Holiday cheer isn’t hard to come by, but some destinations just have more of it than other places. You might expect to find the most intense holiday spirit in densely populated places, but for extravagant celebrations, look to small towns. In these five towns across the United States, you’ll find plenty of cocoa, parades and holiday to-dos to make you feel merry.
1. Wassail Weekend in Woodstock, Vermont
December 10–12, 2021
Photo courtesy of the Woodstock Area Chamber of Commerce
Wassail Weekend—Woodstock, Vermont’s annual holiday soirée—is like a Currier & Ives print come to life. Horse-drawn wagons, the village green full of carolers, a dusting of snow and a nip in the air are reasons why the town fills with cheery revelers each year. Woodstock’s population doubles as some 3,000 people visit for a horse-and-wagon home tour, to drink Wassail punch and munch on cider donuts on sleigh rides at the Billings Farm & Museum and enjoy Christmas and Celtic caroling and the equestrian parade. Join in at one of the sing-alongs, follow the 400 luminaries to the bonfire on the green or see one of several holiday shows at the Pentangle Arts at Town Hall Theatre and Grange Theatre.
NEA member travel benefits: Burlington International Airport (BTV) is the largest airport you can fly into near Woodstock, but it’s still about two-and-a-half hours away. Lebanon Municipal Airport (LEB) is the closest, at just about 30 minutes’ drive, but it’s a small regional airport just over the border in New Hampshire that mostly has flights coming in from Massachusetts and New York. To get the best airfare and car rental prices, visit NEA’s travel portal. Click on the hotels page to find deals on hotels like an average of $99/night at the White River Inn and Suites, which has a heated indoor pool and cozy lobby with a fireplace, plus all suites have kitchenettes. For an average of $137/night you can book a room at the 77-room Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites White River Junction, which has a 24-hour fitness center and rooms with microwaves and refrigerators.
2. Nevada City Victorian Christmas in Nevada City, California
December 5, 8, 12, 15 and 19, 2021
Photo courtesy of the Nevada City Chamber
Carolers, minstrels and even Santa himself, stroll the streets of Nevada City decked out in Victorian dress for its Victorian Christmas celebration. They call it “a genuine Christmas card come to life” and it’s hard to disagree. With gas lamps illuminating the streets, thousands of lights blinking and twinkling, and the requisite carriage rides and hot cocoa, it’s easy to find a bagful of holiday cheer. Thoroughfares are lined with shops and boutiques, and the street fair adds to that hundreds of vendors selling jewelry, crafts and gifts. Then there’s the Walking Christmas Tree, a costumed reveler dressed as—you guessed it—a tree. Whether you come in your own sapling outfit, get dressed in Victorian garb or come as you are, Nevada City’s holiday spirit is infectious.
NEA member travel benefits: Visit NEA’s travel portal for the best prices on airfare to Sacramento International Airport (SMF), about an hour away, or Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO), about an hour-and-a-half away. On the hotels page you can find deals on hotels like Best Western Gold Country Inn (average of $133/night) and Nevada City Inn (average of $91/night).
3. Ozark Mountain Christmas in Branson, Missouri
November 1–December. 31, 2021
Photo courtesy of Branson CVB
Folks flock to Branson, Missouri, throughout the year to visit Silver Dollar City, go fishing on the nearby lakes and to take in one of the more than 100 shows in town. During the holiday season, this Ozark Mountains town shows why it has become an entertainment hot spot with its Ozark Mountain Christmas. Throughout the city there are more than dozens of holiday-themed live shows, countless elaborately decorated Christmas trees (including a five-story special effects Christmas tree) and lights galore (Silver Dollar City has around 6.5 million on display). Branson Scenic Railway’s Polar Express train ride provides a great way to see the mountains with a cup of hot chocolate and cookies; Santa is also on board to entertain the little ones with stories.
NEA member travel benefits: Fly into Branson Airport (BKG), serviced by Frontier Airlines, or the slightly larger Springfield-Branson National Airport (SGF), which is 50 miles away. NEA’s travel portal is the best place to find the best deals on airline tickets and hotels. Winter hotel deals include an average of $141 a night at Westgate Branson Lakes resort, $159 a night at Chateau on the Lake Spa and Convention Center and just $77 at Whispering Hills Inn.
4. Christmas Town USA in McAdenville, North Carolina
December 1-26, 2021
Photo courtesy of Steve Rankin/Christmas Town USA
McAdenville, North Carolina’s unofficial Christmas epicenter, is just 20 miles north of Charlotte. For nearly the entire month of December, this tiny town lights up the night with a dazzling display that brings in around 600,000 visitors to see an equal number of lights and 2021 marks its 66th year celebrating the holiday this way. You can drive the 1.3-mile route, but considering the cars are going 0.02 miles per hour and that North Carolina’s winters are mild, you may just want to zip up your jacket and walk. As you stroll, take your time admiring the displays and linger at your favorites for as long as you like. On December 16, the annual yule log ceremony—a tradition since 1950— will involve a block parade that culminates in the lighting of the yule log with Santa present, of course.
NEA member travel benefits: It’s just about a 25-minute drive to McAdenville from Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) and NEA’s travel portal offers the cheapest airfare. The hotels page features deals like an average of $110 per night at Holiday Inn Express Charlotte Belmont Airport, which has a 24-hour gym and free breakfast and WiFi. The stylish AC Hotel by Marriott Charlotte Southpark is another good option at $125 per night or save even more at Hyatt House Charlotte Airport, which is just $88 per night on average.
5. The Christmas Season in Durango, Colorado
November 19, 2021-January 1, 2022
Photo courtesy of Colorado Tourism
Colorado’s a haven for snow lovers and Durango is no exception, but in December the town is all about the holidays. Begin your adventure with a ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad through Cascade Canyon in the San Juan National Forest and then hop aboard the Polar Express. Bring the kids for a special gift from Santa himself! The Winter Solstice Artisans’ Market at the Durango Arts Center gives you an abundance of gift-giving opportunities. And if you want to get out into the snow, there’s plenty at Purgatory Resort.
NEA member travel benefits: Although it’s still about a three-and-a-half hour drive, Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) is the closest airport to Durango. You’ll find the best airfare and car rental prices on NEA’s travel portal. On the hotels page you’ll see deals like Quality Inn Durango for an average of $78 a night and Hampton Inn Durango for $116 a night. Spend a little more ($169 a night, on average) for the pet friendly DoubleTree by Hilton Durango for spacious rooms with pillowtop beds and an indoor pool and gym.
Plan your itinerary: Visit Durango | The Official Site of Colorado Tourism | Christmas Town, USA | Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad | Polar Express | Winter Solstice Artisans’ Market | Purgatory Resort