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Cities big and small, snowy and warm, transform into winter wonderlands in December, spreading the holiday spirit throughout the community. Writer Helen Huthnance takes us on a tour of Christmas towns across America.
Text: Helen HuIthnance
Country: USA

“e’re happy tonight, walking in a winter wonderland” goes the holiday song made famous by Frank Sinatra. Many Americans take time off of work for the holidays to visit with family and friends. They also decorate their houses, buy Christmas presents, and cook a huge holiday meal, sipping eggnog all the while.

But the Christmas experience isn’t limited to individual homes. Americans also decorate their towns for the holidays. Many small towns throughout the United States pull out all the stops to become true winter wonderlands.

Here are some of the most popular ones:

Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth is a Bavarian -style village, located in the Cascade Mountains in central Washington State. Surrounded by snow-covered mountains, with its German-feel and peak-roofed houses, you would be justified in believing you had been transported to an alpine town.

Every December the houses are lined with 21 miles of lights, and the trees around the main square are lighted and beautifully decorated. Quite often the town is covered in glistening snow, giving it a real Christmas feel. It is close enough to visit from Seattle, but there are plenty of lovely bed and breakfasts in town or rustic cabins in the mountains with hot tubs and cozy fireplaces for a romantic getaway.

My friend Laura McKee from Seattle has been at least 20 times. “I just love Leavenworth,” she said. “The people are so friendly, and the town is absolutely gorgeous in December. And I love that I can always find some great presents.”

My husband and I went along with her and her husband one year and started off our day by strolling around the town and peeking into all the fabulous storefront windows. We had lunch at one of the many restaurants, most of which are set up as German eating halls with long, communal tables where you can order typical German fare, such as schnitzel and bratwurst, and, of course, steins of beer. After lunch we entered a few of the gift stores that were packed with angels of all sizes, reindeer, music boxes and all sorts of knickknacks. I picked up some Christmas fudge and candy canes while Laura, of course, bought some presents! To finish off the day we snuck into a café for some hot chocolate and Black Forest Cake. Over all, a very nice getaway to get you into the Christmas mood.

Helen, Georgia

Helen, a small town at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Georgia, is a small logging town that, much as Leavenworth did, reinvented itself as a Bavarian alpine village.

Winter celebrations kick off in Helen at the beginning of December with the Deck the Halls event at Unicoi State Park. This event includes crafts such as holiday basket weaving, hayrides, and music. There is a Festival of Trees where you can bid on artist-decorated trees and wreaths. And a Christmas parade with costumed characters winds through the center of town. Elizabeth Diaz has been taking her children to Helen for years. Her favorite thing is “the festive spirit, the spiced wine, and the German cookies.”

To get into the holiday spirit, you may wish to ride in a horse-drawn carriage through the town where you can admire the beautifully decorated houses and businesses while listening to Christmas carols. You could linger at a mountain holiday art show or get your picture taken with Santa Claus. If you like shopping, then you shouldn’t miss the traditional German Christkindlmarkt, where a series of booths are set up downtown with specialty gift items and decorations, many of them handmade. And if the outdoors is more your thing, there are many hikes in the area, such as to Anna Ruby Falls. For a bit more excitement you can go snow tubing at nearby sites.

Durango, Colorado

Durango’s Christmas charm is not so much for the town itself as for its train. It is a historic mining town with a still functioning steam-engine train. Although the train operates year-round, it is in December when it really comes alive for all. On weekends it has Christmas tree runs where passengers can go into a designated area of the San Juan National Forest, select and cut down their own Christmas trees, and get it transported back to town. But don’t forget to get a permit ahead of time!

The real magic of Durango and its train, however, is the ride to the “North Pole” on the Polar Express. The ride is based on the award-winning book “The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg, made famous by the movie of the same name in 2003. You can experience the characters from the book, such as the chefs, hobo, conductor, Hero Boy, and Billy. Every passenger can enjoy a hot chocolate and treat on the ride up to pick up Santa. On the way back to Durango, you can enjoy some carols as Santa visits the different cars. Because it is such a popular ride, tickets must be purchased ahead of time.

Newport Beach, California

Newport Beach, a coastal town in Southern California, may not be your idea of a typical Christmas town. It’s not located in the mountains, you won’t find any snow there, and it is often too warm to drink eggnog. But every year in December the bayside homes and businesses surrounding the harbor are strung with lights in what is known as the “ring of lights.” There are even prizes for the best decorated.

The real reason to visit, however, is the annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, which will celebrate its 109th year in 2017. Over a million people gather each year to watch beautifully decorated kayaks, boats, yachts, and canoes skim along the harbor accompanied by music and costumed carolers. Some boat owners spend as much as $50,000 to lavishly decorate their vessels with beautiful Christmas scenes for the event.

The parade takes place every evening for five consecutive nights; this year it will be held December 13-17. Every evening the parade will begin at 9 p.m. at the tip of Lido Isle and wind its way 14 miles around the harbor for the viewing pleasure of all. The New York Times has hailed the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade as “one of the top ten holiday happenings in the nation.”

Santa Claus, Indiana

A list of Christmas towns wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Santa Claus, Indiana. The town was established in 1854 as Santa Fe, but in 1856 its request for a post office was rejected as there was already a town with that name in the state. After a vote, the town settled on renaming itself Santa Claus. It is the only post office in the world to bear that name.

Every year thousands of letters addressed to Santa Claus pour into the local post office. Thousands of Santa’s elves volunteer to answer letters to ensure each child gets a personalized reply.

The town also has many Christmas-themed attractions such as the Santa Claus Museum, Santa’s Lodge, and Frosty’s Fun Center, named after the beloved children’s character Frosty the Snowman. And for those with a sweet tooth, there is Santa’s Candy Castle. The red-brick building dates from 1935 and has all the elements of a castle, including turrets and crenellated towers. Along with modern sweets, you can find a large selection of old-fashioned and hard-to-find candies as well as handmade confections and over 30 flavors of cocoa. And keeping up with the times, there is even a “North Pole Network” where you can log in and chat with one of Santa’s elves.

Info Box

· The song “Winter Wonderland” was written in 1934 by Felix Bernard and Richard Smith.

· It has been recorded by over 200 different artists including: Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, Air Supply, Eurythmics, Billy Idol, John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, The Flaming Lips, and Elvis Presley.

· The Eurythmics 1987 version of the song is one of the most commonly played.

· Although it is regarded as a Christmas song, the lyrics make no reference to the holiday.




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Lights! Carols! Action!


Many Americans take time off of work for the holidays to visit with family and friends. They decorate their houses, buy Christmas presents, and cook a huge holiday mean while sipping eggnog.

Americans also like to decorate their towns for the holidays. Here are some of the most popular ones:

Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth is a Bavarian -style village, located in the Cascade Mountains in central Washington State. Every December they line the houses with 21 miles of lights and beautifully decorate and light the trees around the main square. Many of the restaurants are set up as German eating halls with long, communal tables where you can order typical German fare, such as schnitzel and bratwurst, and, of course, steins of beer.

Helen, Georgia

Helen is a small logging town at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Georgia. Winter celebrations kick off in Helen at the beginning of December with the Deck the Halls event at Unicoi State Park. This event includes crafts such as holiday basket weaving, hayrides, and music. There is a Festival of Trees where you can bid on artist-decorated trees and wreaths. And a Christmas parade with costumed characters winds through the center of town.

Durango, Colorado

Durango is a historic mining town with a still functioning steam-engine train. The train operates year-round, but in December it is particularly exciting. On weekends you can take the train into the forest to cut down your own Christmas tree. But the most exciting part is the train ride to the "North Pole" on the Polar Express. The ride is based on the award-winning book "The Polar Express" by Chris Van Allsburg.

Newport Beach, California

Newport Beach is a coastal town in Southern California. Every year they hold the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. Over a million people gather to watch the beautifully decorated kayaks, boats, yachts, and canoes skim along the harbor accompanied by music and costumed carolers.

Santa Claus, Indiana

Every year thousands of letters addressed to Santa Claus pour into the local post office. Thousands of Santa's elves volunteer to answer letters to ensure each child gets a personalized reply. The town also has many Christmas- themed attractions such as the Santa Claus Museum, Santa's Lodge, and Frosty’s Fun Center, named after the beloved children's character Frosty the Snowman. And for those with a sweet tooth, there is Santa's Candy Castle.

 

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Lights! Carols! Action!

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Christmas Towns in USA

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