The South has traditionally suffered from a lack of winter identity, especially when it comes to festivals to cheer on the season. But that’s changing. Sunny states have begun to embrace winter, flaunting assets such as palm trees, beaches, blue skies, and sunshine. Some import a little chill by installing ice rinks and creating snowfall to complement balmy nights.
What better place to celebrate Presidents’ Day than in the shadow of centuries-old magnolia trees where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison plotted America’s future? From February 14 through 16, visitors to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia can don breeches or a bonnet, hop on a horse-drawn carriage, and visit both the church and the pub that George Washington frequented. Then join a parade led by a traditional fife-and-drum corps. Throughout the weekend, there are re-enactments and historical discussions, plus candlelit concerts in the Governor’s Palace.
Photo: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Even Santa Claus can’t resist some Florida sunshine, come winter. For the past 20 years he – and thousands of others – have flocked to Now Snowing, a monthlong event in Celebration, near Orlando. It features all the charms of a northern event, such as horse-drawn carriage rides, ice skating, and even nightly snowfall (conveniently scheduled on the hour from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.) without any of the chill. This year, the festival takes place between November 29 and December 31.
Memphis heats up this winter with a swivel of the hips and a tremble of the lips from January 7 through 10 for a mega celebration of what would have been Elvis Presley’s 80th birthday. Graceland throws open its doors – still decked out in opulent holiday splendor – for a rock ’n’ roll party that includes Elvis impersonators in jeweled jumpsuits, trivia games, film screenings, chili dinners, and, yes, birthday cake. There’s also a trunk show with jewelry made from molds of the King’s own stash of bling, a pop-up nightclub, and tribute concerts that run the gamut from rock to R&B to gospel to “Elvis Birthday Pops,” courtesy of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.
Photo: Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Mardi Gras may get all the glory, but the holiday that kicks it off called 12th Night is a beloved New Orleans tradition. On January 6, the city shucks off Christmas and embraces the start of carnival season. Head to the French Quarter for the Joan of Arc Parade, where medieval dress and chamber music fill the air in celebration of the martyr’s birthday, or find a spot along St. Charles Avenue to cheer on the wacky Phunny Phorty Phellows, a band of masked revelers who have been hitching streetcar rides on 12th Night since the 1870s.
Newport Beach, California
For more than 100 years, boaters in Newport Beach, California, have been decking their hulls for the Christmas Boat Parade. This year, every night from December 17 through 21, boats of all sizes – yachts to kayaks – will cruise the harbor. Some boats have been known to spend upward of $50,000 on decorations. Spectators gather for the two-and-a-half-hour parade on public beaches, harborside restaurants, and the Newport Beach Yacht Club.
Photo: Bleu Cotton Photography
There are few places in the world where Santa can hang ten. Hawaii happens to be one of them. Honolulu City Lights, which this year takes place December 6 through 31, brings North Pole spirit to the island. A 50-foot pine is flanked by palm trees in front of City Hall; there’s a quirky parade comprised solely of public works vehicles, including sewer and dump trucks, that are illuminated for the holidays and “manned” by giant inflatable characters; the “Clowns of Aloha” give away balloons to children; and where else can you find a tree ornament with a shirtless Santa surfing?
Photo: Courtesy of Shanty Creek Resorts
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