, yet the park has found a way. Each year from Thanksgiving through the new year, Busch Gardens Williamsburg gets decked out in holiday glory, with decorations everywhere and eight million twinkling lights to illuminate the park at night.

The event, Christmas Town, has family and thrill rides, festive entertainment, specialty foods, character appearances, and a visit with Santa at his workshop. The live shows range from an ice-skating spectacular to a beautiful show based on the Christmas story and a fun take on Scrooge. There are also shops, carolers, and fun areas just for kids. And the décor itself throughout the park is varied, too.  Busch Gardens is divided into different “countries,” each with its own holiday flare. In Italy and its adjacent Holiday Hills, for example, you will find fun, colorful decorations in traditional styles, while New France has a more elegant, modern look. As you walk through the park to admire the scenery – at night, don’t miss the breathtaking cascading lights of the Polar Pathway – sip on your hot cocoa and take time to stop and smell the flowers, or in this case, the trees. That magnificent pine smell you notice right away in some parts of the park? It’s real, and it’s from the many trees that Busch Gardens Williamsburg brings in for the event.

See more about Busch Gardens Christmas Town here.

Best Dallas Christmas Events and Activities (Recommended by Finding Debra)

They say everything is bigger and better in Texas, and that includes events during the Christmas season. From celebrating the 12 days of Christmas with Victorian gazebos to ice sculptures and two million twinkle lights, a trip to Dallas must include these stops. Don’t forget that one Dallas suburb happens to be the Christmas Capital of Texas!

See more about Dallas Christmas Events here.

Knotts Merry Farm in Buena Park, CA (Recommended by Trekaroo)

The holidays are delicious and merry at Knott’s Merry Farm in Buena Park. See the fantastic Snoopy on Ice show, catch falling snow in Ghost Town, and taste fantastic treats at the Christmas shopping village. After you scream your lungs out on an epic roller coaster, catch a parade or take a ride on the historic steam train, decorated for the holidays.

See more here.

What is your favorite of these best Christmas vacations for families?

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