Most towns and cities across North America schedule annual holiday festivities of one kind or another. What follows is a sampling of festivals: some big-city events; some historically important celebrations; and some smaller gatherings that seemed too interesting to omit. This is not an exhaustive list of all festivals; if you would like more information on seasonal celebrations, try calling the local chamber of commerce or visitor’s bureau for detailed information about holiday events. Your state or province’s tourism office will also be helpful.
Alexandria’s Scottish heritage is saluted with a parade through historic Old Town. Special activities include bagpipes, highland dancers, tours of old homes, and children’s events. Early December.
Carolers, musicians, and costumed actors portraying a family from the 1820s welcome you to a Christmas party. Wagon rides, a burning Yule log, and refreshments provide a taste of the old Virginia Christmas. Early December.
At the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site. Mid-December.
The annual lighting of Aspen’s tree, at the Sardy House. Early December.
Beat the Christmas rush—and still enjoy the carols. Veteran’s Day weekend.
Boothbay Harbor, Maine
A seafaring holiday celebration. First Saturday in December.
Music and celebration at Ash Lawn-Highland. Late December.
Ice-skating fun for the whole family at the McCormic Tribune Plaza and Ice Rink. Beginning in November.
A sparkling local tradition. On Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Oak Street. Mid-November to December 31.
The official beginning of the Christmas season in Chicago takes place in Daley Plaza. Late November.
Lighting up the night at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Late November/early December.
A memorable evening at the Swedish American Museum Center. Mid-December.
Clermont, New York
The Livingston family home, a state historic site, is decorated for the holidays and offers music for the season. Early December.
Corona del Mar, California
A street fair with merchants offering lots of free edibles and entertainment. First Sunday in December.
Croton-on-Hudson, New York
A celebration of the early eighteenth-century English Christmas, complete with carolers, musicians, and a bonfire. At Van Cortlandt Manor. In December; dates vary.
The stately DeGolyer mansion is decorated for the season. Early December.
A seasonal parade for all ages. Early December.
A candlelight holiday festival set among the Victorian and pioneer homes of Old City Park. Mid-December.
Des Moines, Washington
Live holiday music in the tropical setting of the Des Moines Botanical Center.
East Haddam, Connecticut
Music and revelry of the era. First weekend after Thanksgiving to the weekend before Christmas.
Christmas carolers in Victorian garb serve up good things to eat and drink and lots of entertainment in a two-day festival. Mid-December.
The author who did more than any other to develop the modern notion of Christmas is celebrated in this two-day event. First weekend in December, beginning Friday.
A celebration of the Victorian Christmas, complete with costumed participants, at Hammond Castle. Mid-December.
Hollywood Boulevard becomes Santa Claus Lane for the season; the parade is held the first Sunday after Thanksgiving.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
More than a million lights transform the Garvan gardens into a winter wonderland. Mid-November through December.
Some 200 lighted boats sail around Clear Lake and through the channel to Galveston Bay. Mid-December.
Hyde Park, New York
Springwood is decorated as it was in 1944, the last holiday season President Roosevelt spent there. December; dates vary. Information: 800-FDR-VISIT.
An enchanting celebration of Swedish Christmas traditions. Day after Thanksgiving..
Arts and crafts, parades, and other enjoyable aspects of the season. Early December.
Rides on sleighs, choir performances, and dazzling lights are the highlights of this Cascade Mountain celebration.
Los Angeles, California
Olvera Street provides the most prominent Southern California venue of the parade re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter for the Christ Child; from mid-December to Christmas Eve.
Lots of distinctive holiday crafts and other offerings. At Lynchburg Community Market, Late November/early December.
For a taste of the colorful (and enormously influential) Dutch tradition of observing the yearly appearance of St. Nicholas, check out this delightful festival. First Saturday in December.
In the Tropical Park, west of Coral Gables. Mid-November to late January.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Environs
The season is observed in high style at this mall, one of the world’s largest (also one of the nation’s largest tourist destinations). Mid-November through December.
More Christmas trees than you can shake a sugarplum at. Early December to early January at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Information: 952-443-1400;
Lovely music and seasonal celebrations. Weekends in early December at Historic Murphy’s Landing.
Mount Vernon, Virginia
Historic Mount Vernon Estate is the site for a recreation of an authentic eighteenth-century holiday season. Early December to early January.
Local merchants put out festive decorations during this lively festival. Late November through December.
The event, which features lights, decorations, food, and special entertainment, is held from late November through December.
New York, New York
The big one—especially if you’re a New Yorker. Late November.
Newport News, Virginia
Drive-through holiday light display at Newport News Park. Mid-November through December.
The festival includes Santa Claus and his reindeer, a children’s parade, and the lighting of a 30’ Christmas tree. December.
The major downtown event of the season. December.
Northeast Harbor, Maine
Crafts, pageants, music, and more. First weekend in December.
Old Westbury, New York
Annual festive event at Old Westbury Gardens with decorations, Santa, and more. December.
Features costumed characters and an emphasis on Gold Rush history. First weekend in December.
At the Channel Islands Harbor. Second Saturday in December.
Seven historic houses located throughout the park are decorated for the holidays in themes reminiscent of an old-fashioned Christmas. Early December.
Santa hits the Firebird Raceway from late November to early January.
Crafts, foods, historic celebrations, and Santa. Early December.
At the Grotto; late November through December.
At the Oregon Convention Center. Late November/early December.
At the Portland Zoo. Late November through December.
A festive Scandinavian celebration that features costumed Vikings, authentic food, and torchlight parade. Early December. Also of interest: the Holiday Heritage House.
The Pilgrim Monument, tallest granite structure in America, is strung with countless lights on Thanksgiving Eve; continues through New Year’s Day.
At the Science Museum of Virginia. Late December to early January.
Art, crafts, wine, lights, holiday village, and other festive elements mark this popular festival. Late November through December.
St. Croix, Virgin Islands
Steel bands, cool drinks, and tropical winds make for a very different kind of Christmas celebration. Generally late December and early January.
San Francisco, California
The San Francisco Ballet mounts a much-loved annual production of the seasonal ballet.
Since 1926 people have celebrated the holiday beneath the huge General Grant tree in Kings Canyon National Park. Second Sunday in December.
Schenectady, New York
Bands, lighted floats, over 100 costumed characters, and, of course, Santa. Late November.
Downtown Seattle’s annual festival. Late November through December; dates vary.
Silver City, New Mexico
The annual celebration of seasonally decorated trees. First week in December.
More music and handcrafted goodies. Weekend immediately following Thanksgiving.
A celebration that lights up the Columbia Gorge and all the towns nestled along it. Carols and a visit from Santa, too. Late November/early December.
Old Sturbridge Village celebrates a festive and historical Christmas. Early December.
Taos, New Mexico
Local artists and craftspeople—of which there are many in Taos—help make this a colorful and unforgettable festival. Early December.
Tortugas, New Mexico
Inspiring festival with strong Catholic and Native American emphasis. Early December.
Schoolchildren take part in the parade commemorating Mary and Joseph’s quest for shelter for the Christ Child. Early December.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
The traditional Yule log celebration at the Adam Thoroughgood House. Early December.
Caroling, memorial lights, and decorations at the Richmond County Museum. Early December.
The historic site is always bustling at this time of year, thanks to the annual stage adaptation of the Dickens holiday classic. Late November to late December.
Annual since 1954, the pageant is usually initiated by a member of the First Family lighting the National Christmas Tree, the magnificent Christmas tree on the west side of the U.S. Capitol. Military bands perform in concert. Early December.
Poems, songs, and ideas with a western theme. Early December.
Wickford, Rhode Island
This historic town, founded in 1662, is the site of a delightful celebration of colonial times during the holiday season. Early December.
Country-crafts fair held the first weekend in December (dates vary).
At the Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center; a rich examination of past traditions. Late December.
Three-day festival offering a parade, historic house tours, Christmas musical, and more. Second weekend in December.
A Canadian tradition for more than 100 years, the parade is one of North America’s biggest. Mid-November.
The restored Sherbrooke Village historical site celebrates an old-fashioned Christmas each year. Late November.
The Calgary Zoo brightens the night with more than 1.5 million lights. Between late November and early January.
More than 100 decorated trees, wreaths, and designer stockings are sold to raise funds for the Saskatoon City Hospital. The last week of November.
The Children’s Museum at the historic Forks district showcases the original Eaton’s Santa’s village. From early December to mid-January.
More than 80 decorated boats parade through the harbor nightly during the first three weeks of December, offering music both onboard and onshore.
A December-long festival that includes a candlelight parade, holiday music, mulled cider, the decorated Ross Memorial Museum, and more.
The magical story of little Clara in the Land of Snow, presented by Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montreal, has long been a holiday favorite. Mid- to late December.
A nineteenth-century Christmas afternoon at Green Gables, home to the fictional Anne of Green Gables. December.
More than 100 entries, plus zany clowns, marching bands, colorful cheerleaders, and a food drive. End November or early December.