Everyone loves the festive season — the twinkling lights, the comforting foods, the caroling and other beloved traditions — but some towns take it to the next level. From unbelievable light displays to historical reenactments and other festive affairs, these 10 places are some of the most festive cities and towns in the U.S.
Kicking off celebrations in early November and carrying through the New Year, Branson is known as “America’s Christmas Tree City.” The city in the Ozarks features a trail of more than 700 trees, ranging from traditionally decorated evergreens to mechanically designed light shows — and even eccentric original creations made from wine bottles, library books, and go-kart tires. If the tree trail doesn’t give you your festive fill, there are several other light shows to take in, including the “Let There Be Lights!” drive-through light display, “Branson’s Lights of Joy,” and the awe-inspiring “An Old Time Christmas” festival at the town’s Silver City amusement park. For an extra dose of holiday whimsy, hop aboard the Polar Express train ride, a beloved Branson tradition inspired by the popular movie of the same name.
Big Spring, Texas
When you think of the holidays, a white winter wonderland is likely one of the first images that comes to mind. But snow certainly isn’t a requirement for having lots of Christmas spirit — just ask the people of Big Spring, Texas. Residents take pride in their temperate southern city being known as the “Lighted Poinsettia Capital of Texas.” The title comes from the stunning illuminated displays in the annual Comanche Trail Festival of Lights, a beloved local spectacle that features more than a million lights — including larger-than-life twinkly poinsettia creations. For an extra dose of Texan Christmas coziness, check out Big Spring’s historic Hotel Settles and its festive lobby adorned with a massive Christmas tree every year.
Duluth’s holiday celebrations are an annual winter highlight for many Minnesotans. The season starts with the Christmas City of the North Parade, a celebration now in its sixth decade of elaborate floats, marching bands, dancers, and regular appearances by Santa Claus himself. From there, holiday revelers can climb aboard the decked-out Christmas City Express for a scenic train ride to Lake Superior with hot chocolate, cookies, and classic holiday tunes. But Duluth’s Christmas spirit really kicks into high gear with the Bentleyville Tour of Lights, America’s largest free walk-through light display, featuring intricate themed displays made up of more than 4 million brilliant lights.
McAdenville, North Carolina
You don’t get a name like “Christmas Town U.S.A.” if you don’t go all out for the holidays. In 1956, the McAdenville Men’s Club decided to use red, white, and green lights to decorate the trees all around the McAdenville Community Center, and since then, the town has made it a group effort to bring as much adornment and cheer to the season as possible. The town decorates more than 300 live trees, which range in height from six feet to upwards of 90 feet, and feature as many as 5,000 lights on a single tree. Residents get in on the fun as well, decorating their homes with vibrant displays. As spectators stroll along the town’s lake to take in the lights, they’ll also hear the seasonal sounds of carols from the nearby historic bell tower that sits in the charming town center.
Natchitoches is so serious about Christmas that preparations for the annual Christmas festival begin in June. Each year, more than 300,000 lights and 100 individual displays cast the town (and the Cane River running through it) aglow as locals celebrate not only the season, but also their Creole heritage. Over the years, the celebrations have grown to include a parade, fireworks, live music, a “Miss Merry Christmas Queen” pageant, and holiday eats galore. The small Louisiana city of 18,000 people has proudly outfitted its town in twinkling lights since 1927, making it one of the oldest community-based holiday celebrations in the country.
Newport Beach, California
Newport Beach’s coastal waters light up during the annual Christmas Boat Parade and Ring of Lights celebrations. More than 100 boats (including some with V.I.P. guests like Santa and Mrs. Claus) plaster their decks with hundreds of lights as they sail around Newport Harbor and spread colorful Christmas cheer for five consecutive nights. Alongside the boat parade, which includes everything from yachts to canoes, residents of Newport’s Balboa and Harbor Islands decorate their houses to the nines for the Ring of Lights home-decorating competition.
North Pole, Alaska
It’s only fitting that the small Alaskan town that shares the name of Santa Claus’s hometown pulls out all the stops for Christmas. Located 14 miles outside of Fairbanks, this North Pole celebrates Christmas year-round, with parades in July and nostalgic red-and-white candy cane stripes splashed across the city streets. In the town center, you’ll find the Santa Claus House, a one-time post office turned holiday shop. You can visit live reindeer, shop for Christmas gifts, take a photo with the world’s largest Santa statue, and say hello to the man in red himself. Perhaps best and most spirited of all, a resident who is legally named Santa Claus serves on the North Pole city council — long white beard and all.
Santa Claus, Indiana
A town named after Christmas’ most famous figure would be remiss if it didn’t celebrate the holidays in style, and that’s just what this one does. Santa Claus, Indiana, proclaims itself “America’s Christmas Hometown,” dedicating much of the year to Christmas-themed shops and attractions, and the town works extra hard during the holidays to make sure not only locals, but also kids all over the world, have a joyous season. The post office receives thousands of letters to Santa each year, and since the early 1900s, a group of volunteers has worked to make sure every letter gets a reply from Santa.
St. Augustine, Florida
Christmas in sunny St. Augustine is known for its award-winning Nights of Lights display, a massive undertaking that features millions of tiny white lights creating a warm and festive glow all throughout America’s oldest city. Locals and visitors alike revel in the shimmer of the bayfront installations, while the iconic Plaza de la Constitución Christmas is surrounded by mountains of gifts. Nights of Lights, which runs from mid-November until the end of January, has its origins in the traditional Spanish practice of placing a white candle in a window during the Christmas holidays.
Williamsburg fancies itself the “Best Christmas Town in America,” and with their unique take on the holiday, history buffs would be inclined to agree. Each year, in the historic Colonial Williamsburg district, holiday traditions from the 17th and 18th centuries are celebrated with authentic costumes (worn by local participants) and era-appropriate, hand-crafted decorations. If the other Colonial holiday traditions, such as caroling by candlelight or drum corps marches and gun salutes, are too old-fashioned for your tastes, you can always head to the holiday experience at Busch Gardens amusement park. Its awe-inspiring displays — made up of more than 8 million lights — are a local favorite.