The holidays can be a stressful time. After all of the holiday shopping and planning, the last thing anyone wants to do is run around looking for a holiday event to keep everyone entertained. Luckily, we’ve found some great events all across the country that can provide hours and hours of unique fun for the whole family. The best part? Some of these events are free. All you have to do is show up.
Snowflake Lane is a Northwest staple. For 20 minutes every night, thousands gather in Bellevue Square to enjoy a true Christmas spectacle of music and dance. This year will be particularly special, because it is the 10th anniversary. Snowflake Lane employs over 250 local residents who play roles as drummers, dancers, stilt walkers, princes, princesses, snowmen, and arctic animals who are all free to interact with the audience. Want to stay a few nights? The Hyatt Regency and the Westin are both offering “Stay and Shop” hotel packages that include complimentary gift cards.
The Capella in Georgetown is hosting a variety of Christmas events. On December 13, kids can decorate gingerbread cookies in the Capella Living Room. Afterward, parents can head to the Rye Bar or relax on their new heated outdoor terrace. You can enjoy one of their signature warm drinks, such as the Rye Ginger Toddy (pictured above), made with warm Darjeeling tea, rosemary simple syrup, Redemption Rye, lemon juice, and ginger. Then, on December 20, the whole family can drink milk and eat cookies in the heated rooftop tent while watching Christmas movies. For a cozy Christmas Eve, you can bring the kids to congregate in the Capella Living Room to hear a reading of “The Night Before Christmas” (while the kids are drinking milk and cookies, adults will sip boozy hot chocolate).
Don’t we still wish there was a real Santa Claus sometimes? Well, the Capella Hotel might make you a believer again. Each guest wakes up to a stocking pinned on their door and can wander downstairs for a complimentary gift during the Christmas Gift Ceremony.
Captiva Island is offering four different holiday events for those who want to get in the holiday spirit without sacrificing their body temperature. Captiva Island, a tropical haven off the coast of Fort Meyers in Florida, will be hosting a Marching Mullet Band Parade on December 12 to kick off the weekend’s festivities. The band will march toward the beach at sunset. Then, on Saturday December 13, check out the Lighted Boat Parade at 6 p.m. Watch festive boats cruise the water and enjoy holiday music. The winners of the parade will receive local hotel stays and gift cards (just in case you have a boat and some extra lights lying around). Afterward, head to the marina for the South Seas Holiday Stroll. The marina will be decked with thousands of lights and will feature live entertainment, arts and crafts, s’mores, games, and an appearance from Santa. The following day, join in the Community Caroling at Chapel by the Sea (this event will take place several other times before the holiday as well. Admission is $10). For a list of their hotels, click here.
Jackson and Teton Village, Wyoming
Always wanted to take a real sleigh ride? You can in Wyoming. Cruise through the National Elk Refuge in Jackson in a horse drawn carriage for the ultimate holiday experience. Thousands of elk live in the Elk Refuge, as well as bison, moose, and bighorn sheep. You can grab a seat every day throughout December—except Christmas day.
The Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa in Teton Village is located 20 minutes away from the National Elk Refuge, and turns into an intimate Christmas village for the holidays. Visitors can carol, enjoy complimentary snacks and hot drinks, and meet Santa on December 21 or participate in a Santa letter writing workshop on December 23. The festivities continue with a fireside reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” on Christmas Eve, skiing with Santa on Christmas Day, and a winter scavenger hunt on December 26.
The Crystal Coast of North Carolina is holding a variety of events this holiday season, the most notable of which is the 2nd Annual Gingerbread House Competition taking place December 12 through 15. On December 12, head to the preview for $50, with includes live music, complimentary hors d’oeuvres, and beer and wine. If you begin feeling inspired to make your own gingerbread house, take a workshop with last year’s winners for $18 on December 13. Also on the 13th is the Beaufort holiday art walk and historic candlelight home tour. On Sunday, December 14, take the kids to a fun event with Santa. They will decorate cookies, make reindeer food, and deliver a letter to the big man in person.
The Grand Del Mar holiday calendar of events is ideal for the artistic and the nostalgic. Most of the events are reserved just for hotel guests, which will ensure an intimate experience. Start with the Holiday Afternoon Tea (every afternoon until December 28 from 2 to 4 p.m. for $54), followed by daily Chestnut Roasting from 4 to 6 p.m. (complimentary for guests). On December 19, take the kids to the Polar Express Pajama Party at 8 p.m., where the whole family can munch on popcorn and sip hot cocoa during a viewing of The Polar Express. The kids can then enjoy a reading of “The Night Before Christmas” during Storytime with Santa on December 21. Then, for a little added culture, grab a ticket to the 6th Annual Nutcracker Tea on December 22 and 23, where you’ll watch a live performance from the Scripps Performing academy and enjoy tea sandwiches and pastries for $82. The day after Christmas, your little ones can get up close and personal with fluffy animals, such as a fox, a chinchilla, and a lynx during the Winter Wonders Animal Visit. Later that night, join in the Golf Glow Driving Contest for a glow-in-the-dark, festive golf experience. Believe it or not, they have even more events on their website.
From December 12 to 14, check out Lake Placid as it lights up for the holidays. On Friday, stroll around the town center to admire the lights, then join in the skating party. On Sunday, join the Jingle Bell Run or have breakfast with Santa. You can then make ornaments, enjoy storytime, or head to a gift wrapping and wine tasting party. Later that night, after the tree lighting ceremony, the kids can decorate cookies while the adults head to a cocktail mixology party. Wrap up the night with a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life. On Sunday, you can make a candy house with the kids, watch The Polar Express, and check out the speed skating competition. Check out the full list of events here.
Remember decorating gingerbread houses as a kid and fantasizing about exploring a real, life-size gingerbread house? Well, the Great Wolf Lodges are making that dream a reality for you—I mean—your kids. This year, you can dine in a gingerbread house with up to six guests—for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In addition to the price of the meal, diners will have to pay a $10 fee, which will benefit the Ronald McDonald House. Reservations are required. The gingerbread houses took over 1,200 hours of manpower to create, and were made with 650 pounds of gingerbread and 750 pounds of icing. Talk about a sugar high! Check out this event at all Great Wolf Lodges, including Cincinnati, Williamsburg, Virginia, and the Poconos in Pennsylvania, among others.
Looking for something a little less cheery to celebrate the holiday season? Check out the 60- and 90-minute ghost tours by Boroughs of the Dead. On December 13, 19, and 20, you could see some of New York’s most notoriously haunted homes and businesses. You’ll also visit the spot where Charles Dickens read A Christmas Carol in 1867 and learn about the holiday traditions Dutch colonists brought to New Amsterdam (which is now known as New York). The tours will take place in the East Village. Tickets are $25 for the 60-minute tour on December 13 and 19, and it’s $20 in advance or $25 at the door for the 90-minute tour on December 20.
Want to find more ways to get in the holiday spirit? Check out:
- Extravagant Holiday Light Displays Around the World
- Celebrate With Traditional Holiday Displays
- Ice Sculpture Events: See Sculptors Work Their Magic
By Brittany Malooly for PeterGreenberg.com