Thank you for visiting Rosie On The House, the online home to Arizona's longest running weekend radio broadcast!

Arizona’s Christmas Traditions

Christmas traditions in Arizona are as varied as our state’s geography. These holiday traditions tend to be unique throughout the state.

We spoke with Steve Schumacher, the Phoenix Mayor’s Office Official Historian, about some Christmas traditions. Being a historian, Steve weaves a bit of an events origins into these traditions. He tells us that in the lower desert areas of the Phoenix Valley and Tucson, the holiday traditions tend to revolve around being outdoors. The weather this time of year affords the communities in this part of our state some serious bragging rights when compared to the more frigid parts of our country.

1893 Phoenix
1893 Phoenix

The photo to the right is a postcard of several fellas in 1893 Phoenix, sitting under palm trees and eating watermelon.  Could easily be 1993, 2003 or predicting the future, 2023.

Snow is scarce outside the mountainous and northern regions of Arizona. Steve recalls building tumbleweed snowmen. Residents enjoy taunting friends and family in the snow belt states. Sitting outside, playing golf, and hiking in shorts can be a lot of fun in December; certainly, more fun than digging out from several feet of snow! Gloating about the weather (we don’t have to shovel sunshine!) is also part of Arizona’s traditions.


“Because we don’t have snow, we tend to cover everything with lights,” says Steve.

Glendale Glitters at Murphy Park has expanded considerably over the past 30 years. One of the most well-known light displays is at the Phoenix Zoo. Zoolights started in 1992 and now includes over three million lights and a three-story Christmas tree and is known as a stunning and inspiring walk through the zoo. For Steve, it is one of the “must-see” seasonal events. The Reid Park Zoo in Tucson also hosts a beautiful ZooLights display during the holidays.

Another stunning display is the Las Noches de las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Gardens. A peaceful stroll through the gardens carries on the age-old tradition of luminarias in Arizona. Today, the luminarias are in bags (over 8,000 of them), partially filled with sand with either a flame candle or an LED candle providing soft light along the footpaths through the gardens. Steve tells us the origin of this tradition dates back to the 1500s. The purpose was to light the paths to the churches for midnight mass. Today, we see luminarias lighting personal driveways and walkways at many homes across our communities.

During the 1940s through the 1960s, downtown Phoenix was a shopping mecca decorated with many lights. Since then, the shopping has shifted, and so have the lighting displays. Roughly 60 years ago, the City of Chandler suffered a fire that destroyed its downtown decorations. The town rebounded immediately and constructed a 60-foot-tall tumbleweed Christmas tree.

Prescott, “Arizona’s Christmas City,” hosts its annual Christmas Parade on the day of its Courthouse Lighting. This event is sandwiched between an electric light parade held the prior weekend, and Acker Music Night, the weekend after the lighting. These events have helped Prescott retain its Christmas City moniker. If you want to know more about traditions in Prescott, the December 2022 issue of Arizona Highways has a great article about “Arizona’s First Christmas Tree.”

One tradition mentioned by Steve that is notable in the Southwest is the holiday tamale. The holiday tamale tradition is said to go back to the time of the Conquistadors. During Mesoamerica, corn was the major staple of life-giving food. The Indigenous culture believed that the gods created people from corn. This period was also known as a time of human sacrifice. Because the Spanish outlawed human sacrifice, the life-giving little bundles of corn, and tamales, were sacrificed. Tying itself to the cultural adaptation has culminated in the holiday tamale tradition. Steve recalls the warm memories of tamales being made, shared, and, of course, consumed.

The Christmas Tree

Scrubby the I-17 Christmas Tree

Have you seen the Christmas Tree on Interstate 17 just north of the Sunset Point rest area? It was a holiday fixture for decades. Unfortunately, a wildfire ended its run. The memories are still there though, especially for students from Northern Arizona University who would make their way to and from home for the holiday break. Dolan Ellis, Arizona’s Official balladeer, wrote a book and recorded the song, “Scrubby,” about the tree.

There is also a Christmas tree at the top of Camelback Mountain. A group of dedicated hikers decorates it every year. There has been some controversy regarding this tree. Some enjoy the decorations, and others don’t. Stay tuned to see if this tradition continues.

Christmas tree at the top of Camelback Mountain

Let’s touch upon one tradition that started with the very first Christmas tree — cutting down your own tree. We have a lot of options when it comes to Christmas trees. There are artificial trees, live-cut trees purchased at a tree lot, and planting and cutting your own tree. At Rosie on the House, as you might guess, we lean toward the DIY of cutting your own live tree. Unless y’all own a forest, you will need permission from the landowner on private lands or the governmental agency having jurisdiction over the public lands. In Arizona, the most popular agency is the U.S. Forest Service. You can obtain permits at any Forest Service office for a nominal fee. In some areas, the permit is free.

We’d like to hear about your Christmas traditions and events. Drop us an email at and tell us. Maybe we will mention it on air or social media.

Happy Holidays from all at Rosie on the House! 



Guest Steve Schumacher, the Phoenix Mayor’s Office Official Historian, shares some of Arizona’s holiday traditions that evolve around the outdoors because you can’t shovel sunshine.  Parades, Desert Botanical Gardens, Zoo Lights, The legend of Scrubby the Christmas tree and more area festive traditions.  And you don’t have to drive far for Arizona snow if you want it.

Podcast Archive With Expanded Content and Resources



  • Bruce Colbert/The Daily Courier
  • KTAR
  • Susan Kregar

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Related Posts

Popular Posts

Event Promotion Request

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.