Corning & Hornell, New York
It takes quite a display to be named one of the best Christmas towns in America, and Corning and Hornell know how to decorate. Dotted with delightful settlements between stretches of magnificent forest and all that deep blue water, the southern Finger Lakes region transports visitors back to a simpler era during the holidays. Hornell is transformed into Whoville starting on December 1, with a Grinch-themed parade and townsfolk dressing as their favorite Dr. Seuss characters. (How well do you know the lyrics to the "Mr. Grinch" song? Find out!) On Dec. 2, the nearby town of Corning hosts Sparkle, with free carriage rides, carolers, and photos with Santa in his Crystal House. If you can't make it to New York, don't act like a Grinch. Here's how to get over those holiday humbug feelings.
This enchanting historic town is like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life during the holidays, one of the most authentic Christmas towns. Santa’s Cedarburg Workshop, open weekends starting November 24 through December 23, gives kids the chance to meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus inside a gingerbread house. The restored Rivoli Theater plays classic yuletide films (like these best Christmas movies to get in the spirit), and decorated windows and 1,000 glowing luminaries grace Washington Avenue to enchant and delight shoppers through December 23. For those who want to do a good deed with their exercise, Santa’s Dash Away 5K raises money to help keep Santa’s Workshop free for families.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Crested Butte is the name of a lovely little ski town and the mountain that rises above it. The merriment begins on Light Up Night, when Santa lights a giant Christmas tree and downtown merrymakers are treated to free hot chocolate and s’mores on December 8. You’ll want to make sure you stroll along Elk Avenue to browse brightly colored Victorian-era storefronts, which will be decorated for Christmas. For an invigorating way to experience Jack Frost’s favorite season, don’t miss the Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade. Ski instructors at Crested Butte Mountain Resort glide down the slopes holding torches, and the mountain’s peak is illuminated. (If you're feeling a bit "bah humbug" this holiday season, try one of the many activities on this list of non-christmas-y things to do on Christmas day.)
Christmas towns don't need to be covered in snow to be festive. This scenic town, surrounded by the Prescott National Forest and the country’s largest stand of Ponderosa pines, provides an abundance of Christmas cheer. Events begin November 25 with the Christmas Parade in the afternoon. That evening, more than 100 trees will be illuminated during the annual lighting ceremony at the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza. Throughout the holiday season, the Prescott Resort hosts the World’s Largest Gingerbread Village, displaying more than 100 charming, handcrafted houses. (Check out these tricks to make your own picture-perfect gingerbread house.) On December 8, bands visit 100 area businesses to play during the Acker Musical Showcase, raising money for youth art scholarships. Santa greets kids in Prescott’s Holiday Courtyard at The Grand Highland Hotel the week leading up to Christmas.
Some Christmas towns draw inspiration for their festivities from Christmas traditions celebrated around the world. Tucked into America’s heartland, Geneva honors its proud Swedish heritage during the holidays with an appearance by Santa Lucia, a saint honored in Scandinavia at Christmastime. She will hand out traditional Swedish cookies during the Christmas Walk on December 1, and that weekend revelers also will have the chance to tour five homes exquisitely decorated for the holidays. Carolers, free carriage rides and a live nativity keep the festivities spirited, but nothing will dazzle like a 50-foot-tall Great Tree, bedecked with 4,400 lights and ornaments made by children.
So picturesque and perfect it might have magically materialized from a fairy tale book, the Bavarian-style mountain town celebrates its Christmas Lighting Festival every year. More than a half-million yuletide lights set the village aglow from December 1 through December 17. Santa and Mrs. Claus, Saint Nicholas and Father Christmas join in the merrymaking. Music from choirs, marching bands, hand-bell ringers and carolers fills the air. (By the way, this is the real reason we sing Christmas carols.) Horse-drawn carriage rides, dogsled rides, sledding, tubing, and skiing help attendees make the most of this glittering wintry wonderland.
McAdenville, North Carolina
There's a reason small towns make great vacation destinations. This tiny town, population 651, boasts a holiday extravaganza that few cities can match, with 375 live trees draped in decorations and lights. The trees range in height from 6 feet to 90 feet, with 5,000 lights used on the biggest ones. The official lighting ceremony in McAdenville is December 1, and there are events all month, including a Yule Log Parade on December 15. During every Christmas season since 1950, the local children have pulled the Yule log on a sled through town, followed by residents and visitors. When the procession reaches downtown, the Yule log is set ablaze, beginning the annual Christmas Town Festival.
The oldest town in Louisiana and famed as the setting for the Julia Roberts movie Steel Magnolias (one of the best tearjerker films ever made), Natchitoches is the epitome of Southern grace and beauty no matter the season. But from the Saturday before Thanksgiving to Epiphany (November 18 to January 6 this year), it blossoms into a spectacular salute to Christmas with more than 300,000 lights and 100 riverbank set pieces decorating the town. The beloved Christmas Festival, which is now in its 90th year, includes a parade, tours of historic homes, fireworks over the lake, historical re-enactors, a 5K run and photos with Santa, plus live music, arts and crafts and plenty of food vendors.
Considering the name, it’s fitting that this lovely place is one of the best spots in the nation to spend the Christmas season. Visitors can browse the artisan-crafted wares of Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem, an immense outdoor holiday market held under heated tents celebrating its 25th season this year. Modeled on legendary European Christmas markets, Bethlehem’s version also offers live music and belly-filling fare Thursdays through Sundays from November 17 until December 23. Guided walking and bus tours through Bethlehem, which was founded in 1741 by members of the Moravian Church, offer a glimpse of Victorian and colonial architecture and the town’s Christmas star; they run from Nov. 17 through Jan. 14.
People say things are bigger in Texas, and Grapevine proves the point with a super-sized Christmas celebration. Highlights are the North Pole Express; a rollicking train ride for families featuring caroling elves; and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus that runs on weekends from Thanksgiving to Christmas. The Parade of Lights on December 7 features marching bands and more than 100 floats. The city’s Gaylord Texan Resort transforms into an indoor winter wonderland during Lone Star Christmas from November 10 to January 1. In addition to 2 million twinkling lights, a 54-foot tree and 8-foot gingerbread house, there is ice galore—2 million pounds of it carved into magnificent frozen sculptures and giant slides. (By the way, here are some things your mall Santa won't tell you.)