If you aren't sure what to get for your loved ones this holiday season, try this: The magical gift of a visit to Missouri, where festivals and holiday traditions take center stage and create memories to cherish for years to come.
If you like big celebrations of the holidays, perhaps there's no better destination than Branson's Silver Dollar City, which hosts An Old Time Christmas (Nov. 7-Dec. 30, 2015) During the festival, 5 million lights, 1,000 decorated Christmas trees, two live shows and a parade - not to mention the outstanding food, thrill rides (open when weather allows) and shops - give this special season a dazzling treatment.
St. Charles also does the holidays in a big way with its annual Christmas Traditions festival. From the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, the streets of this historic city are filled with songs of the season, Santas from around the world and great shopping and dining opportunities. The gingerbread village and chances to meet with Santa delight youngsters, while seasoned visitors may want to grab their sweetie - and a smooch - when visiting the Holiday Kissing Ball (a big bundle of mistletoe, holly and ribbon) in Kister Park Gazebo.
Across the state, in Kansas City, the holiday season begins with the traditional Plaza Lights Lighting Ceremony. Held the day before Thanksgiving (Nov. 26, 2015) in the popular Country Club Plaza entertainment district, the Plaza lighting (celebrating its 86th edition) includes activities and concerts both before and after the traditional flip of the switch. The Plaza lights illuminate 15 city blocks and are on daily, from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m., through Jan. 17, 2016. Shops in the district offer extended hours during the holidays.
Fun for all ages abounds in the Lake of the Ozarks area during the holiday season. Visit the Enchanted Village of Lights (Nov. 20, 2015 through Jan. 2, 2016) and the annual Lighted Christmas Parade (Nov. 28, 2015) in Laurie. Don't miss the Osage Beach Holiday Lights (Nov. 28, 2015 through Jan. 3, 2016) or Christmas on the Square in Camdenton (Dec. 5, 2015). And enjoy Old Tyme Christmas (Dec. 12, 2015) in Linn Creek and the Lake Ozark Christmas Parade (Dec. 12, 2015) during your holiday travels to the Lake.
The first weekend in December is a great time for festival fun in Ste. Genevieve, which hosts its 31st Annual Holiday Christmas Festival from Dec. 5-6, 2015. During the weekend, you'll enjoy a parade, carolers and carriage rides; have the chance to snap photos with Mr. and Mrs. Claus; listen to any number of 30 free musical programs in the historic district; and shop in stores and art galleries. While you're in town, don't miss the chance to visit Ste. Genevieve's popular wineries. After sampling for yourself, pick a bottle (or two) as gifts - you're sharing a true taste of Missouri!
Also in Ste. Genevieve, the Felix Valle House State Historic Site hosts Le Reveillon, a showcase of traditional French Christmas customs, decorations, music and food on Dec. 13, 2015. And the Buldoc House Museum has a winter wonderland of lights in the Vieux Noel on Fridays and Saturdays from Nov. 27, 2015, through Jan. 6, 2016.
Remember, not every holiday gift has to come from a store. In fact, the best gifts are shared memories and creating family traditions that endure. Enjoy the holidays in Missouri.