It can be tough getting into the holiday spirit when there’s no chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose and no folks here in the Valley dressed up like Eskimos. Then again, as much as I love traditions, why not celebrate the holidays in a uniquely Arizona way?
For those of you who can’t imagine Christmas without a Douglas fir or a Scotch pine, how about switching it up with a tree that pays homage to our Wild West heritage – and what could be more western than tumbleweeds? Every cowboy movie ever made always has the iconic shot of the saloon with the tumbleweed eerily blowing down the middle of the road.
Back in October, city park staff in Chandler started collecting nicely-rounded tumbleweeds from vacant lots around the city. They accumulated enough to build their very own 25-feet tall tumbleweed Christmas tree that will be decorated with a thousand lights and a star. Everyone is welcome to attend the “tree” lighting on December 7 in downtown Chandler.
You’ll find yet another Southwestern twist if you head up north to the Verde Valley town of Clarkdale. This is home to the Verde Canyon Railway where you can experience the town’s version of the Polar Express train ride, except this one is called the Magical Christmas Journey to the North Pole. In true Arizona style, luminarias light up the entrance and giant ornaments adorn the outdoor pergolas. Instead of Santa’s magic bell, you’ll hear the story of Princess Noel and Flurry the Christmas bald eagle.
While you’re up north, pay a visit to Prescott, Arizona’s Christmas City. In addition to parades, tree lightings and a mile-long drive through light show in Prescott Valley, you can enjoy the world’s largest Gingerbread Village. Tucked inside the Prescott Resort and Conference Center is a whimsical village where icing and candy reign supreme. More than 1,000 gingerbread structures, all handcrafted and decorated, will put folks in a festive mood and get them ready for the holiday season. Prescott also remains true to its western heritage on New Year’s Eve, when the town does its version of New York’s Times Square ball drop, with a cowboy boot instead.
While you may not find Prancer, Dancer or Rudolph, you will definitely see some one-of-a-kind entertainment at Bearizona’s Wild Wonderland. In Williams, folks can watch the jaguars, otters, badgers and foxes open their presents. Yes, even the animals are trying to stay off the naughty list this time of year! There’s also a synchronized light show of 400,000 lights happening after-hours Friday-Sunday in December.
Southern Arizona knows how to put a unique spin on the holidays. The Tucson Botanical Gardens hosts luminaria nights, with more than 3,500 luminarias lighting the path and illuminating the night sky. They’ve transformed the desert landscape into a winter wonderland garden where guests might even catch a snowflake or two.
Also in the Tucson area is the 70th annual Winterhaven Festival of Lights. It was started in 1949 and is now one of the longest-running festivals of its kind in the country. Hundreds of thousands of lights transform this Tucson neighborhood and guests can experience it on foot, a hayride wagon, a bus trolley or even a 15-person pedal-powered group bike, while listening to the sounds of the season.
Grab a hot chocolate and experience the holidays in our uniquely Arizona spirit and style.