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Lobster trap tree in Cape Porpoise, Maine.

Festive Towns

How the holiday season is embraced across the country


With the help of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command center, based in Colorado Springs, you can track Santa through the skies and beyond. It’s a local tradition, born by accident in the 1950s, when a Sears ad misprinted Santa’s telephone number, redirecting children to call what was actually a secret military hotline. This mistake led to the development of a beloved holiday tradition enjoyed all around the world. Today, hundreds of thousands of children call the NORAD Santa hotline every Christmas Eve to speak to Santa and his team of elves. It’s become such an important festivity that NORAD developed its own Santa Tracker, using state-of-the-art military satellites, to send location information to online visitors about Santa’s whereabouts, as he sleighs across the country delivering gifts. The Santa Tracker receives 30 million visitors annually on Christmas Eve, from all over the globe.


Holiday boat parades are a common occurrence in Florida. The state boasts some of the most iconic Intracoastal Waterway boat shows in the country. For Floridians, participating in one of these parades forms an important part of their Christmas holiday tradition. Fireworks light up the Intracoastal Waterway, leading a spectacular display of boats adorned with holiday lights and festive accessories, as spectators huddle around the water to enjoy music and fresh seasonal treats. Favorite locations include the boat parade in Boca Raton and the one in Palm Beach. The Palm Beach Holiday Boat Parade partners with the U.S. Marine’s Toys for Tots organization, a toy drive that aims to collect toys and redistribute them to local children in need.


While most places enjoy the typical winter-themed festivities, Hawaiians have adopted a tropical twist on the traditional Christmas celebrations. Most locals will import their Christmas trees months before the holidays begin, as that requires a lengthy journey across the Pacific Ocean. Some will even grow their own trees in their backyards. Walking around Hawaii, you will see palm trees, rather than firs, embellished with an assortment of lights. In Hawaii, Santa arrives at Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort riding the waves in a canoe, instead of his usual sleigh! There, visitors and locals can watch as he is warmly welcomed by a keiki hula group. Many photo opportunities are available with Santa. This event is followed by a traditional Hawaiian luau—a feast featuring lively music and cultural performances. The holiday dinner typically involves kalua roast pig, specially prepared in an underground oven referred to as an imu.


Locals in Delaware enjoy re-creating what Christmas would have been like in the 1800s by attending Yuletide at Winterthur, home of American horticulturist and antique furniture collector Henry Francis du Pont. Considered as the premier museum of American decorative arts, the home is transformed every year into a Christmas masterpiece. There, visitors can learn about the traditional festivities celebrated by du Pont’s family during his lifetime, as well as view the assortment of early American furniture he collected during the course of his life. The highlight of the tour is viewing the pair of dried-flower trees, covered with over 60 varieties of flowers taken from the property and placed on display as “living tributes of flowers and blooming plants.”


Maine is known for its flourishing fishing industry. The locals love seafood so much that they even incorporate it into their holiday celebrations! There, you’ll find Christmas trees made from stacked lobster traps, and a holiday menu filled with seafood delights. Residents of Maine enjoy a hearty seafood chowder on Christmas Eve, and you can often spot lighthouses all across the state lit up with Christmas lights. Boothbay hosts some of the most incredible light displays in all of Maine—using 650,000 LED lights and transforming whole forests into a truly spectacular winter wonderland. Locals also enjoy felting or knitting by the fire.


Each year, during the month of December, locals in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, gather together at the Alabama Theatre for a special holiday movie marathon, featuring classic Christmas films. Attending the theatre during the holidays has become an important family tradition among the residents of Birmingham. Doors open one hour before showtime, and a sing-along takes place before every screening, featuring The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ, one of the few remaining pipe organs left from the early 20th century. During this time, Alabamans enjoy indulging on one of the best Southern delicacies, pecan pie; and if they’re lucky, paying a visit to the famed Priester’s Pecans at Fort Deposit for some pecan candy.


As one of the first pioneer states in America, Indiana has plenty of fascinating history. Fishers, Indiana, hosts holiday events every year. The most notable is its Merry Prairie Holiday tradition, where locals can get a taste of Christmas during the time of the early settlers from the late 18th century. The state is also well-known for its spectacular motor racing displays, particularly the Indy 500, which creates a special feature during the holidays in the form of a drive-thru light show, called Lights at the Brickyard. There, families can take their cars for a 2-mile drive down an illuminated racetrack. At the end of this drive, kids will have a chance to take photos with Santa.


Duluth, Minnesota, is the home of Bentleyville, America’s largest walk-through light display. The best part about it? It’s free! Locals have the privilege of enjoying this annual tradition starting in late November and lasting all the way through December. This spectacular event brings families together to create unforgettable memories underneath a magical display of sparkling lights and decorations. The light tour now takes place in Bayfront Festival Park, but it originally started as a residential light display by Nathan Bentley, who was decorating his home in Esko, Minnesota, for the Christmas season. Locals quickly recognized this house as the most decorated and brightest residence in all of Esko. As its popularity grew, Bentley began to see an unprecedented number of locals visiting his residence. Overwhelmed by lack of space, the Duluth city mayor called him in 2008, and invited him to host his next Bentleyville “Tour of Lights” at Bayfront Festival Park. Since then, the Bentleyville Tour of Lights festival has been receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors every year!


Each year, the town of Kimmswick, Missouri, hosts its Christmas Cookie Walk, where horse-drawn carriages wind through the old-fashioned town, passing historic homes decorated in a multicolor assortment of lights. Step back in time as Christmas carolers, clad in vintage attire, walk through the streets and shops singing their holiday tunes. During the Cookie Walk, visitors can taste a variety of sweet treats from participating vendors and purchase a special Holiday Cookbook filled with merchants’ favorite recipes.


TubaChristmas is Boise’s long-awaited annual holiday—a community event for tuba and euphonium musicians, dating back to 1922. The musicians, a mix of novice and veteran players, come from a variety of ages, backgrounds, and professions. Locals typically gather around the state capitol building, where the musical ensemble plays a range of traditional holiday songs for all to enjoy.