Delaware’s historic towns and attractions come alive during the holiday season with dazzling light displays, festive parades, seasonal performances, holiday-themed house tours and more. Enjoy the spirit of the season and make some memories with the whole family as you check out these Christmas exhibits and events. Delaware is also great for holiday shopping as there is no sales tax!
The French-inspired holiday display at Longwood Gardens is the Brandywine Valley's most treasured holiday experience. Visitors explore the 4-acre Conservatory with 16,000 seasonal plants including poinsettias, cyclamen, and anthurium and more than 50 trees adorned in classic holiday decor with sparkling crystal ornaments reminiscent of the splendor of Versailles. Throughout the season, the grand Ballroom will feature free holiday-inspired performances as well as daily sing-alongs performed on Longwood’s grand 10,010-pipe organ. More than 500,000 outdoor lights grace 124 trees, with the tallest tree topping over 90 feet. In the Open Air Theatre, fountains dance day and night to holiday classics. Admission to the Christmas display is by timed admission ticket and must be purchased in advance.
The former home of Henry Francis du Pont is known worldwide for its astounding collection of American decorative arts. Yuletide at Winterthur explores holiday traditions from the 1800s and 1900s, paying homage to early Christmas lights, the evolution of Christmas trees through the decades, and even a full-room re-creation of a scene from Clement Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicolas.” This year’s Yuletide Tour features re-creations of the types of trees that would have decorated Windsor Castle during Queen Victoria’s reign. The holiday festivities also include a live, one-man performance of a Victorian favorite, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, performed by the author’s great-great-grandson, Gerald Charles Dickens.
Throughout the holiday season, the Eleutherian Mills mansion features holiday décor reminiscent of the du Pont family's’ French heritage including dried flowers, fruits, ribbons and fresh greenery with heavily decorated Christmas trees, Holiday music fills the air as guests get a look at some family-owned objects that are only on display at this magical time of year. Period rooms demonstrate how an 1800s family would occupy its time during the winter months—reading, drawing or playing games. Seasonal exhibits at the Hagley Museum are included with standard admission for a guided tour. Special twilight tours are available on select evenings every half hour between 4:30 and 7 p.m. For a $10 admission fee, guests can see the mansion fully dressed for the holidays and brilliantly illuminated by glowing lights.
The 77-room 20th century mansion and North America’s largest formal French gardens is ablaze with sparkling lights during the holiday season. Guided tours of the mansion give guests a glimpse of how Alfred and his wife, Jessie, celebrated the holidays, including getting a peek at hand-painted antique ornaments hanging on elaborate Christmas trees. Despite its enormous size, the mansion seems especially cozy and welcoming during this season.
Cape Henlopen State Park puts on one of the best Christmas light displays in Delaware every year at the Winter WonderFEST. Visitors enjoy a 1.5 mile ride through over 90 dazzling light displays, a Christmas Village at the Cape May Lewes Ferry Terminal Grounds with an ice rink, carnival rides, and Midway games. The seasonal event is a regional favorite and the perfect way to celebrate the holidays when staying in Lewes or Rehoboth Beach.
The Wilmington and Western Railroad offers two unique ways to celebrate the holidays.
First, take a train ride with the Jolly Old Elf. Bring the family aboard the Railroad's Santa Claus Express. Santa greets everyone on board, and gives all the children a chocolate treat. Be sure to bring your camera and have Santa pose for pictures with your child during this 1½-hour round-trip from Wilmington to Ashland, Delaware.
Adults and kids of all ages will also enjoy the Holiday Lights Express, a 45-minute ride aboard the heated 1929 Pennsylvania Railroad "Doodlebug" railcar decorated with more than 7,000 lights. See thousands of holiday lights and decorated homes and yards as you ride through the countryside by train.
Step Back in Time During the Holidays in Odessa
Step back in time and visit private Colonial-era homes decorated for the holidays on a self-guided walking tour. Enjoy Historic Odessa's annual Holiday Celebration—a seasonal tradition of interpreting scenes from classic literature. Tour the National Historic Register Wilson-Warner House transformed into vignettes inspired by E.T.A. Hoffman's tale of The Nutcracker and The Mouse King. Be sure to check out the Christmas Craft Shop at the Appoquinimink Training Center, 118 South 6th Street. Freshly cut greens will also be for sale at the barn behind the Wilson-Warner House, where visitors can enjoy demonstrations on wreath making and flower arrangements using the greens.
Sponsored by the Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company, the annual parade captures the spirit of the holiday season with a variety of local floats, marching bands and seasonal characters. All parade participants and watchers are invited to the Rehoboth Beach Fire Station after the parade for the awarding of trophies, refreshments and to visit Santa Claus. Be sure to stop by Santa’s House on the Rehoboth Boardwalk at the end of Rehoboth Avenue as well.
The American Holly is Delaware’s State Tree. Once known as the “Holly Capital of the World”, Milton, DE at one time in history produced more Christmas and holiday holly wreaths and decorations than any other location. The Annual Holly Festival is a held in the Milton Fire Department, Goshen Hall, the Milton Public Library and the Milton Theatre and features crafts, art work, jewelry, holiday gifts, fresh plants, wreaths and festive food items.
Participate in the Leo Brady Exercise Like the Eskimos Plunge
Ring in the new year at this quirky charity event! The Quiet Resorts Charitable Foundation & the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce sponsor the annual 5K-10K race and polar plunge on New Years Day in Downtown Bethany Beach, Delaware. Groups are welcome to participate. The event is a fundraiser for the Captain William O. Murray Scholarship which is awarded to a student who exhibits a strong commitment to civic and community service.