Maybe a trip to a museum or first tracks on a nearby ski slope

By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency

Got a holiday tradition? When my kids were small and we lived in Chicago we always made a trek to the Museum of Science and Industry to see Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light— more than 50 trees, including one that’s four stories, all decorated by volunteers to represent holiday traditions around the world. (It is already open!)

When I was growing up in the New York suburbs, it was always a trip into Manhattan to see the Rockefeller Center tree (lit this year on Nov. 29) and all the department store displays on Fifth Avenue.

For my husband, he remembers Santa landing in a helicopter the years his family lived in a U.S. military housing area in Tokyo while his dad served in the Air Force. “That’s when I realized there wasn’t a Santa,” my husband said, keeping the secret from his younger siblings.

Chicago Museum of Science and Industry
Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

Maybe your non-religious holiday tradition is a cookie exchange or a performance of The Nutcracker; maybe it’s serving a meal to the homeless or having the kids wrap gifts for those who otherwise wouldn’t receive any. Maybe it’s getting first tracks down a ski slope Christmas morning (bragging rights for many Coloradans) or watching Santa arrive on a boat rather than a sleigh in warm seaside communities. Maybe it’s building a gingerbread castle. (Check out the largest gingerbread competition online at the Annual National Gingerbread House Competition at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. (The 12 Days of Gingerbread presents one of the top 12 finalists on Facebook (@omnigroveparkinn) and Instagram(@omnigrovepark) starting Dec. 1.

Maybe it’s taking the kids and grandkids to a holiday lights display at your local zoo or botanical garden (a million lights at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden) or to a theme park. I’ve met many Californians at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park who have been coming to see the holiday displays for decades, this year complete with celebrations of holiday traditions from Mexico and Brazil, festival eats and a transformation of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle into a winter wonderland and “Believe … In Holiday Magic” fireworks display. (Pick up special holiday Ears!)

The Broadmoor Hotel at Christmastime
The Broadmoor Hotel at Christmastime

Maybe it’s getting a photo with Santa. (We have plenty of those, including tearful ones) or going with the grandparents to a spectacular holiday brunch. (We met many extended families who had been attending the Thanksgiving and Christmas brunch at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, taking in the resort’s famous display of millions of holiday lights and life-sized Gingerbread creations.

Wherever you find yourself this Thanksgiving weekend, or in the weeks leading up to the Christmas and New Year holidays, there are plenty of festivals, Christmas markets and light displays that grow larger every year. Many have already begun to display their magic; others open Thanksgiving weekend. Be sure to check out our annual guide to the Best and Brightest Holiday Lights.

The Bronx Zoo features nearly 400 lanterns representing 100 animal and plant species during their Holiday Lights while outside Chicago, Brookfield Zoo’s 42nd annual Holiday Magic® is Chicagoland’s longest-running lights festival with the park illuminated with two million LED lights, complete with displays of giant animals — bison, reindeer and more.

At the Denver Zoo, celebrating 125 years
At the Denver Zoo, celebrating 125 years

In Philadelphia, Winter in Franklin Square features its largest free light show with street music, curling and Chilly Philly Mini Golf among the attractions along with warm drinks and fire pits to ward off the cold. Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations and Santa Paws (Dec. 16) for your pup’s photo opportunity with the big guy are also on tap.

Consistently ranked as a Top Christmas destination year after year by Travel + Leisure, and with the Best Holiday Lights Display in Maryland at Lights on the Bay at Sandy Point State Park, Annapolis, is worth a visit. Take a Jolly Express Cruise with Santa!

Also in Maryland is Baltimore’s Christmas Village, celebrating its 10th anniversary season complete with a 65-foot-tall Ferris wheel, Glühwein (the mulled wine popular at European Christmas markets), varieties of sausage and photo ops with Gingy the Gingerbread Man.

Seattle's Public Market at the holidays
Seattle’s Public Market at the holidays

Seattle, meanwhile, is celebrating its inaugural Seattle Christmas Market with authentic European holiday eats, a 50-foot walk through Christmas tree and free rides on the Christmas carousel. You also won’t want to miss Winter Brilliance at Chihuly Garden and Glass, the innovative light and music experience back for its second year starting Nov. 24 and running through Feb. 29, 2024.

Take a ride with Santa on The Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel’s Polar Express™ (until Dec. 30) with special trains running from Williams, Arizona, to the North Pole most nights at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. MST. (Prices for evening departures Sunday through Thursday are $39 for children, ages 2 to 15, and $58 for adults.) For those celebrating the holidays with grown kids or without kids, Galveston Railroad Museums is offering the first-ever-adults-only Polar Express- themed ride.

Macaroon nutcracker at the Fairmont Hotel in Austin TX
Macaroon nutcracker at the Fairmont Hotel in Austin TX

Mississippi boasts many quirky towns each offering a different holiday celebration. Oxford’s Holly Jolly Holidays boasts a 4,000-square-foot ice rink and a new interactive Peppermint Trail around town. One of Hattiesburg’s longest-running holiday traditions is the annual Victorian Candlelit Christmas, a two-day holiday favorite event that draws hundreds of visitors from across the region to explore the spectacle of 18,000 luminaries lining the sidewalks of the city’s oldest neighborhood.

Boston, of course, has plenty of holiday cheer, but you’ll find plenty of celebrations throughout the state, including Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village with costumed historians, baking demonstrations and more.


(For more Taking the Kids, visit and also follow TakingTheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The fourth edition of The Kid’s Guide to New York City and the third edition of The Kid’s Guide to Washington D.C. are the latest in a series of 14 books for kid travelers published by Eileen.)

©2023 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.