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Holiday Shows: Christmas lights and winter nights

Courtesy The Galt House

The weather outside is delightful, with summer in full swing and winter storms nowhere in sight. But at destinations around the country, preparations for wonderful holiday celebrations are already under way.

The Christmas season can be one of the most enchanting times to travel. In addition to their signature year-round attractions, many destinations also feature holiday festivals and special events that add a dash of merriment to normal group-tour itineraries. From roasting chestnuts and costumed carolers to outdoor skating rinks and lighted holiday parades, these special touches help turn everyday trips into holiday memories.

For our annual holiday coverage, we’ve picked a number of events and attractions that revel in the Christmas spirit while also reflecting the geographic and cultural highlights that make their locations unique. So while you’re out enjoying the summer sun, start making plans for your group’s winter fun.

KaLightoscope Christmas

Louisville, Ky.
The Galt House Hotel, a downtown Louisville hotel that has a long history of staging group entertainment and special events, is rolling out a major new event for the 2010 holiday season.

Courtesy The Galt House

“We’re launching KaLightoscope Christmas this year,” said Keith LaBelle, the hotel’s marketing and communications manager. “It’s a luminary exhibition in a 15,000-square-foot climate-controlled tent. It will exhibit Chinese artistry, along with a lot of holiday flair.”

The attraction will feature a number of large-scale holiday figures, such as Santa Claus, snowmen, gingerbread houses and other icons. The pieces will be large — ranging from 15 to 17 feet tall — and are being constructed as traditional Chinese luminaries, bringing aspects of Eastern and Western culture together for an unusual celebration.

“These pieces are all being made in China,” LaBelle said. “They’re going to be shipped to the United States, and then those same artists are going to join us in Louisville, Kentucky, to finish assembling them.”

The Galt House is planning some additional complementary elements of the celebration, including a special dinner show designed for KaLightoscope Christmas, musical performances and a life-sized gingerbread house.

Monona Terrace

Madison, Wis.
Madison, Wis., is an eclectic town with a sense of style reflected in various places, from its capitol building to Monona Terrace, its convention center. Designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1938, the building took nearly 60 years to complete (due to political battles). But today, the notable architecture makes Monona Terrace a popular group-tour destination.

Courtesy Monona Terrace

Because of its popularity, the staff at Monona Terrace decided to create a Christmas attraction for tourists as well.

“We wanted to put together a tour package to make people feel warm and welcome,” said Fran Puleo, the center’s community relations manager. “So we invested some money in having an architecture firm design some ornaments for our building. They designed some large elements made of parachute fabric. They’re all 10 to 20 feet tall.”

The ornaments, which are designed in a variety of whimsical shapes to complement Wright’s architecture, are suspended from the ceiling. Special lighting and motorized spinners make the ornaments an eye-catching attraction.

Groups that tour the center during the holidays will get a special look at the ornaments, along with a cocoa-and-cookie treat after the tour. They can also attend public concerts and other special events that take place at Monona Terrace throughout the Christmas season.

Savannah Holly Days
Savannah, Ga.
With its famous historic seaside charm, Savannah has long been a favorite Southern travel destination. During the Christmas season, the town takes on a new glow with the Savannah Holly Days, which kick off the weekend after Thanksgiving.

“We close a street in the shopping district for approximately a mile and have an ice rink where people can skate,” said Laura Simpson, director of special events at the Savannah Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have areas that are manned by different cultural associations. There are vendors set up where we have artisans and people from our boutique shops coming out to sell homemade goods.”

Entertainment events take place throughout the weekend, including live music and dancing on Saturday and screenings of classic holiday movies at a nearby historic theater. The festivities also include a lighted holiday parade on the waterfront and man-made snow in Reynolds Square, where the winter temperature is typically around 60 degrees.

“There is also Savannah Dance Theater, which does a Savannah ‘Nutcracker,’” Simpson said. “The scenery is all from Savannah, and they perform live with the Savannah Philharmonic.”

Christmas in Cleveland
“A Christmas Story” has become one of the most popular modern holiday films, and groups visiting Cleveland during the holiday season can tour the Christmas Story House, the home where many scenes from the movie were shot.

Courtesy Positively Cleveland

“The No. 1 thing during the holidays is the Christmas Story House and Museum,” said Samantha Fryberger, director of communications for Positively Cleveland. “They’ve renovated the inside of the house to make it look like it did in the movie. They’ve got props and costumes from the movie and put them in the house across the street as a museum.”

Other Christmas events in Cleveland are a holiday lights tour, a festival of trees and a winter show at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. One of the newest attractions in town is Hollywood Christmas Movieland, opened by a movie memorabilia collector who has a passion for the holidays.

“He’s done different interpretations of Scrooge, and he has a huge sleigh that went down the hill from ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’” Fryberger said. “On the guided tour, they teach you how they make movie snow, and then it snows on you.”


Christmas in the Park

San Jose, Calif.
San Jose’s walkable downtown district becomes a winter wonderland in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, during the annual event called Christmas in the Park.

Courtesy San Jose Downtown Assoc.

“It’s full of art: visual art and stage art in theaters,” said Rick Jensen, communications director for the San Jose Downtown Association. “It has Christmas trees that are decorated and one of the most glorious outdoor ice rinks you’ll ever see. Downtown dresses up, and a lot of people come downtown, so there’s a great electricity and energy in the air.”

The ice skating rink is set up in the shape of two rings encircling a grove of 32 palm trees outfitted with twinkling lights. Other diversions around the park include costumed carolers and some 60 displays featuring holiday scenes such as Santa’s workshop.

San Jose’s arts scene also joins in the celebration with a number of holiday-themed presentations.
“There will always be a ‘Nutcracker’ ballet performance,” Jensen said. “It’s very imaginative, creative and artistic. The theaters usually stage something that is Christmas and holiday oriented, and they also bring in a lot of concerts, like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.”

For more information:

Holiday Shows: Christmas lights and winter nights
WEB EXCLUSIVE! More holiday fun

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.