All over the United States, there are special and unique Christmas celebrations that can charm and amaze, depending on what you are looking for in a Christmas holiday vacation. We have tracked down 10 amazing locations to inspire you as you plan your next family holiday.
1. Maui, Hawaii
What better way to celebrate the season than to spend some time on a warm Pacific beach? Maui's wonderful December weather, while somewhat windier and wetter than the rest of the year, will still be considerably warmer than anywhere else in the US. The average high temperature in December is 83, with lows normally hitting mid-60s. Beyond enjoying the weather or basking on the beach, there are many ways to enjoy the holidays on Maui.
Banyan Tree Lighting Ceremony
First off, you simply cannot miss the Banyan tree lighting ceremony in Lahaina. This historic tree, first brought to the island in 1873 when it was just 8 feet tall, has spread a dozen main trunks over roughly an acre. For the lighting, each trunk is wrapped Christmas lights - 6,500 in all - creating a very special ambiance that is best enjoyed with your loved ones.
After the tree lighting, a Hawaiian luau is probably the next best event to enjoy for Christmas. Kids and adults alike will enjoy the amazing music, dancing, and food of the luau. But for Christmas, locals take the entertainment to another level. That's because these luaus, which are held all over the island, incorporate Santa Claus, usually paddling up in a canoe, into the festivities for the Christmas season. Depending on the location, you can expect to pay between $100 and $130 per person.
2. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
If a more traditional winter vacation is what you are after, consider Jackson, Wyoming. This small town in the Southwest corner of the state is accustomed to hosting some of the world's top celebrities, and there's a good reason. This picturesque town offers some of the best "Cowboy-style" entertainment in the country.
Town Square Tree Lighting
If you are planning your visit in November, you can enjoy the Town Square Tree Lighting. Taking place each year on the day after Thanksgiving, this fun-filled event happens right in Town Square. Thousands of Christmas lights are wrapped around the famous elk antler arches. You can also enjoy live holiday music, cookies and hot chocolate, and even a visit from Mr. Claus himself.
Set just south of some of the most impressive mountain peaks in the country, Jackson is home to some of the best skiing in the world. And, for Christmas, the fun on the slopes is even more special. That's because, on Christmas Eve, Santa joins the fun at Teton Village by rappelling down from the tram. What a way to make an entrance! Then, on Christmas day, you can ski with the man in red between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm.
3. Park City, Utah
Park City is another popular mountain retreat for the rich and famous. Part of the appeal lies in the fact that Park City is just 45 minutes from the Salt Lake City airport. That's important because this is a large international airport that is noted for its timely departures, rain, snow, or shine. That sets Park City apart from some other famous ski towns such as Aspen or Vail.
In addition to a tree lighting event, Park City thrills visitors with its Electric Parade. In addition to the brilliant parade of lit-up vehicles making their way down historic Main Street, you can see the lighting of the main street lights, listen to holiday carolers, and even visit with Santa.
And, while you are there, you should certainly partake in the main reason everyone goes to Park City - the slopes! With two large ski resorts to choose from - Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley, you are truly spoiled for choice. Snowboarders should note that Deer Valley prohibits snowboards.
Other Holiday Events
Nearby Christmas events include the spectacular North Pole Express train ride in Heber and the Swiss Christmas Market in Midway.
4. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Because it is normally thought of as a summer destination, you might be surprised to learn that Mackinac Island is also a fabulous Christmas destination. Famous for not allowing vehicles, Mackinac Island becomes a cold, snowy, winter wonderland by December, and you can find plenty of snowmobilers and horse-drawn sleighs enjoying the snow.
Mackinac Tree Lighting Ceremony and Bazaar
The tree lighting ceremony features Christmas Carols. Normally held in late November or early December, this ceremony kicks off the Christmas season on the island. That includes the famous 3-day Christmas Bazaar. Folks all come together on the island to shop, eat, and partake in an auction that benefits a local medical center.
5. New York City, New York
We all know that New York is the premier US destination at any time of the year, but for Christmas, there is an extra dose of festiveness in the air.
Of course, you have the world-class shopping to cross those last gifts off of your list. And while you are at it, you can marvel over the intricate window displays set up in the shop windows. With temperatures in the 30s and 40s (sometimes colder) throughout the month, you will need to make sure you bring plenty of warm clothes along because you will probably be outside for a lot of the time.
While you are there, don't miss Rockefeller Center and its famous Christmas tree. The lighting ceremony is probably the most spectacular in the nation, and it's free - you just have to brave the cold and the crowds. Another option for enjoying the area is to join the Christmas walking tour for just $26 per person.
Central Park is another must-see during the holiday season when the Charles A Dana Center is lit up like a Christmas tree, hot chocolate is served up to the crowds, and Santa even makes an appearance.
6. North Pole, Alaska
The town of North Pole, Alaska celebrates Christmas year-round with shops and decorations dedicated to the holiday. And, while the town is not located at the true North Pole, they truly know how to do it right when it comes to Christmas. Located just 20 minutes away from Fairbanks, North Pole offers one thing that few other American cities can: Northern Lights.
Christmas in Ice
There is also the wonderful Christmas in Ice exhibit held during the holiday season. All throughout December, the town puts on a spectacular ice art competition wherein local and even international artists vie for the title of Champion Carver.
Santa Clause House
And, no matter what time of year you find yourself in North Pole, AK, you can always enjoy the Santa Claus House; a 9,000 square foot former frontier general store that's always stocked with Christmas cheer (and all sorts of other Christmas items). This is where children can write letters to Santa and get a response!
Beware: North Pole, AK may not be at the top of the earth, but it's' not that far away, either. Temperatures usually hang out below zero in North Pole during December, so you will need to come prepared for some seriously frigid temperatures!
Read more: What's the best time to visit Alaska
7. New Orleans, Louisiana
Who else would be better prepared for a huge celebration than the fine residents of New Orleans? Just like everything else, they do Christmas big in the Crescent City. And December is a great time to visit this Southern city, with temperatures averaging between 48 and 64 degrees throughout the month.
Krewe of Krampus
Let's start with the unconventional: the Krewe of Krampus. That's when the famed goat/demon Krampus from Eastern European folklore roams the streets with his entourage, handing out goodies and even lumps of coal. And, of course, there is plenty of music and dancing accompanying the spectacle.
Running of the Santas
Another yearly tradition involves lots of Santas, beer, and running. For $15, you can experience the Running of the Santas. Yes, just as it sounds, costumed Santas run up the street while viewers enjoy drink specials and a costume contest along the way.
Holiday Music and Lights
And there are many more traditional events to enjoy as well, including holiday music at the St. Louis Cathedral to the gigantic Christmas display that is Fulton Street (free to all). During December, that street is turned into a winter wonderland, no matter how warm it gets, with light shows, Christmas drinks, and huge gingerbread displays.
8. Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Another somewhat obscure Christmas destination is in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Known for its large Amish population, Lancaster features a wonderful Christmas tradition that few other cities can match.
Belsnickle Christmas Tour
Take, for instance, the Belsnickle Christmas Tour, wherein visitors travel between 15 traditional Bed and Breakfasts in search of hidden Belsnickles - a German folk figure who gives out gifts for Christmas. Tickets for this tour cost just $20 and are well worth the price of admission.
Dutch Winter Wonderland
Another Christmas attraction in Lancaster is the Dutch Winter Wonderland. For $16, you can enjoy tons of holiday-themed rides and attractions. The Royal Lights show includes thousands of lights as well as music. And, up through December 22, Santa Claus even makes appearances in the park.
Mayor's Tree Lighting and Tuba Christmas
If you are looking for a great free Christmas experience, check out the Mayor's Tree Lighting and Tuba Christmas event held each year in Penn Square. Held this year on November 29, this historic event includes holiday music performed on the tuba, carriage rides, and a visit from Santa. Note that Lancaster is a Northern city, and experiences traditional Christmas weather, so plan on temperatures ranging from 26 to 42 degrees, on average.
9. Orlando, Florida
No surprise here, but Disney World Resort in Orlando is home to several amazing Christmas celebrations.
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
Of course, Mickey and Minnie make an appearance - from November 8 to December 22, you can experience Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (starting at $99). Held inside the Magic Kingdom Park, this celebration involves all sorts of Disney merriment - from watching Elsa transform the Cinderella Castle to a parade and fireworks show, this will be a holiday event to remember!
International Festival of the Holidays
Other parts of the park host similarly spectacular events. Epcot, for instance, holds an International Festival of the Holidays complete with food, music, and holiday celebrations from all over the world. And it all comes with your park admission (starting at $316 for a 4-day pass).
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam!
Hollywood Studios, meanwhile, celebrates the season with a Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! show. This nighttime celebration wows crowds with music, fireworks, and a Santa's Gone Missing adventure featuring the cast of Prep & Landing.
With temperatures hanging out int he 60s and 70s for most of December, Orlando makes a great winter destination as well. And, remember, this is just a small sample of the holiday festivities held in the various Orlando parks, so make sure to do your research before booking your trip!
10. Woodstock, Vermont
If you decide to visit New England for your Christmas vacation, consider visiting Woodstock, Vermont.
Located less than 5 hours north of New York City, this picturesque town hosts a wonderfully quaint holiday celebration known as Wassail Weekend.
During this 3-day event, the town goes all out with amazing decorations, horse-drawn carriages, crafts, and even breakfast with Santa. Special events are held all over town during Wassail Weekend, including countless shops offering special New England gifts for everyone on your list.
Because it is in the northern United States, you will get to experience authentic Christmas weather, with temperatures in the low 30s and below most of the time. Perfect for bundling up and sitting by the fire after a long day of festivities!
If you can't make it for that event, there are more chances to enjoy the holidays in Woodstock. The week after Christmas, Billings Farm offers a traditional 19th century Vermont Christmas. This event includes farm exhibits, ornament making, and holiday programs. Even though operates as a non-profit museum, this is a working farm with dairy cows, sheep, and draft horses. Admission is $16 for adults, with discounts offered to seniors and children.
What's your best Christmas vacation?
Have you tried a Christmas vacation at any of these destinations? Did you like it? Do you have another suggestion for a great holiday-themed getaway in the US? Leave us a comment to let us know!