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10 Unique Ways To Celebrate Christmas In The United States

by M David Scott
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Many people celebrate Christmas and the holidays by strolling through a large collection of holiday lights, decorating a Christmas tree with their family, giving and receiving gifts, listening to holiday music, and watching their favorite Christmas movies. All of those ways to celebrate are enjoyable, but there are many people in the United States who celebrate the holidays a bit differently than others.

Many towns and cities in the US have unique celebrations for visitors to enjoy during the holidays. North Dakota celebrates a cowboy christmas, Oklahoma takes you back to the territorial days to enjoy a historical Christmas, and thousands of paper bags filled with sand and lights illuminate New Mexico. There are various other ways Americans celebrate the season, and here are ten of the most unique ways to celebrate Christmas in the United States.

10 Bonfires On The Levee

Photo credit: Louisiana Travel

Each year in Louisiana, residents construct large bonfires along the Mississippi River to illuminate the way for Papa Noel and his reindeer. It is one of the most unusual holiday lighting displays that can be found in the US. The Christmas Eve bonfires are held on the Great River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The locals line the Mississippi River with mostly teepee-shaped bonfires that sit 9 meters (30 ft) or higher off of the ground, but some bonfires are built into different shapes, such as those that resemble the plantation homes which are so popular in the area.

The tradition of Bonfires on the Levee is held on Christmas Eve night each year to help guide Santa Claus, or Papa Noel as the Cajuns call him, to the homes of the local boys and girls. Most of the bonfires can be found in St. James Parish, in Lutcher, Gramercy, and Paulina.[10] Bonfires on the Levee is the best way to experience a Cajun Christmas like no other.

9 Elfapalooza

Photo credit: Visit Mobile Alabama

People gather in Mobile, Alabama, each year to attempt to break the world record for “the most Santa’s elves in a single location.” Elfapalooza is held at Bienville Square each year, but the event was moved inside the Mobile Convention Center for 2017 due to possible bad weather. They ask everyone to come and wear pointy ears, a pointy hat, and green and red clothing to qualify for the official count for Guinness World Records.

Before the official counting of Santa’s elves, people can participate in Christmas karaoke as they sing their favorite holiday tunes. The movie Elf will show after the counting, and the night will conclude with a large fireworks show along the river.[2] The Travel Channel filmed Elfapalooza this year. The current largest gathering of Santa’s elves is 1,762 and was held in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2014.

8 Santa Ski And Pub Crawl

The largest Santa ski in the world is held in Crested Butte, Colorado, each year in December. Crested Butte Mountain Resort holds the annual Santa Ski and Pub Crawl in hopes of breaking the Guinness world record for the most skiers in full Santa costumes. Skiers must wear the full Santa costume in order to participate in the event, including a top, bottom, hat, and beard.[3]

The event is free to participate for all ages, as long as you have the full Santa costume and a season or day pass to ski the mountain. After the Santa Ski is over, everyone will come together for a group photo at the Butte 66. The drinks start flowing after the group photo, and buses will be available to transport participants to local pubs and bars to end the festive day.

7 ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas’

“A Visit from St. Nicholas,” aka “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” is a classic Christmas poem that has been read to children for years. A special live reading of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem can be enjoyed at the First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site. Candlelight readings of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” are accompanied by music at the historic Chauncey Shepard residence.

The event is held in St. Charles, Missouri, on Wednesdays in December from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM. The poem is read every 15 minutes and is free for all ages.[4] So head down to St. Charles for a reading by candlelight, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

6 Holiday Nights At Greenfield Village

Photo credit: The Henry Ford

Take a trip back to the 1800s and experience what Christmas was like before all of the fancy shopping malls and crazy decorations. Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village takes you back in time as carolers sing your favorite holiday tunes while a Model T and horse-drawn wagon give rides around the area (despite the Model T being from the early 1900s). There are historic homes and buildings to explore, and villagers dressed in period clothing ride on horses while you enjoy traveling back to a different era.

Tickets to the Michigan event include rides in the horse-drawn wagon, ice skating, historic carousel rides, and musical performances and carolers. Visitors can enjoy roasted ham and fresh roasted chestnuts with hot chocolate while waiting to see Santa or checking out the Lego model train. Visitors to the historic site end their evening with a sing-along and fireworks finale each night.[5] The event happens each weekend in December and is the perfect way to celebrate an old-fashioned Christmas.

5 Farolitos And Luminarias In New Mexico

Little paper bags light up the holiday nights in New Mexico. People north of La Bajada Hill call them farolitos, while everyone south calls them luminarias. No matter what you call them, they make for a beautiful sight during the holiday season.

Back in the 1800s, New Mexicans used small bonfires to light a path to their doors and churches. Locals later discovered that they could fill the bottom of small paper bags with sand and add a small candle for a subtler display without using all of their winter woodpile. The bags-and-candles tradition has now become much more popular and can be seen all across the United States, but nobody seems to do it better than New Mexico.

Some of the best places to catch farolitos and luminarias include Elephant Butte Luminaria Beachwalk, Christmas Eve in Old Mesilla, and Light Among the Ruins at Jemez Historic Site. You can also enjoy a stroll through the Sugarite Canyon State Park with more than 1,500 farolitos or visit the Old Town Luminaria Tour to see thousands of luminarias located in the neighborhoods of Albuquerque. One of the most popular places to catch the luminarias is on Christmas Eve in Santa Fe. The Canyon Road Farolito Walk is one of Santa Fe’s most beloved holiday traditions. As you might expect, it is filled with luminarias and farolitos all along Canyon Road.[6]

4 Medora’s Old Fashioned Cowboy Christmas

Photo credit:

North Dakota celebrates Christmas a little differently than the rest of the United States. Each year, the Medora Chamber of Commerce puts on Medora’s Old Fashioned Cowboy Christmas. The three-day event features live music, comedic performances, dancing, and shopping opportunities. Friday starts off with oyster stew and potato soup, followed by the opening ceremonies and a tree lighting ceremony. Visitors to the event can then attend a play and a concert and finish their night off with a bar stroll.

Saturday is full of events, including hayrides, chicken fling, children’s activities, cowboy poetry, kiddie karnival, plays, music, and dance contests. Sunday begins with a church service at the Medora Lutheran Church. After church, the shops open for service, story time and cookie decorating with Santa starts, and the Old Fashioned Cowboy Christmas ends with a large Christmas buffet serving foods reminiscent of the region’s Scandinavian ancestors.[7]

3 Mormon Tabernacle Choir

One of the best Christmas concerts of the season is held in Salt Lake City, Utah. If you’re lucky enough to find a ticket, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir puts on an amazing holiday show each year. The three-day event is held at the Conference Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, and tickets are on a first-come-first-serve basis.

This is a show that has to be seen in person to understand just how amazing and beautiful it is. Sutton Foster, an award-winning actress, singer, and dancer, and Hugh Bonneville, a British television and film actor, joined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square, and Bells on Temple Square for this year’s Christmas concerts.[8] It’s a tough ticket to acquire, but it’s well worth it if you’re able to do so.

2 1,000 Faces Of Santa Claus

Photo credit: KGAB

A unique collection of Santa Clauses can be found at the Paul Smith Children’s Village at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. The 1,000 Faces of Santa Claus is a rare exhibit of various Santa Clauses from around the world. The large exhibit features ornaments, cards, plastic dolls, handmade toys, and so many other types of Santa Clauses. You will not be able to find a larger and more diverse collection of Santas anywhere else.

This year, the collection was displayed in the Lowe’s Discovery Lab and was a part of the Thom Wise Collection that has been seen on HGTV.[9] The 1,000 Faces of Santa Claus is extremely rare, but it isn’t the only feature of the Paul Smith Children’s Village in Wyoming. Kids can also meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus, drink hot chocolate and roast marshmallows, enjoy story times, and participate in various games.

1 Territorial Christmas

Photo credit: Guthrie News Page

For over 20 years, Guthrie, Oklahoma, has celebrated the Christmas season with the extravagant Territorial Christmas. This extraordinary celebration mixes the Territorial Days with the 21st century for a holiday like no other. The Christmas event includes parades, the inauguration of the territorial governor, a Christmas tree lighting, and so much more.

A historic homes tour shows off the elegant architecture that the town has to offer. Guthrie’s finest homes and churches as well as the Carnegie Library will be decorated for visitors to stop by and enjoy. Some of the homes will be open to welcome visitors inside to listen to tales about the early days of the town. After the historic homes tour, visitors can stroll the streets for the Victorian Walk. This gives visitors a chance to discover what it was like during the Territory times as carolers can be seen throughout the town, shopkeepers and other residents dress in period costumes, and horse-drawn carriages give rides through the streets. Guthrie allows you to travel back in time and celebrate Christmas historically.[10]

I’m just another bearded guy trying to write my way through life.

fact checked by Jamie Frater