Arizona’s passion for Christmas can surprise folks who visit us from out of town because they expect to encounter nothing but cactus and mild winter weather. So I like to show off Arizona’s Christmas spirit when loved ones visit for the holidays.
Here are a few of my favorite holiday haunts around Arizona.
Arizona’s Christmas City in Prescott. From the world’s largest gingerbread village to the 1 million lights on and around the Courthouse and Plaza, Arizona’s official Christmas City—Prescott—is a destination that appeals year after year both to locals and out-of-towners. The festivities include a huge arts and crafts fair, parades, museum tours and more. For more on Christmas City events, visit http://prescotttourism.wordpress.com. Select “Insider Guide to Arizona’s Christmas City.”
The Polar Express in Williams. The half-hour, after-dark journey to the “North Pole” on this long, Grand Canyon Railway train is a re-creation of the children’s book “The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg. You’ll hear someone reading “The Polar Express” over an intercom, drink hot chocolate and eat cookies served up by chefs like the ones in the book, and stop to pick up Santa when you reach the “North Pole.” For more, visit www.thetrain.com. Select “Polar Express.”
The North Pole Experience in Greer. In its second season, this is a “North Pole” that features an elaborate Santa’s workshop, where families can help Santa’s elves make toys for needy local kids. The “experience” at the snowy location—8,500 feet high—was launched by the owners of the 100-year old Molly Butler Lodge, where families enjoy a buffet dinner, a trolley ride to the festive workshop and Christmas stories with Mrs. Claus. Learn more at www.northpoleexperience.com.
Winterhaven in Tucson. Thought to host the longest-running festival of its kind in the country, this small north-central Tucson community transforms into Christmas for two weeks every Decmber. Because the neighborhood has its own water system, tall, green trees grace the community, which shuts down all streets for the two weeks, lights all of the trees and encourages its 270 homeowners to go all-out with their outdoor lights and decorations. Nearly all of them do, and tens of thousands of people visit Winterhaven every holiday season and walk or take a hay ride around to see the finery. Bring a donation of food or cash when you visit, as the event helps supply the Community Food Bank. The 61-year-old festival lost its city funding this year and relies on donations to pay for security and other expenses. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.winterhavenfestival.org.
ZooLights in Phoenix. The Phoenix Zoo during the holidays is a place for animal lovers and those who can’t get enough holiday lights. SRP Presents ZooLights runs from 6-10 p.m. nightly through the holidays. You’ll also see loads of lights at Heritage Park Zoo in Prescott and at Tucson’s Reid Park Zoo.