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WEB EXCLUSIVE! More holiday fun

Courtesy Purdue Christmas Show

Grand Illumination

Williamsburg, Va.
When colonial citizens wanted to celebrate a landmark military victory or the birthday of a monarch, they fired their guns or set off firework displays to loudly brighten the occasion. Historic Williamsburg has adapted this idea so the country’s largest living history museum can celebrate Christmas with impressive fanfare at the Grand Illumination.

All December, a simple stroll down the streets of Historic Williamsburg will teach visitors about the traditions of the 18th century, since the Historic Area decorates with colonial decoration techniques. Customary wreaths, wassailing, cuisine and flame-lit cressets immerse guests in the Christmas of America’s past.

At the Grand Illumination Celebration, festivities start with traditional holiday music, such as balladeers, church choirs and costumed musicians performing 18th century carols sung in the Virginia town for 200 years. That evening, fireworks explode simultaneously from the Palace Green, Magazine and Capitol to celebrate the holiday season.

Organizers then light candles in public buildings, shops and homes throughout the Historic Area for a more peaceful touch.

Purdue Christmas Show
Lafayette, Ind.
Whether he comes in on a blimp, goose, skateboard, jack-in-the-box or through the more traditional chimney, the unusual appearances of Santa Claus has become a staple of the Purdue Christmas Show. The popular show can be viewed by more than 15,000 live in Elliott Hall of Music, which is a far cry from its first show in 1933 when only 200 people attended.

The Purdue Christmas Show has become a major production with construction on the sets beginning in the summer using hundreds of gallons of paint and nearly 1,000 yards of fabric. The Hall of Music’s past decorating themes include a Dickens’ village, the big city, the country, the tropics and a toy shop.

Though many mistake the singers for music majors, Purdue doesn’t have a school of music. Instead, everything from engineering to art majors come together to sing Christmas songs not for academic credit, but just for the joy of it. Glitzy dance numbers, traditional hymns and a fun Kids Choir bring variety to the show each year.

The show quickly gained popularity momentum from its humble start. After a hustling crowd nearly trampled the mother of the show’s Director Emeritus Al Stewart in 1962, reserve seating has been used. Luckily for those who can’t get a ticket, the show is always broadcasted on PBS stations during December.

Christmas on the Pecos
Carlsbad, N.M.
Groups can enjoy a winter wonderland without the cold factor at Christmas on the Pecos. Here, pontoon boats cruise down the Pecos River past more than 105 elaborately decorated homes. 

The homeowners pride themselves in creating varying decorating themes from a desert Christmas to Santa’s play land. Passengers can look for both traditional decorations like the wise men and the more zany items, such as giant margarita glasses.

As visitors watch the decorated lights and their colorful reflection in the river, Carlsbad Navy officers navigate each of three pontoon boats along the 50-minute boat ride. From 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., the boats sails 12 to 15 times. A new old-fashioned paddle wheelers called “George Washington” carries 40 passengers along with three pontoon boats.

All tours depart from the Pecos River Village, a charming, turn-of-the-century park glowing with sparkling lights all over. The park holds a gallery of local artisan gifts and holiday refreshments. These tours sell out fast and continue to grow each year with attendance above 16,000 participants in 2008.