During the Christmas season, towns big and small all over the world celebrate the holidays with festivals that have roots in the Christian faith but appeal to a broader audience with appearances from Santa, festively-decorated trees, and twinkling lights. Christmas festivals in the small-towns of the U.S., though, can be very fun for families and often feature tree-lighting ceremonies, candlelight processionals, Santa's arrivals, and sometimes even fireworks. If you're looking to escape the big-city crowds for something more intimate this holiday, look no further than these small-town celebrations.
Natchitoches is a small northwestern Louisiana town near Shreveport that was established in 1714 as the first French colony in the state. Each year since 1927, the town celebrates the arrival of the season with the Natchitoches Christmas Festival, making it one of the oldest holiday events in the U.S.
Although it started as a one-day event, the Natchitoches Christmas Festival has evolved into a gathering lasting several weeks. Visitors can catch the colorful parade, a festive food market, an arts and craft fair, live entertainment, riverfront fireworks, and more than 300,000-holiday lights. Meanwhile, kids can enjoy activities such as cornhusk doll making, Christmas-themed carnival games, live reindeer feeding, performances by local groups, and treats.
The Natchitoches Christmas Festival runs from mid-November through early January. While seeing lights, fireworks, and other sights are usually free, tickets are required for certain events throughout the festival, so before you head out confirm schedules and prices.
Woodstock, Vermont, turns into a winter wonderland each year during Christmastime; a blanket of snow drapes over this charming town in the Green Mountains and locals revel in the holiday cheer, especially during Wassail Weekend. This annual medieval-style event centers around an equestrian parade of more than 50 horses around the village green and includes festivities such as a luminary lighting, a craft fair, and a yule-log fire. However, the best part of the event is that all the historic houses and farms around town are decorated from top to toe with wreaths, garlands, and twinkly lights. Wassail Weekend is usually held over the first or second weekend in December and is entirely free to attend, though some additional activities such as the Woodstock Inn & Resort’s Wassail Celebration Feast and holiday concerts may require the purchase of tickets.
On the first Friday and Saturday of December, the city of North Charleston, South Carolina, celebrates the holiday season with a tree lighting ceremony, a festival, and a parade. Other features of the event include kids' games, food vendors, an arts and crafts market, a petting zoo, visits from Santa Claus, and live music at an outdoor amphitheater stage. The Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and activities for the festival take place on the front lawn of the centrally-located Felix C. Davis Community Center on Park Circle, and the parade itself begins at the corner of East Montague and Mixson Avenues.
Located in southwestern Indiana, the small town of Santa Claus lives up to its name each holiday season with festivities happening throughout November and December. The town itself is also a tribute to Saint Nicholas with street names including Christmas Boulevard, Candy Cane Lane, and Mistletoe Drive, and many statues of Santa scattered around.
During the Christmas Celebration lasting three weekends, expect Santa Claus parades, the Santa Claus Arts & Crafts Show, a festival of lights, and more. Visitors can also stop by the historic Santa's Candy Castle, which opened in 1935, to see real chestnuts roasting on an open fire and learn the history of Saint Nicholas and the town of Santa Claus.
Peoria, Arizona, is a small suburb north of Phoenix that celebrates the Christmas season each year in mid-December with the Old Town Holiday Festival held on a Saturday. The fun includes live entertainment, a tree-lighting ceremony, a crafter's market, cookie decorating, a gingerbread house competition, hot chocolate, as well as choral contests and a live nativity scene. Some activities such as taking photos with Santa and using the kid zone have a fee; confirm prices online. The heart of the event takes place in Osuna Park and the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts but extends several blocks through the historic district of Peoria.
Each December, thousands of people make a pilgrimage to the western Connecticut town of Bethlehem to celebrate the holiday season with a traditional Christmas festival.
Known as the Bethlehem Christmas Town Festival, this two-day event takes place over the first Friday and Saturday in December each year. The gathering features a candlelight processional and the arrival of Santa Claus to light an 85-foot (26-meter) Christmas tree. Guests can also enjoy free face painting, ticketed rides on the Christmas Town Train, children's crafts, musical performances, hayrides, and food stands as well as a 5K (3.2 miles) road race, a 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) walk, and a 0.25-mile (0.4-kilometer) Kids Fun Run.
While you're in town, stop by the Bethlehem Post Office to get your holiday cards postmarked with special rubber stamps known as "cachets," a tradition in Bethlehem since 1938. Offered every day after Thanksgiving through the Christmas holiday, these unique rubber stamps add a bit of flair to your seasonal cards.
Taking place over the six weeks from early November through early January each year, the Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival is a time-honored tradition at the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. During the event, families can enjoy award-winning stage shows like "Christmas in the Smokies," visits with Santa Claus, The Parade of Many Colors with floats and interactive characters, thrill rides, and more. Additionally, the Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival also features the Glacier Ridge area, which includes a winter wonderland filled with over 1 million sparkling lights and a towering 50-foot (15-meter) video motion Christmas tree.