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Celebrating Christmas away from home? Here's how to create Santa magic for your kids wherever you may be.
Looking for somewhere magical to see Santa this year? Let's start with a relatively small attraction, in New York State.
Santa's Workshop, North Pole, NY
Twelve miles from Lake Placid in the Adirondacks is North Pole, NY, a "workshop village" open in summer and on weekends leading up to Christmas. Santa's village has shops, farm animals, candy makers, glassblowers, puppet shows, and a talking Christmas tree. Rides include Santa's Sleigh Coaster and Reindeer Carousel.Continue to 2 of 13 below.
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Christmas at Disney World
Starting in mid-November, Walt Disney World celebrates Christmas, 1500 trees are put in place, and major annual celebrations get underway. The biggest event happens in the Magic Kingdom, where Mickey has a Very Merry Christmas Party on many nights, and Mickey's Very Merry Parade features a March of the Wooden Soldiers and dancing gingerbread men.Continue to 3 of 13 below.
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Christmas at Universal Orlando means wonderful decorations and Grinchmas.Continue to 4 of 13 below.
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Hershey PA: Christmas Candylane and More
Hershey PA-- aka "Chocolate Town USA"-- serves up a lot of family fun every year for Christmas-time, including opportunities to see Santa. Most notably, the Hershey Park theme park opens up for Christmas Candylane, with more than 1 million twinkling lights, Santa and live reindeer, a Christmas show, giant carousel and other decorated rides.Continue to 5 of 13 below.
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The Polar Express and Other Christmas Trains
"The Polar Express" is a beautifully illustrated children's book by Chris Van Allsburg (recently made into a movie-- see links below) about a child's train ride to see Santa at the North Pole. In a number of locations in the US, a family can have a "Polar Express" experience: a real-life train ride for kids, that re-creates the mood and even some events from the classic book.Continue to 6 of 13 below.
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Breckenridge, Colorado: Victorian Holiday Wonderland
Breckenridge is one of Colorado's excellent ski destinations and is also a quaint town with Victorian architecture that dates back to mining days. Have fun with your kids in the Victorian Christmas atmosphere, with decorated shops on Main Street, A Christmas Carol, the lighting of Breckenridge and Santa's arrival in a horse-drawn sleigh.
Visiting at Christmas? Don't forget to set up a special phone call or video from Santa.Continue to 7 of 13 below.
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Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Colonial Williamsburg is fun throughout the year, with a beautifully restored historic district peopled by real-life actors bringing to life the days just before the American Revolution.Continue to 8 of 13 below.
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Bethlehem CT: The Christmas Town
Bethlehem -- a pretty place to visit, in Connecticut's Litchfield Hills-- is a small town that makes the most of its name at Christmas time. Each December, thousands of people make a pilgrimage to Bethlehem to mark their Christmas mail with not only the Bethlehem postmark, but also special rubber-stamps known as "cachets". The best time for families to visit is during the Bethlehem Christmas Town Festival, a two-day event in early December. Opening night has a candlelight processional, and the arrival of Santa to light a 75-foot Christmas Tree.Continue to 10 of 13 below.
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Santa Claus Indiana
Santa Claus is a great name for a town, most kids would agree. This town in southern Indiana got its name way back in 1856; by 1935, someone had seen the potential for the place to be a tourist attraction, and "Santa's Candy Castle" was opened, reportedly the first themed attraction in the United States.
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Christmas in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe -- with its adobe architecture, and a mix of Anglo, Hispanic, and Native American cultures-- is a strikingly beautiful city to explore. At Christmas-time, traditions from these three cultures come together for a unique festive season.
For starters, there are the " farolitos", the "little lanterns", also called "luminarias": hundreds of glowing lights line walkways and rooftops, each one a small paper bag with a candle set in sand inside. On Christmas Eve the Santa Fe Plaza glows with farolitos .
A good place for kids to see Santa and his elves is "Christmas at the Palace", with Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American Christmas traditions, carols, storytelling, Matachine dancers, and an appearance by Santa Claus. "The Palace" is the Palace of the Governors, an elegant adobe-style building dating back to the 17th century. Christmas at the Palace dates are typically early in the month.Continue to 12 of 13 below.
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See Santa at Christmas Grottos in London
It was news to me that kids in the UK see Santa, not at his Workshop, but in his "grotto": grottoes which, some quick googling showed, are not dark and cave-like, phew, but rather are Christmas-y settings with elves, bright lights, decorated trees, etc.
Apparently, the tradition started in Adelaide, Australia, with a "Magic Cave" set up in a department store in 1896, and the practice caught on in British stores. Nowadays, you can find a "Santa's Grotto" at most department stores and shopping centers in the UK. Kids queue up to see Santa and get a little gift. Grottos are not always free; some charge the equivalent of $5 or more (and presumably Father Christmas then gives the kids a nicer little gift.)
Families ready to grab their winter coats and off-season airfares can have a wonderful London Christmas that includes holiday lights at famous sights, outdoor skating rinks, Winterfest in Hyde Park, caroling, Christmas markets, and generally a good chance to imagine you're back in... Christmas Past where Scrooge and Bob Cratchit walked the Victorian-era streets. London also has a gigantic New Year's Day parade.Continue to 13 of 13 below.
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Santa's Village, White Mountains, New Hampshire
This amusement park for little kids is open for the summer season, with Christmas-themed rides like the "Reindeer Coaster" and the "Yule Log Flume Ride": kids can see Santa and his reindeer even in July. Santa's Village re-opens after Thanksgiving for special weekends leading up to Christmas Eve. Most rides are open; fun includes Christmas carousel, ferries wheel, Santa's Express Train, and visits with Santa. Read more about Santa's Village at Christmas-time; also see summer-time photos at About.com's New England Travel site.