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 13–15, 2019
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, 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 visit the Woodstock Inn for some of the biggest gingerbread houses you’ll ever see.
Driving distances: 2 hours from Saratoga Springs, New York and Springfield, Massachusetts | 2 hours 30 minutes from Boston, Massachusetts | 3 hours from Providence, Rhode Island
2. Nevada City Victorian Christmas in Nevada City, California
December 8, 11, 15, 18 and 22, 2019
Photo courtesy of the Nevada City Chamber
Carolers and minstrels, even Santa himself, all decked out in Victorian dress, stroll the streets of Nevada City 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.
3. Ozark Mountain Christmas in Branson, Missouri
November 1–December. 31, 2019
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 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 100 holiday-themed live shows, 1,000 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.
Driving distances: 1 hour from Springfield, Missouri | 3 hours 20 minutes from Tulsa, Oklahoma and Kansas City, Missouri | 4 hours from St. Louis, Missouri
4. Christmas Town USA in McAdenville, North Carolina
December 2-26, 2019
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. 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.
Driving distances: 25 minutes from Charlotte, North Carolina | 3 hours from Raleigh, North Carolina | 3 hours 30 minutes from Atlanta, Georgia; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Roanoke, Virginia
5. The Christmas Season in Durango, Colorado
November 15, 2019–January 2, 2020
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. The Christmas Season in Durango typically runs from Thanksgiving through the end of the year. Begin your adventure with a ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad through Cascade Canyon in the San Juan National Forest 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 45th Holiday Arts and Crafts Festival (Dec. 7) and the Holiday Farmers Market (Dec. 14) give you an abundance of gift-giving opportunities. And if you want to get out into the snow, there’s plenty at Purgatory Resort.
Driving distances: 2 hours 45 minutes from Moab, Utah | 3 hours 40 minutes from Grand Junction, Colorado | 3 hours 45 minutes from Albuquerque, New Mexico