Tired of the same old tree lightings, the same old carols, the same old ham? Banish the bah-humbugs with one of these extraordinary holiday-themed events taking place across the West. These far-from-hum-drum happenings are fun, festive, and guaranteed to re-charge your seasonal spirit.
Christmas Ships parade, Portland, Oregon
It started in 1954 with one lone sailboat decked out in a green bow and ribbon. Sixty-three years later, the Christmas Ships parade has become a beloved annual spectacle in Portland, with some 60 boats festooned with increasingly elaborate holiday displays patrolling the city’s Columbia and Willamette rivers. You can see the boats up close and chat with their big-hearted volunteer skippers at meet-and-greet events at the public dock near Riverplace on December 16 and 17. Catch the lit-up flotilla nightly from December 1 through December 21.
Christmas on the Comstock, Virginia City, Nevada
Picture Santa Claus with a 10-gallon hat, and you’ll have an idea of what the holidays are like in Virginia City. The historic Gold Rush–era mining town celebrates in vintage style for the entire month of December, with activities like a Grinch Made Me Do It saloon crawl, authentic steam train rides on the V&T Candy Cane Express, and the annual Comstock Cowboys Christmas in the Sierra concert at Piper’s Opera House. Other events include a festive parade of lights, holiday craft fairs, and a gingerbread social.
Sheraton Seattle Gingerbread Village, Seattle, Washington
These aren’t your typical modest gingerbread homes. No, for the Sheraton Seattle's annual Gingerbread Village, now in its 25th year, local architecture firms and building trade associations team up with hotel culinary staff to create edible engineering marvels—one year featuring the entire downtown Seattle skyline, Space Needle included. An estimated 1,200 pounds of dough, 800 pounds of icing, 200 pounds of white chocolate, 250 pounds of almond paste, and hundreds of pounds of candy are used to create these elaborate displays, which are accessible to the public daily (hours vary; check the website for specifics) and completely free (although donations are welcome and benefit local diabetes research). The Gingerbread Village is open November 21, 2017, to January 1, 2018.
Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir Holiday Concert, San Francisco Bay Area, California
We can all use a little unity these days. The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir offers exactly that with its uplifting annual holiday concerts. Led by Emmy-winning director Terrance Kelly and comprised of singers and musicians of wide-ranging races, cultures, and faiths, the group’s mission is to inspire “joy and unity among all people through black gospel and spiritual music traditions.” They recently put that philosophy into action by joining forces with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus for a tour through the southern United States in October. Catch the gospel choir's acclaimed holiday performance on December 2 at Oakland’s art deco–era Paramount Theatre, hosted this year by LeVar Burton—plus additional performances throughout December in San Francisco and the South Bay.
Bracebridge Dinner, Yosemite, California
The Bracebridge Dinner is an experience almost as remarkable as the vistas outside. For more than 90 years, the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwahnee) has been hosting this elaborate theatrical holiday production in the Yosemite Valley. During a gourmet seven-course feast in the historic hotel’s grand dining room, guests are transported to 18th-century Old England via a musical staging of author Washington Irving’s “Squire Bracebridge,” depicting Christmas festivities with Lord Neville of Bracebridge and more than 100 guests, family, and household members. This year the production takes place December 10–22.
Coeur d'Alene Resort Holiday Light Show, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Talk about making the most of your location. The resort along scenic Lake Coeur d’Alene in northwest Idaho boasts the largest on-the-water holiday light display in the United States, with more than 1.25 million lights strung up on and around the property. Meanwhile, families can hop aboard cruise ships bound for the “North Pole,” aka resort owner Duane Hagadone’s 32,000-square-foot home transformed into Santa’s toy workshop complete with elves and St. Nick himself. New this year: Each North Pole visit ends with a fireworks display over the lake. Open November 24 through December 31.
Ethel M Chocolates Holiday Cactus Garden, Henderson, Nevada
Just outside the neon glitz of the Las Vegas Strip, Ethel M Chocolates lures visitors with a different bright spectacle: Over one million lights strung up throughout its three-acre cactus garden. The free display, which runs November 7 through New Year's Day, includes Santa visits and local choir performances on weekend evenings, and appearances by the likes of the Nevada Ballet Theatre and Sin City Opera. New in 2017, the garden will host its own ice rink, open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. If that’s not sweet enough, factory chocolate-tasting experiences are available every hour on the hour until 7 p.m.
Ballet West’s Nutcracker, Salt Lake City, Utah
Now in its 62nd season, Ballet West’s production of the Nutcracker is the longest running such staging in the United States. But rather than rest on its laurels, the acclaimed Salt Lake City company will unveil brand-new sets, costumes, and special effects in 2017, the culmination of a three-year, multi-million dollar project to breathe fresh life into the classic holiday show, featuring Willam Christensen’s historic choreography and Tchaikovsky's famous score. The show runs December 2–30.
Great Dickens Christmas Fair, Daly City, California
It’s safe to say that author Charles Dickens would feel right at home at San Francisco’s Great Dickens Christmas Fair. The annual holiday tradition is truly impressive in scope, as visitors to the Cow Palace south of San Francisco are magically transported to Victorian-era London populated by upwards of 800 period characters ranging from haughty lords to hardscrabble chimney sweeps. The goblet overfloweth with entertainment at this event, which includes craft activities, dozens of themed live performances, and ample opportunities for shopping, eating, and drinking, courtesy of more than 100 food and retail vendors. New this year: An expanded children’s area, a toy parade, and a brand new Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera. Get in on the action any weekend from November 18 to December 17.