The most unique Christmas tradition in every state

The most unique Christmas tradition in every state
  • Christmas traditions vary depending on weather, culture, or location.

  • Chandler, Arizona, is home to the world's largest tumbleweed Christmas tree.

  • In Wyoming, skiers can go downhill with Santa himself.

Joanna Fantozzi contributed to a previous version of this story.

An Alabama state park completely transforms an underground cave for Wonder under Warrior.

christmas cave
A cave decorated for holidays.Happy Moments/Shutterstock

At Rickwood Caverns State Park, the underground cave is completely lit up for the holidays — and as it stays 62 degrees all year round, it's a great outdoor holiday activity.

Alaskans parade a wooden star from house to house to represent the Star of Bethlehem.

christmas alaska russian christmas
A member of the Russian Orthodox Church spins the Christmas star in Anchorage, Alaska.Al Grillo/AP

The Russian Orthodox tradition of Slaviq, also known as Starring, is celebrated in Alaska.

In the days leading up to Russian-Orthodox Christmas on January 7, parishioners parade from house to house carrying a wooden star, which represents the star of Bethlehem. At each house, the size of the group increases as the residents of that house join the party.

At the end of the trek, there are food, gifts, and hymns sung to celebrate the culmination of the Three Wise Men's journey.

Chandler, Arizona, is home to the world's largest tumbleweed Christmas tree.

christmas tumbleweed
Christmas in the desert.Rosemarie Mosteller/Shutterstock

One of the most popular tourist attractions during the holiday season in Arizona is the giant tumbleweed tree in Chandler, Arizona.

Workers begin to assemble this dry Tannenbaum in September until it is lit for the Christmas season. The tradition of lighting the tumbleweed "tree" goes back over 60 years.

This year's tree-lighting ceremony was on December 2, but the tree is still standing for people to look at.

In Arkansas, people follow the Trail of Holiday Lights from one end of the state to the other.

holiday lights
Holiday lights.Bill Florence/Shutterstock

Ostentatious Christmas light displays may have caught on in all four corners of the globe, but in Arkansas, each of the state's holiday light displays is connected on a giant "trail" that covers the whole state.

The Trail of Holiday Lights is mapped so that you can easily drive from one awe-inspiring display to another, making it the perfect cold-weather activity.

Santa rides the surf instead of a sleigh in California's Surfing Santa competition.

Santa rides the surf instead of a sleigh in California's Surfing Santa competition
Santa's on winter break.Steve Bruckmann/ Shutterstock

In sunny Dana Point, California, surfing is sprinkled with a little holiday spirit in December for the Surfing Santa competition.

Athletes enter this Christmastime contest wearing white beards and jolly hats. Proceeds from the event support Surfers Healing, a surf camp for children with autism.

This year's contest was held on November 18, but the fun's not over yet — a holiday surfboard auction will be held soon.

In Colorado, Hispanic residents re-enact the nativity during Las Posadas on Christmas Eve.

Las Posadas
Las Posadas.Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Las Posadas, or "The Inns," is a Mexican Christmas tradition, during which people of all ages gather to re-enact the story of Christmas — specifically the journey of Mary and Joseph from inn to inn searching for a place to stay before Mary gave birth to Jesus Chris.

On Christmas Eve, the Tesoro Cultural Center in Morrison leads a procession of children dressed as Mary and Joseph, as well as shepherds and angels, to travel from house to house asking for shelter.

At the end of the re-enactment, there is a celebration with hot chocolate and sweets for children.

Christmas gets spooky in Connecticut with the lantern light tours in Mystic Seaport.

Mystic Seaport december
Mystic Seaport in December.Carol Ann Mossa/Shutterstock

Every December in Mystic Seaport, actors put on an interactive play that's set around Christmas Eve. This year, the lantern-lit tour of the Mystic Seaport museum is all about "Holiday Heirlooms."

Tours will take place on December 8, 9, 15, 16, 21, 22, and 23.

In Delaware, children leave out milk for the mischievous Tomte spirits on Christmas Eve.

Tomte, the Swedish Santa Claus.Getty Images

For Delaware's Swedish population, Christmas is associated with a visit from Tomte, the devilish imp who leaves gifts for good children.

According to the Daily Scandinavian, the legend goes that tomten were mischievous and vengeful creatures who guarded farmsteads, but today they are regarded as benevolent Santa Claus or St. Nicholas-like figures.

Wreaths Across America lays holiday wreaths on every single grave in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC.

Arlington National Cemetery
Honoring the fallen.Cvandyke/Shutterstock

On December 16, Wreaths Across America, a non-profit organization, lays out holiday wreaths on thousands of graves in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC, as well as 4,000 other locations across America.

Florida heat means decorating lifeguard chairs instead of trees during the "Deck the Chairs" bash.

deck the chairs
Deck the Chairs.Diane Macdonald/Getty Images

Deck the Chairs on Jacksonville Beach is one of the largest holiday lights celebrations in Florida.

Volunteers decorate the iconic red lifeguard chairs with elaborate holiday light displays, combining the spirit of the holidays with the balmy warm weather of the Sunshine State.

This year's chairs will be available to visit from November 22, 2023, to January 1, 2024.

Macy's iconic pink pig train makes its annual holiday appearance in Atlanta, Georgia.

macy's lennox square
Macy's.Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Unless you live in Atlanta, you likely have never seen the pink pig train that comes to Macy's Lenox Square every holiday season.

The pink pig tradition began in 1953 at Rich's downtown store, and has become a holiday mainstay for Georgia residents who recognize it as a unique staple of the holiday season.

After 50 years of children taking photos with Priscilla the Pig, climbing aboard, and, of course, purchasing pink pig merchandise, Priscilla retired in 2021, according to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

However, there is still Priscilla merchandise available for any nostalgic fans — plus, if you just want to look, the pigs sometimes come out of retirement for display-only, like they did last year, according to WSBTV.

In Hawaii, a roast over an open fire is a longstanding tradition.

hawaiian christmas
A Hawaiian Christmas.Cory Lum-Pool/Getty Images

In Hawaii, celebrating Christmas with a hula that ends in a pig roast over an open fire is a tradition that dates back to the first Christmas in Hawaii.

Celebrated in 1786, a merchant ship docked off the shores of Hawaii during Christmas sent a search party ashore who hunted a pig, killed it, and roasted it, according to The Orange County Register.

Later, they are said to have participated in a gift swap with the island's natives, when a local chieftain sailed out to the docked ship and gifted them with a roasted pig.

The Hawaiians had their own holiday, Makahiki, that celebrates the winter solstice. Now, a combination of both holidays is celebrated.

The tradition, which resembles the American Thanksgiving story, continues today with a roast pig on almost every Hawaiian table on Christmas.

In Idaho, you can take a Christmas cruise to watch the Lake Coeur d’Alene fireworks and light show.

Lake Coeur d’Alene
Lake Coeur d’Alene fireworks.Tami Freed/Shutterstock

Lake Coeur d'Alene's Journey to the North Pole cruises are some of the most popular holiday events in Idaho. The cruises are happening from November 23 to January 2 this season.

The holiday light show on the water features floating displays of Santa, Rudolph, The Grinch, and more, as well as fireworks.

Shoppers flock to the Chicago Christkindlmarkt, the largest Christmas market in Illinois.

Chicago Christkindlmarkt
The Chicago Christkindlmarkt.Xinhua/Wang Ping via Getty Images

The most famous American Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) is in Chicago. Styled after the traditional, centuries-old markets of Germany, this Christkindlmarkt features hundreds of vendors selling traditional crafts and trinkets from Germany, Austria, and local artisans.

There's also plenty to eat and drink, like glühwein (mulled wine), hot cocoa, and giant German pretzels.

The Daley Plaza location is open from November 17 to December 24 while the Wrigleyville location is opened through New Year's Eve.

See Christmas from a whole new perspective at Indiana's Jingle Rails.

holiday model train
A holiday model train.Kristen Prahl/Shutterstock

At the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis through January 15, the Jingle Rails exhibit features 1,200 feet of model railway track.

This year's theme is the Great Western Adventure, and there are seven trains riding the rails across downtown Indianapolis landmarks, Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Old Faithful, and San Francisco.

In December, Iowan residents get together to decorate rooms in the Salisbury House mansion.

The Salisbury House.Patrick T./Yelp

The Holly & Ivy is a holiday decorating tradition at the Salisbury House in Des Moines, Iowa. Community groups and organizations each adopt a room of the spacious mansion to decorate with trees, ribbons, baubles, and more.

The Salisbury House then hosts tours a few days before Christmas to show off the volunteers' decorating skills.

In Kansas, young women dress up as Saint Lucy for the St. Lucia festival.

A young woman wearing the traditional lighted wreath of St. Lucia Day
A young woman wearing the traditional lighted wreath of St. Lucia Day.Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Lindsborg is widely known as the Swedish capital of Kansas, so it's no wonder that the community throws an impressive St. Lucia Day festival every year.

On this Swedish holiday that celebrates the life of the martyr Saint Lucia, the eldest daughter of every family — wearing a white robe and crown of ivy and candles — serves traditional Swedish food to her family. Her appearance is supposed to represent light and hope during the Winter Solstice.

This year's festival on December 9 will have plenty of events, like Swedish folk dancers, a baked-goods sale, and a procession.

Fruitcake soaked in whiskey is a traditional Christmas dessert in Kentucky.

Fruitcake soaked in whiskey is a traditional Christmas dessert in Kentucky
Fruitcake made with nuts and dried fruit, also known as twelfth night cake.Brent Hofacker/ Shutterstock

Fruitcake is known around the world as the laughingstock of Christmas culinary traditions.

But in Kentucky, you'd be lucky to get your hands on the famous fruitcake made by monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani.

Also known as Twelfth Night cake, this fruitcake made with dried fruits, nuts, and spices, which is often soaked in bourbon (after all, this is Kentucky), is a popular Christmas delicacy.

Christmas bonfires light up the night on the Louisiana bayou.

Christmas bonfires light up the night on the Louisiana bayou
A traditional bonfire effigy made to celebrate the holiday season.Nancie Lee/ Shutterstock

Christmas Eve bonfires on the levees are a holiday tradition synonymous with Creole culture.

Every Christmas Eve, locals burn log structures that stand up to an impressive 30 feet. Most are built as traditional teepees (like the one pictured above), but some depict shapes like houses and ships, according to Louisiana's tourism website.

In Maine, no Christmas dinner is complete without seafood chowder.

In Maine, no Christmas dinner is complete without seafood chowder
A bowl of Christmas chowder.Carolyn-Parsons James/Shutterstock

In New England, particularly in Maine, one of the most important parts of Christmas dinner is the seafood chowder, made with lobster, crab, and/or clams in a warm, creamy broth.

A whole block gets decked out with lights on Maryland's own "Miracle on 34th Street."

baltimore maryland's miracle on 34th street christmas decorations
The "Miracle of Lights" tradition.Patrick Semansky/AP

Over two decades ago, in Baltimore, Maryland, a man living on 34th Street placed a string of Christmas lights in the tree in his front yard. Soon, his neighbors mimicked his tradition, according to the Christmas Street's website.

Now, more than 25 years later, the humble Baltimore block is transformed every year into a decorative spectacle known as the "Miracle on 34th Street."

Every house participates in the annual lighting tradition that draws visitors from all over the country.

Stockbridge is the Christmas capital of Massachusetts, as made famous by Norman Rockwell's paintings.

stockbridge massachusetts
Close to 200,000 lights decorate a winter wonderland in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

Not many people know that the nostalgic paintings created by the popular artist Norman Rockwell actually depicted a real place, and not just small town Americana from his imagination. That place — Norman Rockwell's hometown — is Stockbridge, Massachusetts, according to the city.

Stockbridge Main Street goes all out every year in December to recreate the idyllic New England setting with parades, caroling, and holiday concerts.

Shoppers come from all over to visit Bronner's, the world's largest Christmas store, in Michigan.

michigan Bronner's christmas wonderland store
Just one corner of this giant Christmas store.Molly Riley/Reuters

Bronner's Christmas Wonderland claims to be the largest Christmas store in the world. Open all year round, the 320,000 square-foot store contains multiple floors of decorations, gifts, trees, and any holiday trinket you can possibly think of.

Minnesota residents serve lutefisk on Christmas, whether they love it or hate it.

Minnesota residents always serve lutefisk on Christmas, whether they love it or hate it
A Nordic lutefisk dinner.Fanfo/ Shutterstock

Lutefisk dinners began as a Nordic holiday tradition, and they are now part of a quintessential Christmas dinner for Minnesotans across the state, regardless of their ethnic background, according to CBS News.

Lutefisk is a dried white fish soaked in water for several days and treated with lye. The dish has a Jell-O-like consistency, and is reminiscent of gefilte fish served during Jewish Passover.

It has become popular in the Twin Cities region due to the large population of immigrants from Scandinavia.

Decorated boats line the shores of Biloxi Beach for the largest Christmas boat parade in Mississippi.

biloxi beach
Biloxi Beach.Gerald Herbert/AP

Instead of just decorating houses, Mississippi residents look forward to the decked-out boats that take part in the Biloxi Beach Water Boat Parade. Boaters decorate their vessels to the nines, and the show culminates in a stunning fireworks display.

This year's event was on December 2.

In Missouri, kids are just as excited to meet the Fairy Princess at the Kansas City Museum as they are to see Santa.

kansas city museum
The Kansas City Museum.Kansas City Museum/Yelp

If you live outside of Missouri, you probably have no idea who the Fairy Princess is.

But for local kids, the Fairy Princess is a holiday icon. Young local women dress up in crowns and royal regalia to meet with children. Each child who meets a Fairy Princess gets a toy that comes out of a secret treasure chest.

The Fairy Princess was a tradition started by Kline's Department Store in 1936, NPR reported. The Klines came up with the idea because they were Jewish and did not wish to hire a Santa Claus. Thus, the non-denominational (and sparkly) figure was born.

This year, the Kansas City Museum is celebrating its 37th anniversary of hosting the princesses. Events will be held on December 7, 8, 9, and 10.

December in Montana is about athletic endurance during the Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival.

ice climbing festival
An ice climbing festival.Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Bozeman Ice Festival may sound magical, but this annual ice-climbing competition is all about athletic grit.

Held every year right around Christmas in Bozeman, Montana, the festival features daring climbing contests on the face of the Bridger Mountain Range, as well as the annual Adventure Film Festival.

This year's festival will be held from December 6 to 10.

Buffalo Bill's house puts on a fantastic display in Nebraska for "Christmas at the Cody's."

Nebraska, North Platte, Buffalo Bill Ranch, Family Home
The Cody House.Bernard Friel/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Yes, Buffalo Bill was a real person.

William Frederick Cody was well-known as a historical figure of the Wild West, but these days his mansion — the Cody House — is popular for its holiday traditions.

Local organizations "adopt" rooms of the Cody Mansion and decorate them for the holidays. Visitors can take a tour of the house and receive hot cocoa and Christmas cookies.

In Nevada, people normally wear their Christmas outfits for the annual Reno Santa Crawl.

Santas.a katz/Shutterstock

The Reno Santa Crawl in Reno, Nevada, is one of the largest Christmas-themed pub crawls in the country. It's also a charity fundraiser that donates proceeds to local schools.

This year, the crawl will be on December 9.

New Hampshire inns participate in the "Inn to Inn Cookie Tour."

christmas cookies
Christmas cookies.Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Inns and bed and breakfasts across New Hampshire take part in what's become known as the "Inn to Inn Cookie Tour."

Participants can travel to different lodging locations in the White Mountains area to sample homemade holiday cookies and hot chocolate, and mix and mingle with guests at each inn.

2023's tour is set for December 9 and 10.

New Jersey's own Storybook Land is tailor-made for celebrating Christmas.

storybook land
Storybook Land.Google Maps

Storybook Land has been a prime spot for New Jersey kids for over 60 years, and its Christmas Fantasy With Lights parade has been around for over 25 years.

The evening's highlight is when Santa appears, lighting up the entire park with a wave of his magic wand.

In New Mexico, "ristras," a type of red pepper, are hung up as decoration.

new mexico ristras pepper wreaths christmas
Ristras are said to bring health and good luck.Jumping Rocks/Contributor/Getty Images

They don't have white Christmases in New Mexico, so it makes sense they'd decorate with something a little spicier, which is why dried peppers are often strung across homes or turned into wreaths.

The peppers are said to bring health and good luck, according to Albuquerque's tourism site.

In Rochester, New York, locals look forward to the unusual Genesee Keg Tree all year long.

new york Genesee Brewery keg tree christmas
The Genesee Keg Tree in 2017.John Kucko/AP

A beer-keg tree has been constructed in Rochester, New York, annually since 2014.

This year's tree is made out of 532 empty kegs and 25,000 twinkling lights, and is over 30 feet tall, according to Democrat & Chronicle. It will be up through the holiday season.

In North Carolina, Santa Claus rappels down the biggest chimney in the state every year: Chimney Rock!

santa chimney rock
Santa rappelling down Chimney Rock.Angela Wilhelm/Asheville Citizen Times/Reuters

Every year in Asheville, Santa climbs down the 315-foot Chimney Rock, and then joins in other Christmas festivities at the park — there's hot chocolate, cookies, a craft table, and more.

The big climb this year will be held on December 2 and 9.

The entire town of Garrison, North Dakota, transforms into the Victorian-era Dickens Village Festival for the holiday season.

old ttimey christmas
Old-time Christmas.ClassicStock/Contributor/Getty Images

Garrison is known as the Christmas Capitol of North Dakota, and for good reason, as the entire town transforms into a Victorian-era village for the holiday season, called Dickens Festival.

There's a fruit-cake toss, English high tea, top-hat decorating, live performances of Dickens' works, horse-drawn carriages, and a whole lot more old-school festivities.

2023's dates are November 24 and 25, December 1 and 2, and December 8 and 9.

Residents of Ohio (and people all around the world) flock to Cleveland to remember "A Christmas Story."

xmas story house
The house was restored recently to look like the film.Karen Longo/Contributor/Getty Images

Visitors can take a tour or even stay overnight at the house with the leg lamp in the window from "A Christmas Story."

Oklahoma residents fire "Christmas guns" every year at Fort Reno.

fort reno oklahoma
Fort Reno.crotonoil/Shutterstock

Firing the "Christmas guns" at Fort Reno is a longstanding tradition. Originally a custom brought over by German immigrants, the firing of the guns (and cannons, in some cases) was thought to dispel evil spirits in preparation for Christmas.

Catch them on December 16 this year.

Oregon takes caroling to a whole new level with the Singing Christmas Tree.

portland christmas tree
Portland.Jill Brady/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Portland's Singing Christmas Tree completed its 61st season this year, and prides itself on never being canceled. This year, the "tree" sang on December 1, 2, and 3.

The tree consists of over 350 singers, and the event, which is around two hours long, includes dancing, a nativity scene, and a light show.

In Pennsylvania, Santa Claus ditches the sleigh and rows his way across a lake.

floating christmas tree
A floating Christmas tree.Galina Savina/Shutterstock

In Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, Santa makes a more low-key entrance than flying in on a sleigh. After a tree has been lit and set afloat on Children's' Lake, Santa rows across it to greet all the kids waiting for him on the lit up shores.

Rhode Island's Block Island creates a tree made from lobster traps every year.

rhode island lobster trap christmas tree
A lobster trap tree.GccDesigns Photography/Shutterstock

This Christmas tree, made with around 213 lobster traps this year, according to The Block Island Times, has been an annual tradition on Block Island for the last 13 years.

South Carolina celebrates its past with "Christmas 1860."

Edmondston-Alston House
Edmondston-Alston House.Kat T./Yelp

In 1860, Charleston, South Carolina, was about to enter the Civil War.

To remember that turbulent time, the Edmonston-Alston House gives visitors the opportunity to try and imagine what Christmas Day before the Civil War was like.

South Dakota has an entire town that's a designated a National Landmark, and it goes hard for Christmas.

deadwood south dakota
Deadwood.Jacob Boomsma/Shutterstock

The entire town of Deadwood (yes, that Deadwood) is a National Landmark, and it has been since 1961.

It's a true time capsule into the days of cowboys and the Gold Rush, and goes all out for Christmas with lights, decorations, and a Christmas Spectacular show.

A band in Tennessee gives away a Christmas ham to a member of the audience every year.

The Station Inn all decorated for Christmas
The Station Inn all decorated for Christmas.Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for American Media

The Nashville Bluegrass Band performs at the Station Inn in Nashville's hippest neighborhood, the Gulch, every December.

And every year, the band gives away a Christmas ham to someone in the audience, after they perform the song "Ham Beats All The Meat." If not just for the ham, go for the music and the banter.

Taking a stroll down San Antonio's River Walk during the holiday season is a Texan tradition.

san antonio riverwalk christmas
The San Antonio River Walk.Kevin Seagrave/Shutterstock

One of San Antonio's most beloved attractions is the River Walk, a park that lines the San Antonio River. During the holiday season, the walk is decorated with over 100,000 lights (or 2,250 strings of light), which are turned on from dusk 'til dawn.

As you walk, you may even catch a caroling boat sailing down the river.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is constantly on tour, but during the holidays they take a break and perform in their home state of Utah.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir
The choir has performed in Salt Lake City for over 100 years.George Frey/Getty Images

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir was founded in 1847, making it one of the oldest traditions on this list.

The Choir has released over 10 albums, including one in 2020 called "When You Believe: A Night at the Movies."

But the best place to see them perform is in their home state of Utah, which they do around Christmas every year.

A town in Vermont gets locals in the Christmas spirit with a scavenger hunt.

middlebury vermont
The event is part of A Very Merry Middlebury.Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Middlebury, Vermont, gets its entire population into the holiday spirit with different events, like "Midd Night Strolls," a hot cocoa hut, free horse and wagon rides, and more.

Virginia remembers the US' first president by keeping his Christmas traditions alive.

camel in snow
A camel in the snow.Polina Truver/Shutterstock

According to Mount Vernon's website, in 1787, George Washington brought a camel to his home in Mount Vernon for Christmas, and now Mount Vernon pays tribute to the tradition by having its very own Christmas camel every year.

He even poses for selfies.

Washington has an entire festival dedicated to tree decorating.

christmas tree
A Christmas tree.irinaneva/Shutterstock

This year was the 46th Festival of Trees in Seattle. Trees are professionally decorated according to a theme, and they can be sponsored by companies or individuals. Trees are for sale, and all of the proceeds go to Seattle Children's Hospital.

West Virginia's Winter Festival of Lights spans 300 acres.

winter light show
A winter light show.waiyawut rochanavibhata/Shutterstock

The Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights, which started in 1985, is one of the biggest light shows in the country.

It spans 300 acres and has over 89 lit-up attractions — from a rainbow tunnel to Peanuts characters — made with over 1 million lights.

The Cave of the Mounds in Wisconsin usually offers Sing-A-Long Caroling Tours in an unusual setting.

Cave of the Mounds
Cave of the Mounds.Sarah Michals/Shutterstock

Normally during weekends in December, the Cave of the Mounds in Wisconsin offers Sing-A-Long Caroling Tours. The cave's acoustics will make your favorite holiday songs sound otherworldly.

Unfortunately, caroling has been postponed until 2024 — but there will still be a light show and decorations in the cave.

In Wyoming, you can actually ski with Santa.

skiing with santa
Skiing with Santa.Studio Romantic/Shutterstock

On Christmas morning in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, skiers can fly down the mountain with Santa at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

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