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TAP’s holiday destinations

Courtesy Branson Lakes Area CVB

Branson, Missouri
Branson’s Ozark Mountain Christmas delights groups with miles of twinkling lights, a Christmas parade, theatrical extravaganzas, abundant shopping and even roller coasters.

New this year, Kenny Rogers presents “The Toy Shoppe,” starring Billy Dean. Original Broadway-style music accompanies the heartwarming story, both written and arranged by Rogers. The production has toured the United States to sold-out audiences. At the Sight and Sound Theatre, “Miracle of Christmas” tells the story of kings, angels and the birth of Christ. Preshow caroling in the bedecked lobby completes the Christmas experience.

Silver Dollar City’s Old Time Christmas celebration transforms the 1880s-style theme park into a holiday wonderland with more than 4 million lights. A 17-foot-tall laser-light musical Christmas tree stands in the park’s central square. “Christmas on Main Street’s” light and sound show takes place several times each evening. Not-to-be missed are the Holiday Light Parade and the park’s Broadway-caliber production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

In its 22nd season, the Branson Area Festival of Lights features a one-mile drive through a landscape of Christmas carols and animation with more than 300 displays. On Table Rock Lake, the Showboat Branson Belle entertains groups with a holiday show filled with familiar tunes.

The 65th Annual Adoration Parade winds along a two-mile route through historic downtown Branson and Branson Landing. Dozens of marching bands, floats and other festive entries make it one of the largest and most popular holiday events in the Ozarks. The parade immediately follows a Nativity scene lighting. A Branson tradition since 1948, the Nativity’s figurines measure up to 40 feet high and overlook the city from Mount Branson.

The nation’s capital is a magical place during the holiday season. The White House Christmas tree and the menorah shine brightly on the Ellipse. Groups will find numerous holiday performances around town. “A Christmas Carol” takes place at Ford’s Theater. “The Nutcracker” and Handel’s “Messiah,” performed by the National Symphony Orchestra, take place at the Kennedy Center. In addition, many of the museums and hotels offer special holiday programming.

Congress decks the hall with the Capitol Christmas tree and holiday displays at the U.S. Botanic Gardens. Union Station celebrates the holiday with a 30-foot-tall tree, a holiday market and a model train. In addition, the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens offers candlelit evening tours, a gingerbread replica of Mount Vernon, chocolate-making demos and more. Historic mansions such as Hillwood Estates and Gardens and Tudor Place present wide-ranging programming such as gingerbread workshops and holiday-wreath-making.

“Christmas is an exceptional time to come to Washington, D.C., because the District gets dolled up, and shopping on the National Mall is terrific,” said Kate Gibbs, media relations manager, Destination DC. “The city is still walkable because it usually doesn’t get that cold.”

One-of-a-kind gifts can be found at the National Mall’s museum shops. Locals in the know head to the global bazaar at the Sackler and Freer galleries, which specialize in Asian art. The National Museum of Natural History carries one of the nation’s largest inventories of stuffed animals. The National Museum of American History stocks a remarkable collection of music CDs. And for design-minded individuals on their gift lists, shoppers will want to browse the National Building Museum’s gift shop.

“I always recommend ice skating at the National Mall in the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden, which is lit up at night and in the shadow of the gallery, because groups get that only-in-D.C. feeling,” said Gibbs.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.