NEW YORK — Elaborate gingerbread houses, boat parades, train shows and dazzling light shows that illuminate entire neighborhoods are all part of the holiday fun this year for the Christmas and New Year's season. Here's a selection of beautiful things to see and interesting things to do around the country now through early January.
In Manhattan, the Rockefeller Center tree stays lit until Jan. 7. This year it's a 74-foot-tall Norway spruce illuminated by 30,000 lights. You can go skating at the rink onsite, see the Christmas show at nearby Radio City Music Hall or visit St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. Other favorite Christmas trees around Manhattan include the tree and Neapolitan Baroque creche at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, up through Jan. 8, and the origami holiday tree at the American Museum of Natural History through Jan. 2. Elsewhere in the city, through Jan. 16, the Children's Museum of Manhattan is hosting an exhibit called "America's Parade: Celebrating 85 Years of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade," with posters, audio, video, artwork and models of floats and characters from the annual event kicking off the Christmas season.
In Washington, you'll find the National Christmas Tree, a 26-foot Colorado blue spruce, located on the Ellipse, a park that lies between the White House and the National Mall. The tree was planted earlier this year to replace a previous one that had blown down.
Mardi Gras is not the only holiday celebrated in style in New Orleans. The Big Easy offers Creole traditions and other festivities throughout the Christmas season, including a holiday light display in City Park, filled with twinkling 100-year-old oak trees; holiday displays at the Botanical Garden and Storyland; and New Orleans Reveillon, an old French Creole holiday dining tradition available in restaurants around the city with prix fixe menus and dishes like absinthe oyster soup and sugarcane smoked duck.
They don't get much snow, but a Christmas tradition in many Florida towns is the holiday boat parade. There are nearly 50 of them held from Pensacola to Key West this time of year, with lighted boats illuminating waterways and harbors. A good directory of the parades is online at http://www.floridabywater.com/component/content/article/1647-boat-parades.
Holiday train shows are a tradition at a number of botanic gardens with model trains running through elaborate scale replicas of landscapes and landmarks. At the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, the holiday train show on display through Jan. 16 in the Enid A. Haupt Conservancy features miniature versions of Yankee Stadium, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. At the Chicago Botanic Garden, through Jan. 1, the Wonderland Express holiday train exhibit includes more than 80 miniature Chicago landmarks including Navy Pier, Soldier Field, the Art Institute, and more. At the Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati, "Trains, Trestles and Traditions" includes poinsettias, trains and lights, through Jan. 1.
Many ski resorts offer special events at holiday time. Taos Ski valley hosts torch light parades on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. The resort says that "crowds gather at the bottom of the mountain to watch as skiers make their way down the mountain in the dark with flares as their only means of light."
Making a gingerbread house is no longer a simple activity done at home with children. Many hotels are now hosting displays of elaborate gingerbread houses created by pastry chefs and artists. The Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Ark., The Clifton Inn in Charlottesville, Va., and The Jefferson, in Washington, D.C., are all hosting ornate gingerbread displays. Mohegan Sun, a casino in Connecticut, is hosting a 24-foot lifesize gingerbread house. At Le Parker Meridien hotel in Manhattan, through Jan. 6, some of the city's top bakeries have contributed gingerbread masterpieces for a display that benefits City Harvest, which provides food to nearly 600 community programs.
At Universal Studios Hollywood in California, CityWalk is hosting a "Holiday Lights Spectacular." At Universal Studios in Orlando, the Macy's Holiday Parade is held every evening through Jan. 1 with some of the same floats, characters and balloons that were seen on the streets of Manhattan Thanksgiving Day. And at Universal theme parks in both California and Florida, you can take in a "Grinchmas" show and meet the Grinch and the Whos.
In North Carolina, Christmas at the Biltmore estate in Asheville features 57 Christmas trees in the Biltmore House and nearly 500 wreaths around the estate. Thousands of lights illuminate the National Historic Landmark and grounds, and the estate offers a variety of tours and other events throughout the holiday season. Christmas celebrations have a long tradition there, going back to Christmas Eve 1895, when George Washington Vanderbilt first opened Biltmore House to family and friends.
In Riverside, Calif., The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa is hosting its 19th annual Festival of Lights, with 3.6 million lights through Jan. 8, plus horse-drawn carriages, carolers, and more. Over 300,000 people visited the Mission Inn last year during the holidays to see the free display.
Arkansas is offering a downloadable "Trail of Holiday Lights" brochure at http://www.arkansas.com/things-to-do/trail-of-lights/ with details on lighting displays and other events in more than 60 communities around the state. Of course Arkansas' most famous lighting display has been transported to Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida, where visitors can see the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights through Jan. 7. The massive display of 3.2 million lights originated at the home of Jennings Osborne in Little Rock, but the spectacle drew complaints and eventually a lawsuit from neighbors. Osborne passed away in July; the light show has been at Disney since 1995.
In Wheeling, W.Va., the Oglebay Resort & Conference Center hosts the Winter Festival of Lights through Jan. 8. The show covers more than 300 acres over a six-mile drive with larger-than-life lighting displays including a Ferris wheel, dinosaurs, a poinsettia wreath, and "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
In Dallas, a huge electronic music event is scheduled for New Year's Eve called "Lights All Night." The festival features six top DJs — Tiesto, Laidback Luke, Dada Life, Wolfgang Gartner, Benny Benassi and Porter Robinson — and many other performers, and will take place Dec. 30 and 31 at the Dallas Convention Center.
In Minneapolis, the free Target Holidazzle parade draws thousands of spectators with lights, floats, bands and costumed characters. The parade takes place Thursday to Sunday at 6:30 p.m. through Dec. 18 on the Nicollet Mall from 12th Street to Fourth Street.