By Hollie Deese
Those looking to leave Middle Tennessee – and the throngs of cars snaking around Opryland’s lights – see what some of the nearby cities have to offer in terms of Christmas celebrations. There are certainly plenty of options! Small, charming and totally unforgettable, a trip to one of these holiday-themed locations is sure to reinvigorate your love for the most wonderful time of the year.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is gorgeous all year round, but there is something about winter that sets it apart, starting with the incredible view of snow-capped mountains. Annual events include holiday parades, independent craft markets, and incredible light shows like Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum, open nightly until January 1, 2017. An outdoor holiday wonderland exhibit placed throughout the gardens, the displays and landscapes are composed of nearly 500,000 LED lights. One must-watch annual tradition is watching Santa rappel down Chimney Rock in preparation for Christmas Eve, and the Biltmore is more beautiful than ever decorated for the season.
There might not be any snow on the ground but the area is filled with Christmas spirit regardless, starting with the town’s Gingerbread Village at Ford Center that supports local food banks. The magical village made of gingerbread is built each year by expert area Gingerbread crafters. Oxford also holds an Ornament Auction selling unique decorations made by local artists to raise money for its arts council, their largest fundraiser of the year. And kids will love Santa’s Workshop at the UM Museum where they can create seasonal crafts, eat delicious holiday snacks, and of course, visit the Gingerbread Village too.
Experience a traditional German Christmas in the Alpine City of Helen, tucked right into the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Chattahoochee River. A recreation of an alpine village – complete with cobblestone alleys and old-world towers – the former logging town made over itself to a quaint Bavarian village years ago. In 1968, talk of town revitalization was realized after an artist who had been stationed in Germany sketched the buildings and all the downtown stores were renovated. It was a move that appealed to Christmas lovers nationwide who were looking for something different. During December, wreaths and artist-decorated holiday trees are on display during the Festival of Trees, Kinderfest and Christkindlmarkt.
Santa Claus, Indiana
It would be false advertising if Santa Claus did not live up to its name, so the area immerses itself totally in the holiday, all year round, as self-proclaimed America’s Christmas Hometown. It all began in the 1920s when the local postmaster promoted the town’s unique name and children’s letters to Santa began pouring in and those letter writers are not disappointed, with thousands of letters answered every year by volunteer elves. A visit over the holidays will have to include a trip to the Santa Claus Land of Lights, a custom drive-through outdoor show depicting the story of Rudolph, and a stop at Santa’s Candy Castle for cocoa and Christmas confections.
Christmas gets a Colonial spin in Williamsburg, including caroling by torchlight and classic fife and drum performances. At Christmas Town in Busch Gardens, eight million lights make up one of the largest displays in the country, making a magical stroll with the park’s signature peppermint fudge hot chocolate. But the can’t-miss event is the Grand Illumination, based on the 18th century version of celebration which includes the firing of guns and lighting of fireworks. Stroll through the Revolutionary City, check out the decorations and live entertainment, then stay for the big finale.
Yes, the fact Steel Magnolias was filmed here is enough reason to visit, but if you make the journey over Christmas time you will be doubly delighted. Also called the “City of Lights,” more than 300,000 Christmas lights and 100 riverbank set pieces are on every night at dusk through January 6, 2017, some with a nod to the area’s creole heritage. Events happen practically nightly, from the Natchitoches Christmas Festival to Christmas in the Dark Woods where the park is transformed into a winter wonderland with another 150,000 lights and displays, fire pits, s’mores and fresh-made mini donuts, hot from the fryer.