Winter Holiday Destinations
It’s that time of year where the sky gets darker earlier, and people start to put lights on their houses, and towns begin to look a little brighter. The holidays are a special time of the year; we’ve come up with a list of places that go all out to celebrate!
Named one of the “prettiest small towns in America” and included on the Yankee’s list of “Best Christmas Celebrations in New England,” Woodstock is a must-see during the holidays. It has become a popular destination, especially during its annual Wassail Weekend event. What you can expect if you visit during this festive weekend:
Leavenworth is located to the east of the Cascade Mountains in North Central Washington. The snowy landscape’s incredible views with over half a million sparkling lights make this Bavarian-style town a must-see destination during the holidays. Here are some things you can expect to see and do on your visit to Leavenworth:
- Craft Fairs
- A parade followed by a community outdoor yule log
- Great food (Christmas themed appetizers and desserts found at many of the restaurants)
- Horse-drawn wagon tours
- Performances by carolers
- The famous Christmastime Wassail Feast: A fun, medieval-style pageant.
- The Woodstock Inn & Resort: Known for its charm, elegance, and coziness. This beautiful inn welcomes travelers from all over. It’s also a crowd favorite for Christmas dinner!
- With many unique boutiques and galleries to choose from, Leavenworth is excellent for holiday shopping or if you want to pick up some holiday home décor for yourself.
- Nutcracker Museum: This is a two-story building filled with thousands of nutcrackers (about 7,000) from 50 different countries. You might find yourself in amazement as you view the nutcrackers and the details they hold. You can even participate in a nutcracker scavenger hunt: this is an excellent activity for the kids, but adults are welcome to join the fun too!
- Reindeer Farm: Head to the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm, where you can pet and feed the reindeer while you learn about these cute creatures and the history of the family farm.
- Christmas shows: You can find live performances from breakout solo artists as well as local high school choirs and professional choirs. You can also hear carolers as they sing throughout the streets and check out live authentic Bavarian music at the Icicle Creek Center for the Arts, where you can listen to handbell concerts, Celtic yuletide songfest, and bluegrass.
- The Christmas Lighting Ceremony: When the sun sets, you’ll hear the alphorns that signals everyone to head to the Town Square for the Christmas Lighting Ceremony to witness all the lights turn on.
- Christkindlmarkt: A Bavarian-style outdoor Christmas market with plenty of homemade arts and crafts, family entertainment, and German eats! This event typically takes place the weekend after Thanksgiving.
- Lantern Parade: Join the fun as families carry their handcrafted glowing lanterns and follow Mr. And Mrs. Claus through the town to a Gazebo where they hold the Christkindlmarkt to welcome everyone and to kick off the holiday season!
- Breweries: Check out the local breweries where the beer they brew in Leavenworth is all made from local ingredients (even the water they use is local).
- Wineries: If you’re more into wine, head to the wineries and go wine tasting!
- There are plenty of food options, such as The Sausage Garten. You’ll also want to check out the Gingerbread Factory Desserts: Here, there are all things gingerbread, from gingerbread houses to ice cream sandwiches with gingersnap cookies.
- Front Street Park: Front Street Park has a sloping lawn that turns into a sledding hill when it snows.
- Leavenworth Ski Hill: This is great for the more advanced kids to go tubing down or launch off the ski jump!
- Sleigh Rides: Experience a sleigh ride through Leavenworth’s downtown area or take a ride to the local farm for some incredible views of the mountains.
Natchitoches, pronounced “Nack-a-tish,” is home to one of the country’s oldest community-based celebrations. With six weeks to celebrate the holiday season that begins the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the town lights up with more than 300,000 lights and over 100 displays to brighten up the streets.
- The Parade: Join the fun and watch the parade that starts at the Northwestern State University and goes through the Historic District. You’ll hear bands from the university and local high schools playing and see dancing groups, themed floats, costumed characters, the Christmas Belles, Miss Natchitoches, the Christmas Angels, Miss City of Lights, and Miss Merry Christmas!
- Firework Shows: Expect to see an incredible firework show every Saturday from the Saturday before Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve!
- Christmas Festival Poster: Every year, artists from around the country submit their artwork in hopes of having their design become that year’s poster for the holiday event. They have become great gifts for visitors to bring home to their families. They also raise money from the posters’ sales to provide three scholarships at Northwestern State University for students in the Creative and Performing Arts program.
- Christmas Festival: The big event is the Christmas Festival, which typically begins the first Saturday in December. You can expect to see a parade in the early part of the day, followed by an arts and crafts show, food vendors, live entertainment, and fireworks all along the riverfront! The festival has been ranked 3rd “Best Holiday Light Show,” right behind the Rockefeller Center and Disneyland by Yahoo! Travel.
- Specialties: You can’t go to Natchitoches without trying their iconic meat pies and creamy eggnog daiquiris! You’ll also find funnel cakes, cotton candy, hamburgers, alligator, and many more options!
If you love Christmas, add Frankenmuth to your list of places to visit. This city was named one of the “9 Most Christmassy Towns in America” by TIME and is home to the world’s largest Christmas store! Even more, they celebrate Christmas all year long.
- The Old Christmas Station: What once was a train depot in the 1920s is now known as the Old Christmas Station. This quaint café is filled with antique Christmas ornaments and offers an assortment of dishes. You can expect to find Swiss, Austrian, German, and French-inspired meals, but you’d be missing out if you skipped dessert. Chocolate mousse cake or Austrian apple strudel? Each dessert is made from scratch and uses the freshest ingredients.
- Christkindlmarkt: A European inspired holiday market where you can find anything from baked goods, art, holiday décor, soaps, and many other creations from the local artists, bakers, and makers! You can find this market in Frankenmuth the weekend after Thanksgiving.
- Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland: If you need to do some Christmas shopping, you need to stop by Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. It’s the world’s largest Christmas store, the size of 1 and a half football fields, filled with trees, trims, and many goodies and trinkets!
St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine is a fabulous way to enjoy the holidays with various ways to enjoy the lighting presentation. Plus, it’s typically warmer, which makes for an even more unique holiday experience!
- Nights of Lights: National Geographic ranks this town in the top ten holiday light displays in the world! You can view this event from an array of places: on the trolley or train; on the water on a 6-12 passenger boat, from above at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, go further and view St. Augustine in the Old City Helicopter, or if you’re looking for something romantic you can get cozy and enjoy an evening on a carriage tour. Guided tours are also available to view the lights while also learning the history of St. Augustine.
- St. Augustine Annual Art & Craft Festival: Typically, this event is hosted on Thanksgiving Weekend, where over 100 artists can sell their art and products. You can find an array of items from paintings, to handmade jewelry, to mixed media.
- Luminary Night: This event is held at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum during the Nights of Lights event. There are various holiday fun stations throughout, but most importantly, you can grab your luminary kits – the community will light up all of the luminaries together in the Nights of Lights event.
- Boat Parades: Head to the Palm Valley Boat Parade to watch boats pass by covered in holiday lights along Ponte Vedra Beach! Or Head to the Holiday of Regatta of Lights to view the ships between the Bridge of Lions and Castillo de San Marcos.
- The Nutcracker: Watch as the St. Augustine’s Ballet performs the Nutcracker.
- Night of Pints: While Night of Lights is happening, you can partake in Night of Pints, where local breweries offer a passport-style event. Grab your list and go beer hopping as you try seasonal beers nearby!
- Wine & Carriage Tour: Enjoy the views of Night of Lights with a group of loved ones in the comfort of a carriage ride while pairing it with a bottle of wine to share.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco is a large city, so there are many places you can celebrate Hanukkah. Here are a few worth visiting:
- Chanukah Festival of Lights in Union Square: Celebrate Hanukkah around this 25-foot-tall menorah. You can come at night for the lighting ceremony, or hang out all day where you’ll find kids’ crafts, dreidel games, drinks, and on the last night, you’ll find music and a big ceremony.
- Hanukkah Party at Ghirardelli Square: Menorah lightings, crafts, dreidels, donuts, and much more!
- Hanukkah at Pier 39: Celebrate around the 9-foot-tall menorah with colored glass, lit every day when the sun goes down.
- Pop-Up Glowing Hanukkah Party: This is an off-site Jewish Community Center of San Francisco (JCCSF) event where people wear clothes that light up under the lights. There’s music, treats, and many activities at surrounding locations.
- Daily Lighting with JCCSF: Join the JCCSF to light the menorah every night along with live music, crafts, and stories for the little ones.
Home to the largest Jewish temple and one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe, Budapest decorates their streets in lights, and menorahs are set up in public areas. This city comes to life this time of year!
Every evening the giant menorah is lit at the Pest’s Nyugati Square, where anyone is welcome to partake in the ceremony. The ceremony includes musical performances and traditional dances. You can find many gatherings around Budapest that will celebrate and enjoy family traditions, delicious foods, musical concerts, and games.
- Gozsdu Udvar: This popular downtown location has many great spots for all ages to come to celebrate. You can find lighting ceremonies, live music, donuts, and much more!
- Ice Skating: A fun tradition during Hanukkah has been to go ice skating at City Park next to Heroes’ Square. With a view of Vajdahunyad Castle and the giant menorah placed in the middle of the ice rink, this has become a favorite way for people to celebrate!
- Menorah Lighting Ceremonies: There are multiple places to view the lighting ceremony throughout Budapest, such as Nyugati Square. Be sure to enjoy a sufganiyot donut, a dough ball filled with jelly and dusted with powdered sugar, while viewing the lighting. If you decide to view the ceremony at Nyugati Square, you’ll also be entertained with live music every evening of the ceremony.
- Negyed7Negyed8 Festival: This translates into, District7District8, which is a festival that showcases a variety of events, such as film screenings and concerts, but mainly gives tours of the hidden spaces of their neighborhoods and encourages volunteering, donating, and helping one another.
Rome has one of the most historic Jewish quarters in Europe, with great food and community all around. Here are some events you can expect if you visit Rome during Hanukkah.
- The lighting of the Menorah: If you head over to Piazza Barberini, you’ll find a 20-foot, giant menorah that gets lit every night of Hanukkah. One of the more popular places to watch the daily lightings, Piazza Barberini also holds a big party with food, wine, and dancing! However, you can check out other menorah lighting ceremonies if you’re not into larger crowds, such as the ceremony at Piazza Bologna.
- Street Parties: Celebrate as the Jewish community joins together at Via del Portico d’Ottavia in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto. This street party is filled with people dancing, and there are booths from Jewish organizations set up along the street. It’s a beautiful way for the community to connect.
- The Great Synagogue: If you’re looking for dreidel games, arts and crafts, and performances, you’ll want to make your way to the Great Synagogue of Rome. You can also hang out and participate in viewing the candle-lighting ceremony at the Piazza San Bartolomeo all’Isola, which is right in front of the Great Synagogue, and listen to the choir.
- Food: Rome has a special version of the jelly donut that they indulge in during Hanukkah, called fritelle di Chanuka. They describe it as a sweet dough fritter that has raisins and anise seeds. It’s then deep-fried and topped with honey. This is something you won’t want to pass up!
- Menorah Lightings: You can find the tallest menorah in London at Golders Green Station every evening. It’s so tall that the Rabbi has to use a cherry picker to reach the candles! You can also head to Trafalgar Square or head to the Jewish Museum, where you’ll find Chanukah related activities throughout the week.
- Ice Skating: Go ice skating at the JW3, Jewish Community Center, with Ice Silent Disco with DJs, and of course, donuts and wine!
The Jewish community in London appreciates anyone and everyone who participates in a menorah lighting, no matter your walk of life and faith! If you want to learn more about the delicious foods eaten during Hanukkah or other aspects of London’s tradition, they encourage you to join the Jewish Tour of Golders Green!
If you’re in the U.S. and want to experience Hanukkah, Los Angeles is a great place to visit. With such a large Jewish population and community, you’re sure to find celebrations all around, from Orange County to the Valley. If you’re in Orange County, make sure you check out the Fashion Island Menorah Lighting, this is the largest Menorah Lighting in the OC. Typically, there are live performances, donuts, face painting, crafts, games, and many more activities! There are plenty of activities for the little ones too. Some examples include:
- Hanukkah concert & celebration at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue
- Jewish ID Hanukkah Party: Candle making, dancing, crafts, treats, etc.
- Hanukkah Candle Workshop: The kids can create Hanukkah themed candles in different shapes and colors.
Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and many places around the world celebrate this occasion to welcome that days will soon begin to get longer again.
- Glastonbury Tor; Glastonbury, England: In Glastonbury, the Winter Solstice is a spiritual experience. People gather at Glastonbury Tor, a man-made mound in southern England, where it’s believed the mound was created to celebrate the sun. During the winter solstice, a person can stand on the top of a hill near the Glastonbury mound and watch as the sun rises from the base of Glastonbury Tor to the top of St. Michael’s Tower at the pinnacle.
- Burning Clocks Festival, Brighton, England: Another celebration in England is the Burning Clocks Festival. When the sun sets, people parade throughout the town holding lanterns made of wicker and tissue paper. The walk culminates at a bonfire, where the lanterns are tossed in to honor the year’s end. And to top off the night, you can view a fireworks show.
- Toji; Japan: If you’re in Japan during the winter solstice, you may find yourself celebrating by taking a bath. Many Japanese celebrate the coming year by soaking in baths filled with yuzu fruits that bob on the surface of the water. This fruit is known to cleanse and to have healing properties. They believe that soaking with the yuzu fruit will ward off evil spirits and even the common cold.
Another holiday people celebrate during the winter is Kwanzaa, which translates to “first fruits.” Kwanzaa is a 7-day festival celebrated in the United States from December 26th through January 1st that honors African heritage in African American culture. These seven days represent different principles that are rooted in African tradition. Celebrating Kwanzaa is a beautiful way to end the year with loved ones filled with storytelling, art, dancing, music, and so much more! Here are some U.S. cities that hold Kwanzaa celebrations:
If you’re celebrating Kwanzaa in Los Angeles, here are some events you can expect on your visit:
- 1st Day of Kwanzaa: At the African American Cultural Center, you can join the Candle Lighting Ceremony and Celebration. This program will include music, poetry, and wishes for the New Year from the community leaders and the organizations to kick of the beginning of Kwanzaa.
- 3rd Day of Kwanzaa: Head to the Limbiko Tembo School of African American Culture, where they hold their Annual Children’s Kwanzaa Celebration. This event is for children from 3 to 13 years old, where there will be drumming, poetry, dancing, performances, readings, and art activities.
- 6th Day of Kwanzaa: At the African American Cultural Center, they hold the Annual Kwanzaa Karamu, which is an African feast. The Karamu is a festive event where they serve fine African foods, and there’s plenty of dancing, drumming, music, and poetry. There are also speakers at the event, including Dr. Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa, and more performances and the Kwanzaa Candle Lighting Ceremony.
No matter what you celebrate, many communities and celebrations are held all around the world. Maybe you’ve been to some, or perhaps you’re inspired to celebrate from another country. Whatever it may be, it’s our wish that you celebrate in a way that makes you feel fulfilled.