Christmas in the Park: A Guide to Holiday Festivities
The tradition of gathering in public parks to celebrate the Christmas season likely began in the early 20th century. In 1912, the Madison Square Park Conservancy hosted an event with lit trees and carolers in New York City. This launched an annual tradition that soon spread to other cities. As the tradition grew, more parks began hosting Christmas light displays and holiday events. In 1937, the first official Christmas in the Park event was held in San Jose, California. Ever since, cities and towns have carried on the tradition with their own month-long Christmas celebrations held in local parks.
Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting
No Christmas park celebration is more iconic than New York City’s Rockefeller Center tree lighting. The first official tree lighting ceremony took place there in 1933. Today over 200,000 people gather in person while over 50 million watch it live across America. The Rockefeller Center tree towers above the crowds at over 70-100 feet tall. It is wrapped in over 25,000 multi-colored LED lights strung on around 5 miles of wire. A star covered in Swarovski crystals crowns the top. Holiday performance acts like the Radio City Rockettes entertain and the switch is flipped to “oohs” and “ahhs” from the audience welcoming Christmas to New York City.
Mainstays of Modern Christmas Park Events
Many Christmas park events today include similar mainstay attractions. These classic features that make the season bright include:
- Tree Lighting Ceremonies: The symbolic lighting event often with live entertainment and countdowns.
- Light Displays: From decorative trees to light tunnels and more, sparkling lights by the thousands.
- Nativity Scenes: Depictions of the Christian story of Jesus’ birth often with live actors and animals.
- Carolers: Christmas music ringing through the park often includes caroling groups spreading cheer.
- Family Activities: Visits from Santa, ornament crafting, train rides for kids, etc.
- Food & Shopping: Festive treats like hot chocolate, cookies, and eggnog along with small holiday markets.
Popular Christmas Park Destinations
With rich histories and magical displays that stir the holiday spirit, these Christmas park events shine the brightest across the country:
Rockefeller Center (New York City)
What: Iconic tree lighting with enormous sparkling tree towering above ice skating rink. When: November 30 tree lighting through early January. Key Activities: Ice skating, visiting holiday gift shops, seeing Radio City Rockettes.
Millenium Park Winter Wonderfest (Chicago)
Website to visit. What: Downtown party with entertainment stages, ice skating ribbon, and light maze. When: Mid November through January 1st. Key Activities: Ice skating ribbon, light maze, caroling, Cirque Dreams Holidaze circus performances.
Disney Parks Holiday Events
Both Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland Resort in California decorate for the holidays in trademark over-the-top Disney fashion. What: Parades, shows, character meet and greets plus million lights all with Disney magic. When: November through early January. Key Activities: Special holiday parades and fireworks, themed treats and gifts, family time with Disney characters in Christmas outfits.
Temple Square (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Website to visit Salt Lake City. What: LDS church headquarters grounds shine with hundreds of thousands of lights.
When: Early December through New Year’s Eve. Key Activities: Viewing extensive light displays, hearing choir and band concerts with hot chocolate in hand.
San Jose Christmas in the Park
What: Rated one of the best holiday light displays with community carols and shows. When: Thanksgiving through early January. Key Activities: Ice skating under the lights, carnival rides, visiting Santa Land display, holiday treats. No matter which Christmas park celebration you visit, each offers its own holiday magic from luminous light displays to festive entertainment delighting people of all ages.
Popular Activities at Christmas Park Events
Partaking in beloved traditions builds special memories together during the Christmas season. From Nationwide holiday light displays, entertainment to quality family time, signature activities make Christmas in the Park a magical winter night out.
Gliding across an outdoor rink with twinkling lights overhead and upbeat Christmas music playing whisks you into a picturesque winter wonderland scene straight from a Hallmark movie. Skating under the towering Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center crosses an item off many travelers’ bucket lists. You'll also find ice skating available at many other Christmas park events around the country.
Whether it’s a famous Christmas spectacular performed by the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall or local caroling groups at your hometown park event, festive shows add to the season. Musicians, dancers, choirs spread joy through timeless holiday tunes and productions that have made celebrating Christmas a beloved tradition for over a century
Dazzling Light Displays
The centerpiece of any Christmas in the Park is the elaborate holiday light displays. Every year, parks compete with new designs and millions of lights. Tunnels of light, glowing trees, animated light shows synchronized to music, and more brighten up the darkness with colorful spectacle. Many allow you to drive or stroll through the sparkling wonderland.
Character Meet and Greets
A chance to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus lets kids share their wishlists while capturing priceless photos wearing their best Christmas smiles. Other characters like elves, reindeer, gingerbread men, and more also join in the festivities. Meeting the classic characters in Christmas attire lets young ones experience the holiday magic up-close.
Holiday Treats and Gifts
Sipping hot chocolate or apple cider while munching on frosted cookies gives everyone a sweet holiday treat. Gingerbread, candy canes and other tasty sweets fuel shoppers exploring the artisan Christmas markets. Unique homemade gifts and ornaments make checking names off your shopping list a more thoughtful experience. No matter what activities you choose, Christmas in the Park offers something nostalgic and heartwarming fun for all.
FAQs About Christmas Park Celebrations
With so many magnificent Christmas park venues, picking the right one for your family takes a little research. Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions to help you decide on creating special memories this holiday season.
What are the best Christmas lights displays at city parks? Some of the most impressive park light shows shine in New York, Chicago, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Anaheim, Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, and Dallas.
What park has the tallest Christmas tree? Rockefeller Center in NYC towers the highest with the iconic tree between 70 and 100 feet tall when placed in its flagpole stand weighed down by a half ton custom Swarovski crystal star topper.
What Christmas events last the longest? Disney theme parks, Chicago’s Wonderfest, and San Jose’s Christmas in the Park have events starting in November and continuing into January. Most have festivities all month long in December.
Do you need tickets for public park holiday events? Most Christmas in the Park walkthrough light displays and shows around town squares are free. But major events like Disney, Radio City Rockettes, or seeing Rockefeller tree lighting may require advance tickets.
What else happens besides the tree at Rockefeller Center? The iconic tree anchors all the events at Rockefeller Center. But between Nov-Jan they also have ice skating below the tree, light shows, gift shopping, seeing Radio City Rockettes, tours to Top of the Rock Observation Deck, and dining at their restaurants with Christmas menus for memorable celebration meals themed to the season.
Are holiday park events good for kids? Absolutely! From Santa visits to train rides, carousel animal sweets, ornament crafting stations and more, events cater to creating special memories children will treasure as they grow. The magical lights sparking imagination and joy for believers of all ages.
Is there only an event Christmas Eve/Day? Parks transform into Christmas wonderlands that visitors can stop by several times a week over a span of 1-2 months. Just like getting in the holiday spirit decorating a Christmas tree at home, the lights displays and activities invite celebrating the whole season - not just one night.
What food and drinks are commonly available? Signature sweets and warm beverages like hot chocolate, apple cider, eggnog, gingerbread cookies, candy canes, roasted nuts, holiday popcorn and more get you feeling festive. Full concession stands and event meals also available, sometimes even with a Christmas-themed menu.
Can we drive through Christmas light displays? Many city park events are walkthroughs but some set up drive-through options as well - perfect for little kids or keeping visitors warm. Find out when purchasing tickets or reviewing the event map overview what options they offer. Experiencing a famous Christmas in the Park extravaganza steeped in tradition or just strolling your local park with colorful displays while wearing mittens sipping hot cocoa both spark nostalgic cheer making lifelong yuletide memories.
People Also Ask About Christmas Park Celebrations
Wondering what to expect or where to go can make trip planning tricky. Here’s answers to other common Christmas in the Park questions asked during the holiday season.
What should you wear to an outdoor Christmas event? Dress warmly with coats, hats, gloves and winter boots. Temperatures get chilly at night and personal seat cushions or blankets can also make long events more comfortable.
How crowded are the popular Christmas park events? Major ones like Rockefeller Center draw enormous crowds that experience traffic delays and long lines for everything. Arrive early, arm yourself with patience, or consider smaller local city options for fewer crowds.
Do I need to book these events far in advance? Yes, for big ones like Disney and iconic New York City celebrations sell out a year in advance. But local town square light displays and festivities often don’t require early booking.
Is there a cost to attend park Christmas events? Most local community park strolls with light displays are free. But others like holiday markets, shows, major light display venues charge admission and activity fees that vary by event.
Where can I find Christmas train rides? Many events have holiday model train displays with mini Christmas villages and machines making their way through snow-capped scenes. But actual park rides often happen at botanical gardens, zoos or heritage railroads hosting special Polar Express themed excursions.
What food is eaten at German Christmas markets? Classic German holiday bites like stollen (fruit cake), gingerbread cookies, roast sausages, potato pancakes, baked apples, strudel pastries, nuts and sweets. Plus, they serve warming drinks like mulled wine, hot spiced cider and cocoa.
How long do the lights stay on each night? Most have displays lit from 5pm to 10pm with extended hours on weekends, holidays or school vacations. Some parks keep lights on well past midnight or even all night during peak Christmas season.
Can I take my dog to Christmas events? Check with the specific venue. Some allow leashed pets but others prohibit animals. Have a pet sitter lined up as backup if Fido can’t attend. Let this comprehensive guide illuminate how to make Christmas in the Park traditions sparkle with joy-filled memories this holiday season!