The Most Iconic Christmas Traditions in Every State
From fish feasts to rock-climbing Santas, you'll be amazed at all the wonderful ways Americans celebrate the season.
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Christmas in the U.S.A.
From beachside celebrations to snow-covered towns, these are the iconic holiday celebrations you won't want to miss across the United States. Create a tradition of your own with a movie night, a big bowl of popcorn, and one of these 40 best Christmas movies.
Fun fact: Alabama was the first state to recognize Christmas as an official holiday, so it only makes sense that these Southerners go all out with their traditions. For instance, every year the Alabama Theatre in Birmingham hosts a Classic Christmas movie marathon and an old-fashioned Wurlitzer sing-along. Food traditions are just as important, and in Alabama, those include pecan pie and divinity from Priester's Pecans gourmet candy store in Fort Deposit. Do you know how Alabama (and every other state) got its name?
For the ultimate Christmas tradition, it doesn't get any better than a visit to the actual North Pole in (where else?) North Pole City. You can visit Santa Claus's house, buy gifts for everyone on your list, and send Christmas letters specially postmarked from the North Pole. Alaskans can warm up at the Chena Hot Springs while watching the aurora borealis (nature's festive light display) or tour the Ice Museum. Santa would be proud: North Pole is the nicest place in the state.
Las Noches De Las Luminarias (the nights of lights) at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix prove you don't need snow to get into the Christmas spirit. The pathways lined with specially designed luminaria bags, twinkling lights, and live music make it a yearly tradition for many Arizonans. Another tradition takes advantage of their awe-inspiring natural landscape with a ride on the Polar Express Grand Canyon train in Williams.
Arkansians celebrate the season in the beauty of the Ozark mountains with the Lights of the Ozarks in Fayetteville. There's a parade and nightly activities along with the 400,000 lights strung around the main square. Families with kids flock to all the holiday activities at the Little Rock Zoo, including a Santa meet-and-greet and a special dinner.
In a state with as many people from as many different places as California, it makes sense that there are many iconic traditions, including the Christmas tree in Union Square in San Francisco, seeing the lights from the Pacific Coast Highway, and Candy Cane Lane in Los Angeles. But there are plenty of lesser-known traditions that are just as fun, including the holiday model train show in Mendocino. Hobbyists come from all over the country to display intricate and festive trains while kids can get a ride on the Skunk Train.
NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command center, is located in Colorado Springs and is home to one of the country's, and even the world's, most iconic Christmas traditions: the NORAD Santa Tracker. Each year on Christmas Eve they use their state-of-the-art military equipment to track the jolly old elf's progress around the world and post it online. Another magical Christmas moment for Coloradans is a wintry ride through the Rocky Mountains on the Georgetown Christmas Train, complete with hot chocolate and a visit from Santa.
Christmas season officially starts with the Holiday Light Fantasia in Hartford on Thanksgiving Day and Mystic's Holiday Lighted Boat Parade the following Saturday, which are both popular traditions for people throughout the state. But if you're looking for the picture-perfect Christmas tree, head to Easton, the "Christmas Tree Capital of Connecticut." Locals swear by the Maple Row Tree Farm, where you can cut down your own perfect tree—they provide the saws, you bring the Christmas cheer. Bring along the hot cocoa and blankets and enjoy your own holiday tailgate party in the parking lot. Find out the 12 secrets your Christmas tree wishes you knew.
As the site of some of the first cities established in America, many of Delaware's traditions center around historic Christmas celebrations. The Yuletide Tour at Winterthur lets people experience what Christmas was like in the 1800s. Similarly, people flock to Odessa every December to see the decked-out Colonial-era homes and take a self-guided tour that shares the history of the town. A favorite is the Historic Odessa's annual Holiday Celebration, where scenes from classic literature are recreated. Get a glimpse at these vintage photos of what Christmas used to look like.
How else would you expect people to celebrate the holidays in Florida other than on the water? A big Christmas tradition for many Floridians is participating in one of the many intracoastal boat parades. Lavishly decorated boats float by while people enjoy music and seasonal treats. Local favorites include the parade in Boca Raton and the one in Palm Beach. Find out 35 of the best small towns for Christmas lights.