16 quintessential holiday events in the desert you have to try this year

No matter your celebration style, there’s plenty of holiday magic to be found in the Valley.

No snow? No problem! Phoenicians don’t have to dream of a white Christmas because there’s no scarcity of holiday cheer here.

From dazzling holiday light displays to making s’mores by the fire, we have everything we need to get into the spirit of the season. We also do winter our way, thanks to an offbeat holiday puppet show, a tumbleweed tree, a boat parade on Tempe Town Lake and a whole lot more.

Here are our picks for 16 essential Phoenix events—most of them long-running and all of them well-attended—that everyone should experience to make them appreciate the holidays in the desert.

APS Electric Light Parade

Now in its 36th year, this City of Phoenix parade—one of the biggest, brightest of the year—plans to up its game by being all about neon with the theme, “It’s Electric!” It starts in midtown and winds more than two miles to uptown with dazzling floats, many featuring hundreds of lights, along with marching bands and performance groups. Pro tip: Pick up sandwiches at Miracle Mile Deli or anything at Tacos Chiwas on the way for snacking, and get there plenty early to stake out a spot. No booze is allowed, so head downtown to hit a bar afterward—the expansive outdoor courtyard at Teddy’s Preserve is always a good choice.

Central and Montebello avenues to 7th Street and Indian School Road

Dec. 2

Free

Black Theater Troupe: Black Nativity

The Black Theater Troupe has staged this retelling of the Biblical story by revered Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes since 1975. The song-play is a marvel with its all-Black cast, adaptations of carols in gospel style and themes of joy, hope, victory and liberation. Each year is always a little different and it always sells out, so get tickets ASAP. Make a night of it with dinner at one of the city’s exceptional Black-owned restaurants like ATL Wings, Authentic Ethio African Spices or Latha.

1333 E. Washington St., Phoenix

Dec. 8-17

$46

Christmas at the Princess

The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess transforms a desert resort oasis into “the North Pole’s sister city” each holiday season thanks to a sparkling spectacle of more than 6.5 million LED lights. Families come to dance in the Enchanted Plaza, go ice skating, ride the Princess Express trains, make s’mores by a fire pit, get photos with Santa and much more. New this year is Aurora Ice, a zero-degrees game and lounge experience for kids and adults, just in case you moved here from Minnesota, Montana or Michigan and miss those bone-chilling temps.

7575 E. Princess Dr., Scottsdale

Nov. 17-Jan.6, 2024

$35 and up per person; $35 per car parking

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Desert Farm Lights

Farmland continues to get gobbled up by development on the fringes of the Phoenix metro area, but here’s a way to celebrate the season and the Valley’s rural past: A walk-through winter wonderland at Justice Brothers Ranch. Eight acres of activities include a gingerbread and candy-cane-scented maze, pictures with Santa, the Grinch lair, bounce houses, bungee trampolines, a 90-foot fun slide, horse-drawn hayrides through an illuminated forest, a DIY toy shop, an open s’mores pit, petting zoo, food and concessions, and for the grownups: beer and wine sales.

14629 W. Peoria Ave. Waddell

Nov. 17-Dec. 31

$20; free for ages 2 and under

Die Hard: A Christmas Story

This year marks the sixth season for this quirky now-classic at All Puppet Players, the adults-only puppet theater known for ad-libs and often offensive interaction with the audience. Expect “theatrical anarchy” including gun fights, caroling and curse words at this homage to the Bruce Willis film. Be forewarned: Do not heckle, no matter how funny you think you are. Also, this is another show that sells out early, so don’t dally.

1850 N. Central Ave., Phoenix 

Nov. 17-Dec. 23

Ages 17 and up only; $42

Boats decorated with holiday lights on a lake

Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade

Each year for more than two decades, the banks of Tempe Town Lake one night are lined with about 10,000 onlookers watching with glee as roughly 50 boats glide by bedecked with holiday lights and decor. You might see inflatable Santas or polar bears, a giant Grinch or a palm tree-themed Christmas scene, among others. Boat owners bring their A-game in terms of creativity to vie for a $500 prize in categories such as best use of lights, best special effects and best music. After they dock, the party continues with a couple of dozen vendor booths, food and drinks (including adult beverages) and live music. Hint: Get there early for the best parking options and have a pint at Pedal Haus Brewery, then walk up to the park.

Tempe Town Lake/Tempe Beach Park

Dec. 9

Free

Glendale Glitters

Celebrate the 30th anniversary of this West Valley holiday hoopla featuring an extravagant light display with never-before-seen features this year. Saunter through the candy cane trees along picturesque downtown Glendale and enjoy vendors, music and a visit with Santa. The lighting ceremony takes place at 5:45 p.m. on Nov. 24 in front of Glendale Civic Center and will be up through Jan. 1. Check the Glendale website for other holiday events like the Hometown Christmas Parade on Dec. 9 and more.

5750 W. Glenn Dr., Glendale

Nov. 24-25

Free

Las Noches de las Luminarias

One of the most beloved annual events in the Valley, held since 1978, is the Desert Botanical Garden’s Las Noches de las Luminarias. The walkways are lit by hundreds of bags illuminated by sparkling candles, a Southwest holiday tradition. The mood is hushed in some areas as attendees appreciate the array of towering saguaros and lush desert foliage in a new light—literally—and jovial in others, as musical performances from carolers to mariachis to rock bands entertain crowds as they sip on hot rum-laced cider drinks, craft beer and wine. This year, guests can also view large-scale sculptures of “Playing with Stars” by Rotraut on their strolls as well.

1201 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix

Select nights Dec. 1-31

$39.95 adults; $16.95 ages 3-17; discount for members

Light Up Ahwatukee

Motorcycles meet mistletoe at this community favorite: One of the top draws of this 26th annual festival is when dozens of bikers bedecked in colorful holiday lights and garb roar into Desert Foothills Park at 6 p.m. as thousands of glittering white lights are illuminated along the median of Chandler Boulevard for the season. The daylong event also offers an artisan market with several dozen local vendors selling holiday-themed arts and crafts, “Candy Cane Lane” with over 15 inflatables, photos with Santa for the kids, live entertainment, food trucks and a tavern/beer garden showcasing craft food, beer and wine.

1010 E. Marketplace Way SW, Phoenix

Nov. 18

Free; $25 for inflatables wristband

Crowd of people around a Christmas tree in a shopping center

Mesa’s Merry Main Street

Mesa kicks off the holidays by lighting a 40-foot tree in the heart of downtown, but the fun doesn’t stop there. On various days throughout December, you can ride the Mesa Santa Express special light rail car, stop by Pioneer Park for Jack Frost’s Food Truck Forest, strap on skates at the Winter Wonderland Ice Rink and get a free photo with Santa, just for starters. Other attractions include Mesa’s official 12-foot menorah, lit every night of Hanukah, and the stunning Mesa Tempe Christmas Lights, one of the largest displays in the Southwest attracting more than 1.5 million people throughout the season.

Various locations

Kick-off Nov. 24; some activities ongoing through Dec. 31

Free; fees for some activities

Phoestivus

The premier fundraiser for the nonprofit Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market, Phoestivus celebrates Phoenix’s small business community with a nod toward the classic “Seinfeld” episode that introduced the idea of the alt-holiday. Shop for locally made and grown goods, get photos with Phreddie the Yeti, enjoy Phoestivus ale and other adult beverages, fill up at food trucks, and of course, participate in Pheats of Strength, the Phoestivus Pole and the Airing of Grievances.

720 N. Fifth St., Phoenix

Dec. 14-16

Free

Scottsdazzle

For more than a month during the holidays, Scottsdale puts on over four dozen events under the umbrella of “Scottsdazzle” offering something for everyone. It starts with the signature Sing-Along & Tree Lighting Ceremony on Nov. 25 at the Scottsdale Waterfront and includes all-new decor and entertainment this year. Other highlights include the Gold Palette ArtWalk on Dec. 7, magic shows Dec. 9-10, a Sparkle & Spin Bicycle Scavenger Hunt Dec. 10 and 17, whiskey tasting at the “North Pole” Dec. 6 and 13 and more. 

Various locations

Nov. 25-Dec. 31

Free; fees for some events

Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center Happy Howlidays

Wildlife aficionados can get in the holiday spirit while supporting a great cause at this rescue and rehabilitation center. The two-day evening event includes a self-guided tour of the sanctuary to meet about 70 animals that couldn’t be returned to their natural habitat, including bobcats, coatimundis, javelinas, Mexican gray wolves, owls and more. Activities include a holiday-themed “knowledge hunt” with prizes, photos with Santa, games, goodie bags, prizes, an animal-themed ornament to craft and take home, and hot cider, cocoa and cookies.

27026 N. 156th St., Scottsdale

Dec. 15-16

$35; $15 for ages 3 and under

Tempe Festival of the Arts

One of the oldest and largest arts festivals in the Southwest, this twice-yearly arts showcase and sale (there’s one in March, too) has run for more than 50 years and attracts about 225,000 people over three days. What we love about it is the wide range of goods at all levels of prices from more than 350 juried fine artists and craftspeople. Skip the mass-produced mess at chain home stores and invest in a painting, sculpture, ceramics, or glass or metal art — or pick up some unique jewelry, a handmade handbag, eye-catching apparel and more. There’s also street entertainment, kids’ activities, food, local beer and wine, and chalk muralists.

Downtown Tempe

Dec. 1-3

Free

Tumbleweed Tree Lighting Ceremony

This iconic desert holiday event since 1957 features a towering holiday tree built out of tumbleweeds each year in historic downtown Chandler. The lighting ceremony is accompanied by a parade of lights and a community festival with Santa’s House, music, entertainment, arts and crafts, food and beverages and more. Plan to stick around afterward to enjoy one of the many fun spots in this charming city center that boasts an impressive number of restaurants and bars in just a few blocks, from sushi joints to steakhouses and brewpubs to wine bars.

3 S. Arizona Ave., Chandler

Dec. 2

Free

Zoo Lights

Nearly four million lights sparkle throughout the Phoenix Zoo from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. nightly in this sensory spectacle that has become one of the Valley’s most cherished traditions. It boasts the tallest floating illuminated holiday tree in North America (50 feet tall) and a Lake Lights Show with original music and synchronized sparkling lights. Other attractions are the Glow Garden (including a glowing dance floor), 50 animal-shaped lanterns, an Endangered Species Carousel, a 200-foot-long immersive light tunnel, illuminated paintings of endangered species, camel rides, s’mores by the fire, photos with Santa and a toy store.

455 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix

Nov. 22-Jan. 14, 2024

$30

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Patrons exploring an art museum

Take a tour of Atlanta’s dynamic creative scene via these incredible options

No matter if you’re into art history, contemporary art or classic films, find something to love in ATL’s ever-expanding arts and culture ecosystem.

As Atlanta’s cultural influence continues to grow, it’s no longer a city that gets overlooked—especially when it comes to the arts. With prominent institutions like The High Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia and the The Museum of Design Atlanta, it’s easy to get cultured in the city that’s “got something to say” in every art form from visual art, film, design, fashion and more. 

Yet peek a little further and in every corner of the city, you’ll find ways to engage with new creators, big ideas and emerging centers of art and culture that are putting ATL on the map in a whole new way. Here are a few ways to enjoy your city through a new lens.

Sample new frontiers in the visual arts

Atlanta Contemporary

Aiming to “change the way we all see art,” the Atlanta Contemporary hosts programs, exhibitions and project spaces for emerging artists in an intimate open gallery. They also offer community-engaging events like Contemporary Talks, the organization’s annual Art Party and Open Studios, where visitors can meet and greet artists working in their onsite studios. Although Atlanta Contemporary’s gallery is always free, donations are always appreciated and help the space thrive. (535 Means Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30318)

The Bakery Atlanta

Are you craving an artistic experience, where you can engage with your community in unique ways? The Bakery Atlanta is a collective of artists, curators and artistically minded people who help coordinate and host experiences like gallery exhibitions, events, workshops and more. Every month, you can create yourself with engaging events like collage nights and figure drawing sessions, perfect for gathering friends for a night of creation. (92 Peachtree St SW Atlanta, GA 30303)

Experience the fusion between art, music, entertainment and new media

eyedrum

Featuring artists at every stage of their careers and spanning multiple mediums, eyedrum is an artistic space featuring local and international music, film, literature, contemporary art and more. Its focus is on experimentation, and that goes for its visitors, too. Its monthly Atlanta Monthly Players Session every first Tuesday includes a house band and an open session for “talented players to join in on the fun.” (515 Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard Southwest Atlanta, GA, 30312)

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Mom Said It’s Fine

Located in Underground Atlanta, which is becoming a hotbed for the new wave of Atlanta’s DIY creative scene, Mom Said It’s Fine is a venue hosting performances, parties and musicians spanning a wide array of genres and styles — it’s a perfect outing for people who are into the gritty underground scene.

The Met Atlanta Complex (Mint Gallery)

Capitalizing on the kinetic buzz of Atlanta’s innovative energy, this space cultivates a variety of creators, from restaurants to retail to production. The space is also home to galleries like Mint Gallery, founded by undergraduate art students in Atlanta, and features paintings, sculpture, film, photography and performance in traditional and alternative media.

Bring the past and the future together

Hammonds House Museum

Hammonds House Museum, located in Atlanta’s historic West End, features a permanent collection showcasing the extensive collection of Dr. Otis Thrash Hammonds, an Atlanta physician who amassed hundreds of artistic works during his lifetime. Hammonds House carries on that tradition through rotating exhibitions featuring new and emerging artists, helping to advance the organization’s mission to “to preserve, exhibit, interpret and increase public awareness about the contributions that visual artists of African descent have made to world culture.”

Wren’s Nest

Also located in Southwest Atlanta, the Wren’s Nest is Atlanta’s oldest house museum, with a focus on preserving storytelling traditions and developing the next generations of readers, writers and listeners through their programming and events. They feature live performances by professional storytellers followed by house tours every Saturday, and offer tours by appointment.

Take a trip with the right story

Moviegoers enjoying a film in a full theater

Plaza Theatre

Reigning as Atlanta’s oldest independent cinema, Plaza Theatre, offers cult classic and new release films. It also hosts many of the annual Atlanta Film Festival screenings. Visit Plaza Theatre to support a local theater for a matinee, indie film screenings and blockbusters alike.

Videodrome

Can’t get enough screen time? Just up the street from Plaza Theatre is Videodrome; Atlanta’s last standing video store. In a digital age, stores like this are a relic and a rare experience. Explore their collection of small, niche and cult-classic films from a wide array of categories, and watch something you might not watch from your regular streaming platforms.

For Keeps Books

If you’re more of a reader, For Keeps Books, located on the historic Auburn Avenue in Downtown Atlanta, contains an archive of rare and classic books. Check out their collection to get a unique experience of literature, art and history. 

Whether you’re into the classic big museums, catching a live show or seeing art from everyday locals, there’s no doubt the culture in Atlanta has a strong artistic pulse. So, get out there, and let your curiosity drive you to explore.
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Fans at a Dallas Cowboys game

9 traditions that defined the holidays in DFW

Some of these events are old enough to be passed down among generations.

Some holiday events in DFW come and go, while others become so entrenched in the culture that we can’t imagine the season without them. Whether you’re a lifelong resident or newcomer to North Texas, these defining events are something to experience at least once. Take a scroll through some of the performances, destinations and attractions that have endured through time to create some magic for people of all ages and proclivities.

Turtle Creek Chorale’s annual holiday concert

For most of its 40-year history, the Turtle Creek Chorale has created some of the most imaginative holiday performances in DFW. The “most recorded male chorus in the world” has perfected its over-the-top holiday show, and this year’s Celtic theme continues the tradition, featuring a full orchestra and muse Chloe Agnew (of the Celtic Woman). The TCCC website promises a concert “that will have you leaping from your seat with joy” — which is something we can probably all use. Buy your tickets and add this event to your list of things to do in dfw during the holidays.

Holidays at NorthPark Center

NorthPark Center has transformed into a holiday destination for kids and families for more than five decades. The most enduring display dates back to 1965: A candy Santa helming his team of pecan reindeer, “flying” near the Neiman Marcus on Level One. This year, visit the adorable miniature train exhibition, visit Santa Claus himself, hear stories from the Children’s Puppet Theatre and more. See a full list of activities if you want a shopping experience that’s heavy on the experience. 

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The Gaylord Texan

For kids and the young-at-heart, Christmas the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center is a monument to holiday chaos in the best way possible. Located in Grapevine – the self-proclaimed “Christmas Capital of Texas,” — the showplace features a dizzying array of activities, from snow tubing, ice sliding, gingerbread decorating and even a brunch alongside The Grinch himself. (No word on if green eggs and ham will be served to stay on the Seussian theme.) Take in the eye-popping Christmas decorations and larger-than-life ice sculptures during your stay — you can choose from plenty of packages that allow you to get the most out of this memorable DFW Christmas tradition.

Dallas Cowboys Games

Fun fact: Did you know that The Dallas Cowboys have played more games on Christmas than any other team in the NFL? While best known for their annual Thanksgiving game, The Cowboys typically have a busy schedule during the entire holiday season, and many fans have created special traditions to support the ‘Boys. This year, you can catch a Christmas Eve game on Fox, when The Cowboys take on the Miami Dolphins at the Hard Rock Stadium in Florida.

Dallas Holiday Parade

Dating back to 1988, the Dallas Holiday Parade is Dallas’ largest one-day outdoor event, aired in more than 100 markets and attended by tens of thousands of visitors. This holiday spectacle offers elaborate floats and giant balloons (including a 45-foot-tall inflatable nutcracker), oversized character costumes like Curious George and the Berenstain Bears, plus numerous community groups, performers and more. While it’s free to the public, you can purchase tickets to reserve a seat. It’s held on Dec 2. From 9:00 a.m.  – 11:00 a.m.; make sure to bring a cozy coat to create warm memories.

Christmas in the Stockyards

If you like your Christmas with a little bit of country, look no further than Fort Worth, where Christmas in the Stockyards riffs on the standard holiday offerings. Enjoy classics like ice skating on the Stockyards Rodeo Rink, photos with Santa and story-time with his better-half Mrs. Claus. But look for distinctive draws, like horse-drawn wagons, cowboy poetry, strolling Dickens Carolers and reindeer games. Stroll through the many shops and eateries to grab some gifts while you enjoy the festivities, or take advantage of Hotel Drover’s 12 Days of Drover, where guests can enjoy spirited experiences at the resort. See the full list of events and enjoy a very Texan holiday.

Holiday at the Arboretum

Called “Texas’ best Christmas event” by Southern Living Magazine, this annual extravaganza hosted at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden has been a family favorite for years. Visit the Christmas Village and be transported to a “quaint European hamlet” by way of large, themed houses and charming shops offering candy, baked goods, flowers, books and more. It also includes the beloved 12 Days of Christmas, an exhibit with (you guessed it) 12 Victorian style gazebos, decorated with twinkling lights, mechanical parts and music. The festivities kick off with an opening ceremony on Nov. 8, but check out the full list of activities that run through the holiday season.

“Santa House”

For many years, one home in University Park created an eye-popping experience that outmatched even professional Christmas light exhibits. The homeowner — who suffered a major health episode in 2021 — erected more than 500 Santa figurines and the original head of The State Fair of Texas’ beloved Big Tex. Though details are scant on if this tradition is on for 2023, drive by the 3700 block of Southwestern Boulevard to check out the best holiday lights in DFW. This is the one that started the go-big residential home decorations you might notice in your own neighborhood.

A Christmas Carol

The Dallas Arts District offers plenty of holiday-themed events and performances, from perennial fan-favorite performances of The Nutcracker to Reliant Lights Your Holidays and Klyde Warren Park’s Tree Lighting Celebration. But the Dallas Theater Center’s adaptation of the Charles Dickens play has become a holiday must for theater lovers and Christmas enthusiasts. Witness the change of heart for miserly, miserable Ebenezer Scrooge as he becomes generous captain-Christmas and just try not to feel merry — especially if you’ve got that “bah humbug” spirit. Get your tickets here. 

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