Lights, gingerbread, parades: Holiday happenings

By Beth J. Harpaz

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 9 2011 2:45 p.m. MST

This undated image courtesy of The Capital Hotel shows an ornate gingerbread display at the historic hotel in Little Rock, Ark. 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.

The Capital Hotel, Associated Press

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.

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