Around the country, fantastic holiday displays and attractions (think millions of twinkling lights) are being put up earlier and earlier, in some cases before Thanksgiving. For a few hours you can forget the baking, the shopping and the wrapping and just enjoy the holidays and each other.
You might even start a family tradition — or continue one from when you were a child — at lots of places beyond the local mall. (My kids always bawled when I tried to get that picture with Santa, anyway.)
Here are 5 ideas to get you started:
1. Head to your favorite museum
The annual Jolly Days Winter Wonderland exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the largest in the country where, among other things, the kids can climb and slide on the Snow Castle and pose for a picture with Santa --who incidentally, arrives in a race car. Seeing the Origami Tree at the American Museum of Natural History is a holiday tradition for New York City families; the fantastic ornaments hand-folded by volunteers mimic the museum’s collection.
2. Talk to the animals at your local zoo
During Wild Holidays at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, you can make toys for the animals or join the festivities at the San Diego Zoo. The zoo stays open late each evening for its Jungle Bells celebration, complete with a nightly tree-lighting ceremony and lighted animal figures everywhere. There are nearly 1 million lights illuminating America’s only Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colo. In Palm Desert, Calif., the Living Desert zoo and botanical garden also features thousands of lights.
3. Get inspired to build a gingerbread house
You’ll see dozens of delicious-looking houses on display in the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park’s Gingerbread Village in Indiana, each submitted as part of the annual gingerbread competition. Or watch the life-size gingerbread house being constructed at Great Wolf Lodges throughout December.
4. Resorts aren't the last resort
The Coeur d’Alene Resort in Idaho launches the largest water holiday show in America, offering more than 1.5 million lights, 250 displays and a 160-foot tall living Christmas tree. Or opt for a weekend at a Gaylord Resort where ICE! Invites you into an indoor winter wonderland literally made out of ice.
5. Head to a theme park
Of course Orlando lights up the holidays, big time. Everyone loves the Candlelight Procession at Walt Disney World’s Epcot that's performed three times a night during the holidays. This year, Hershey, Pa. is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Hersheypark Christmas Candylane, which transforms the park into a holiday village with more than 30 rides, Santa and his nine live reindeer, live entertainment, games, shops, and food. Join the Christmas Town festivities at Busch Gardens Tampa and Williamsburg, Va. or, if you can get the kids out of the indoor water parks at Great Wolf Lodges, there’s Snowland complete with snow showers and lights everywhere.
Check out the Taking the Kids Guide to Lighting Up Your Holidays wherever you find yourself this holiday season.
Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of TakingtheKids.com. Her new Kids Guide to Boston is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando, LA and Chicago. Coming later this year: San Diego, San Francisco and Denver.