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December Holiday Destinations for 2021

As the year starts to wind down, you may be looking for the perfect place to celebrate the December holidays. After all, just because you’re on the road and sans chimney doesn’t mean that you and Santa can’t connect during the festivities! From the east coast to the west, and north to south, there are plenty of places to enjoy the holiday atmosphere. Here are just eight of those locales in the U.S. with Christmas-themed markets and celebrations!

Note: Be sure to check each location for any COVID-related changes or cancellations.

ARIZONA—CHRISTKINDLMARKT

While the average daily temperature in Scottsdale, AZ rarely falls below 56 degrees, that doesn’t stop the Arizona Center for Germanic Cultures from putting on its Christmas-themed event each year. The annual event features German and Polish cuisine, handcrafted merchandise like candles and Christmas ornaments, and holiday entertainment for the whole family including a special appearance by the Christkindl and Saint Nikolaus.

Where: The German-American Community Center Treffpunkt
When: Saturday, December 4, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, December 5, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

CALIFORNIA—JULEFEST

Solvang’s annual Julefest runs from November 27 to December 18, with something for everyone to enjoy. Start with the annual tree lighting ceremony on December 3 at 5 p.m., and enjoy various festivities including ballerinas, live entertainment, caroling, and of course the arrival of Santa! Then, stop by Santa’s Village, open every Saturday leading up to Christmas Day, where little ones have a chance to meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

Ready for an adventure? Track down the mysterious Solvang Nisse all Julefest long, using clues provided to earn a special prize! Need to take a break? Then join the 400-plus participants and over 50 contingents on December 4 for the annual parade. Julefest also features candle-light tours every Saturday starting November 27 through December 18, and the tree burnfire safety demonstration on Friday, December 31. Supervised by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, it’s one of the largest fire safety demonstrations in the county that also heralds the end of the Julefest celebration.

LOUISIANA—NOLA CHRISTMASFEST

New Orleans is a year-round destination spot, but if you’re looking for a little seasonal cheer, head down for the NOLA Christmasfest, running December 17 to 22, and 25 to 30 (closed on Dec. 23 and 24). From the ice skating rink and ice slides to carnival rides and shopping fun at the Yuletide Market, you’ll have plenty to do and see. Just be sure to get your tickets early, since access is limited to two sessions per day: morning and evening.

MICHIGAN —FRANKENMUTH

If you haven’t visited Frankenmuth during December, you’re missing a chance to celebrate the holiday season in a really big way. Named one of the “9 Most Christmassy Towns in America” by TIME magazine, and home to Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, the World’s Largest Christmas Store, the city is definitely a must-go on your Christmas travel list. It’s a magical place with plenty to do and see, from horse-drawn carriage rides, the 56-foot tall Silent Night Memorial Chapel (an ornate, exact replica of the chapel in Oberndorf, Austria where the hymn “Silent Night” was first sung in 1818) and the half-mile 25 Christmas Lane with its 100,000 twinkling lights display. And of course, there’s a Christmas tree—a magical and musical 40-foot tree at the Frankenmuth Visitor’s Center adorned with 23,000 lights. Need to do some shopping? Check out the Frankenmuth Farmers Market, transformed into a traditional German ChristKindlMarkt. Stop by November 26-28, December 3-5, and December 10-12 for the best of the best of locally made trinkets, gifts, baked goods.

MISSOURI—AMERICA’S CHRISTMAS TREE CITY

Where else should you go for the holidays other than America’s Christmas Tree City, aka Branson? The city’s Christmas season begins immediately after Halloween (and sometimes before!) and runs through New Year’s Day, with a host of must-see Christmas activities and attractions.

Just to name a few, check out the Silver Dollar City’s “An Old Time Christmas” celebration, featuring more than 6.5 million lights. Or take the Branson Christmas Tree Tour where you can view over 100 of the area’s largest, most interesting, colorful, and unique Christmas tree displays. And of course, Branson puts on numerous shows—some holiday-themed and others a mix—as well as hosting several Christmas parades each year. And if you’re feeling adventurous, visit Wolfe Mountain with its 400-foot-long slope ready for a snow-tubing experience!

NORTH CAROLINA—CHRISTMAS TOWN USA

If you are looking for a place to kick off the season, try McAdenville, known as Christmas Town USA on December 1, when the Tree Lighting Ceremony officially starts the month-long holiday celebration, followed on December 16 with the Yule Log Parade and ceremony. If you’re a runner, participate in the Christmas Town 5-K race on November 27 —a 3.1-mile route that also gives you a sneak peek of the holiday lights!

PENNSYLVANIA—KOZIAR’S CHRISTMAS VILLAGE

An entire village dedicated to the Christmas holiday season? That’s Koziar’s Christmas Village. The event had its origins in 1948, when William M. Koziar, the creator of Christmas Village, decorated his home and property for his family to enjoy. Since then it has grown to be a regional and national phenomenon enjoyed by multiple generations over its 74-year history. Opening night is November 6, with the event running through January 1. Be sure to check out the Winter Wonderland tour, with beautiful glass building displays, gift and snack shops, and more. (Take a virtual tour here.)

SOUTH CAROLINA—32ND ANNUAL HOLIDAY FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS

If you’re heading south for the holiday season, add James Island County Park in Charleston as one of your stopping points to enjoy the Holiday Festival of Lights, now in its 32nd year. The light show starts November 12 and runs to the end of the year culminating in a fireworks display on New Year’s Eve. In addition to the more than 750 light displays, there’s a Winter Wonderland, home of the area’s largest holiday sand sculpture, formed from over 50 tons of sand, festival shops where you can find the perfect gifts for friends and family, and a train ride for an up-close look of the festival.

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